Marvel Studios has cracked the superhero movie code. That was my first thought when I left a screening of Doctor Strange. Superhero films have always been a double-edged sword in the film industry. There has always been a battle between the formulation of a compelling storyline, with characters the audience can empathize with (a huge challenge for comic-based movies, as they must also remain faithful to the character’s origins), and bringing in the profits: ticket sales, merchandising, and potential franchises. More often than not, the latter wins out.
However, since Iron Man hit the silver screen in 2008 and spawned the exoskeleton of the colorful Marvel universe the studio has been consistently pumping out hits that are popular with both die-hard fans and your average movie goer. Marvel has become a machine, creating hit after hit on the same basic principle: a balance of action, plot and character development, and special effects.
Doctor Strange appears to be the beginning of a new era of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is obvious that the studio is trying to expand their repertoire, evidenced by the studio’s new, movie based, logo. Strange is a step in the right direction. Though the film follows the rehashed, prototypical Marvel storyline, the intriguing personalities created by the star-studded cast and the awe-inspiring world (the visual effects teams really pulled out all the stops on this one) keep Strange from feeling stale.
One aspect of filmmaking that Marvel consistently gets right is casting. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the titular character with apparent ease as he smoothly transitions from a cocky millionaire surgeon to a humbled man who is reborn as a novice in the world of mysticism. I will admit that, at times, Cumberbatch reminded me of an off-brand Robert Downey Jr., but more often than not, he delivered the assertive and mysterious, yet flawed character this movie needed.
Tilda Swinton’s “Ancient One,” Strange’s mentor, is a pleasant surprise. Despite the controversy that arose when her casting was first announced regarding Hollywood’s practice of whitewashing (casting ethnically diverse characters with white actors) Swinton immersed me in her character so completely that she proved she deserved the role.
Unfortunately, the villain, Kysiliase, (Mads Mikkelsen) is not as effective. Mikkelsen is one of the most talented and charismatic actors currently in the business. Yet, he seemed underused here, briefly appearing to initiate incredible fight scenes aided by fantastic CGI work, but without a clear motive for his actions. This is not so much the fault of Mikkelsen, who knows how to play the part of evil (see Casino Royale), as that of the writers who did not give him much to work with.
“Strange” focuses on surreal effects and animation while paying homage to Christopher Nolan’s Inception. However, compared to this, Nolan’s revolutionary film looks like a bike with training wheels. The psychedelic feeling one gets while experiencing this film (yes, I said experiencing, not watching) is due to the fantastical CGI constructed scenery. Of course, the very nature of Strange’s character and his origins make for incredible visuals.
Despite following an aging, yet reliable formula, Doctor Strange manages to be a breath of fresh air for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
DC, take note. A superhero movie does not need to be dark and moody to be good. Lighten up. Although, that may be tough after putting your name on a film called Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Here’s to hoping that Wonder Woman is at least as innovative as Doctor Strange.