Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange ★★★½

If you were hoping that introducing the mystical, multi-dimensional side of the Marvel universe would do anything to disrupt the now infamous Marvel Formula, lower your expectations. If, like me, you don't mind their colorful hero's journey template and particular brand of humor, you'll have a lot of fun. What can I say? I was a comic book nerd before I was a film nerd. Seeing some innovation is ideal, of course, but if the main objective is to deliver slick action and likable leads, it's hard to me to fault them for doing exactly that.

The characters and narrative are pretty much as expected. The most ambitious part of the film by far is the visuals. Director Scott Derrickson's background in horror is apparent during the numerous trippy magic scenes. There are hands growing out of hands growing out of hands, twisting cityscapes to put Inception to shame, and dark dimensions full of nebulous and demonic entities. It's hard to tell at this point how much autonomy these directors have apart from the Marvel machine, but the horror angle is one that would be neat to explore when they inevitably push back Captain Marvel again for this one's sequel.

There's the standard Marvel complaints to be made - we have a villian so bland that it's getting to the point of self-parody, and a female lead who only exists to establish the male hero's personality flaws and then forgive them before disappearing by the third act. (Better than getting kidnapped by the villian, I guess? It really is a shame, they have good chemistry.) Benedict Cumberbatch and his weird, alien-like persona is a great choice as Stephen Strange, but the vastly overqualified supporting cast is all decoration except Tilda Swinton - who adds a severity and grace to an Orientalist-but-not role she should have never had in the first place. Chiwetel Ejiofor is being set up for a greater character arc in future installments, but his role in this film is just to explain things to our hero. The same goes for Benedict Wong, but without the promise of future depth. Rachel McAdams and Mads Mikkelson are wasted, and the less said about it the better.

At this point in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you probably know whether or not you'll like these origin stories before they even start. I had a lot of fun with it, but keep your expectations in check.

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