Saturday, November 12, 2016

REVIEW: Dr. Strange

A new Marvel character is finally brought to the cinema and Marvel brings a new frontier of its universe into perspective. We've gone to the mythical world of Thor, the cosmic world of Guardians of the Galaxy, the microscopic world of Ant-Man, and finally slotting into place is the more mystical supernatural world that Dr. Strange brings to the fore.

Doing so in spectacular fashion, notably taking plenty of visual inspiration from the dream worlds of Christopher Nolan's 'Inception,' audiences will receive plenty of eye-candy and mind-bending experiences, that are best enjoyable in 3-D.

But while the world of Dr. Strange is enjoyable to look at, one can't help but feel that the Marvel formula is wearing thin. Is this where the super-hero origin story fatigue is setting in? Or is that just a result of Marvel quickly wanting to get the origin tale out of the way so that it can get to Infinity War much quicker? Whatever the reason, it certainly feels that Dr. Strange's introduction feels rushed and more of an after-thought...

The other feeling of franchise fatigue could be down to Marvel's 'consistency' strategy where we are starting to see the cracks in the formula and start wishing that each film from now on would be more unique in its presentation. Dr. Strange feels like a copy/paste of Marvel's other films because they are attempting to take the things audiences responded best to in those and then injected all of that into Dr. Strange, so much so that we feel a sense of homogeneity.

The humour is certainly one thing that is starting to wear thin. Not because we don't like it in Guardians or Thor or Ant-Man, but because we don't want every film and character to feel just like them. I would have preferred for Dr. Strange to stand on his own, to set itself further apart from the rest of them. In fact a part of me would have preferred it be darker and to play around more with a vibe of Lovecraftian-like horror, though that might conflict with Marvel Studios and their plans to inevitably bring the Doctor to the Avengers or its other stand-alone films and have everything mesh well together.

To recap the story, Dr. Steven Strange, a neurosurgeon, gifted by a brilliant mind and talented hands, pulls off surgeries that are incredibly risky; saving many lives. But he has an ego and after damaging his hands severely in a car accident, he loses his job and rages at everyone around him. Driven by desperation he learns of a man who'd miraculously recovered from an impossible-to-cure condition and is told that he will have to travel to Nepal to discover how he did it. There he finds a strange cult of followers and their master 'The Ancient One' and he is quickly shown how much he doesn't know about the world due to his narrow-mindedness and dismissal of the existence of the spiritual and supernatural. Humbling himself, he finally gains their approval to join and learn how to recover himself. But he is inevitably drawn into much more than he bargained for when a former exiled student returns, accusing the Ancient One of harbouring a selfish secret of immortality and he seeks to expand that gift to everyone by calling forth a demon into our world; one whom the Ancient One warns would simply bring destruction. But who can Strange trust out of the two? And is any of this really his business to get involved in?

Dr. Strange's journey from doctor to sorcerer doesn't feel satisfying. One doesn't expect to see ever minute detail of his training, but there are moments where the audience feels cheated from learning how Strange overcomes certain trials forcing him to change or adapt to difficulties. He somehow just manages to pull through it with no explanation. Neither, do we really get to settle into his character arc going from the arrogant man he was before, to the selfless hero we find towards the end of the story; one willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of the world. The beats are all there, but they ring hollow.

The same criticism can be levelled at the supporting cast as well as the villain. The characters and their relationships are pretty easy to read and there isn't much else there to them. They just move the story along. Even dramatic changes and revelations about some of them don't elevate the material any further.

It's not so bad that we don't get an entertaining film out of it, but Marvel has managed to dazzle us many times already and I believe we might now be expecting much much more from our superhero spectacles. Dr. Strange could've benefited more by imitating Nolan's other film 'Batman Begins' by sticking to a greater emphasis on the character's changes from proud doctor to a fallen broken man to a humble student coming to grips with his situation and beliefs, to reluctant hero, and inevitably to earning the title of the Sorcerer Supreme and all its responsibilities.

Instead... what we have here is another quick origin story that is more concerned with setting up Infinity War with the next Infinity Stone, and this at the cost of developing its principle character so that we can actually grow with him. But there's still plenty of time for gags, as if Marvel thought that like Guardians and Thor that the only way to get audiences to buy into Dr. Strange's world would be through the vehicle of humour.

So for those audiences invested in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and following its exploits towards the finish line, Dr. Strange is obligatory viewing. But even for you or general audiences, Dr. Strange is still an enjoyable ride with cool ideas and trippy visuals. So it's worth the trip, even though you will feel like you're just touring a different part of the same island you've been to many times already.

Know that there is a both a mid and a post-credits scene. Worth sticking around for if you enjoy your teasers for future Marvel films. Though one hopes that there's time for Marvel to inject some variety into each of their properties presentations from here on out.