When one has wonderful color grading, fantastic, spectacular effects all around, and amazing renderings of fractals in the background, how can one be bothered with pesky things like wit, character traits, character motivation, character development, clear plot points, clear plot objectives, and pacing, creative cinematography, or creative editing? Certainly not Scott Derrickson and the executive production and creative team behind Doctor Strange, the latest installation to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, at Marvel Studios. In this new movie, Doctor Steven Strange is a brilliant neurosurgeon, played by Benedict Cumberbatch. He’s an arrogant neurosurgeon with no other defining character trait. He, like House, is in the medical game for the glory of his “record” of successes. And as a result of none of those things, he gets into a car accident and loses the thing most important to him, precise control over his hand’s movements. Understandably, being a surgeon, he’s distraught about it and, desperate, he travels to Nepal, seeking the help of Tilda Swinton, playing The Ancient One, a sorcerer supreme. There, Strange learns the mystic arts. Then, because the screenwriters remembered that they showed that there would be a villain, in the very beginning of the movie, they unnaturally transition to showing us the threat of Kaecilius, played by Mads Mikkelsen.
That said, was there anything other than the effects I liked? Yes, but everything I liked was coupled with something I found wrong with the movie as a whole. Surprisingly, I liked Strange. I think he was a cool cat and he had a healthy sense of self-worth, regardless of his portrayal as being arrogant. He thinks he’s a brilliant doctor because he really is a brilliant doctor. Though here’s another qualm I had with the movie. The fact that he’s a doctor is not made important at all. He could have just as easily have been an economist, plumber, dog trainer, dentist, or prostitute, and it wouldn’t have made any difference for the plot. We only know he’s a good doctor because he one-ups a bunch of doctors and Benedict Cumberbatch really knows how to manifest an aura of respect about his character. The only reason why they made him a doctor is because that’s what he was in the comics, but that’s not very convincing a reason for making him a doctor. And of course, this again has to do with the fact that the movie was rushed. I also found that the visuals were really great and ultimately vapid. It’s trippy for the sake of being trippy. Now, not everything has to have some deeper meaning. However, that trippy-ness must have cost a lot of money, half of which could have been used to give the writing staff more time to edit the script, or just hire a better lead writer. In fact, a lot of this movie is just crap that could have been utilized better.
Here’s another question. Why is Rachel McAdams here? I mean she’s got comedic chops, but she isn’t given much material here to show those chops off. Her entire role is to act surprised half the damn time and to be startled. Why is she wasted here? She’s an expensive actress. They could have had a B-grade actor or actress perform her actions.
*** Spoiler Alert***
This story (if you can call it that) has two villains. Kaecilius is the main villain in terms of screen-time, but he’s actually just an underling for Dormammu, in the Dark Dimension. This is of no consequence, of course, because, while he’s talked about earlier in the movie, Dormammu is introduced inexplicitly in the last 20 minutes to 25 minutes, visually shows up in the last 10 to 15 minutes, and is promptly defeated, though, admittedly, in a fairly clever way, by Doctor Strange and the Eye of Agamotto. And what is the motivation of Kaecilius? I couldn’t tell you. I don’t even remember because it was so crappy. It wasn’t outlandish. It was just either not memorable or not completely clear (I vote a mix of both). And Dormammu? Forget about it. There’s absolutely no reason for him to be in the movie. At least Kaecilius looked somewhat memorable, with the costume and the makeup. Dormammu is just a generic giant gas blob with a face. Thank you, Derrickson, for another impressive addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe Rogues Gallery. It felt as though the writers really spent 5 months writing the first 20 minutes, and then one week on the rest, having realized that it’s supposed to be a feature-length movie with three acts and the whole shebang. I mean it turns out that The Ancient One has been siphoning off Dormammu when she’s been telling everybody not to do it themselves and for whatever reason, it’s supposed to matter. It doesn’t, by the way. I just want to emphasize that that whole sequence of “the lier is revealed” takes up 10 minutes of screen-time and goes nowhere.
In fact, this is a common occurrence: Things just happen for no apparent reason. This movie is on rails. In the beginning, for example, there is an accident and we find out that there aren’t very many treatments to really fix the nerve damage, which causes him to shake, and somehow, a few shots later, we find out that he’s been asking a lot of people to do some crazy procedure he has in mind, and for whatever reason, even though we established that his idea is getting rejected completely, he’s still spent all of his money…?… And then he finds somebody who had a condition as bad as his own, but who was somehow healed. Strange asks the man how he was healed and the man says that he was spiritually healed with spirit stuff. Supposedly inspired and/or moved by the man’s claims, Strange goes to find this path to the spirit stuff to be healed, supposedly. When he gets there, he finds The Ancient One, who healed the man. Almost immediately she offers him the same healing, but he just rejects it, saying that he doesn’t believe in spirits or chakras. Now, while I agree that spirits and chakras and all that is just idiotic nonsense, I don’t get the logic here. Why did he spend all that time and money to get to the Ancient One only to reject it? What was the goal there? He was so desperate that he went.
Oh fuck… you know what I just realized: Why they wrote the interaction like that. Okay so in film school and really any class that discusses the “hero’s journey,” there’s a portion of the “journey” in which the hero, in this case, Doctor Strange, rejects the journey and wants to go back home, before actually embarking on the journey. Most movies feature this in one form or another. An example off the top of my head is in The Dark Knight, sometime within the first 15 minutes when Gordon and Batman are in a bank vault and they’re discussing how to take down the Mob. Gordon interjects, “what about this Joker guy.” Batman replies “one man or the entire mob. He can wait.” And then, of course, we know that Batman eventually does realize that he must deal with the Joker, and Batman having to deal with the Joker is what the remaining two hours of the movie are dedicated to. In all of the other MCU movies, they do it just fine. In Doctor Strange, however, they pulled this shit. A complete logic-less fucking mess. They couldn’t figure out how to write how he rejects the journey because they transitioned too well into it, and so they just did the worst thing, and just broke the natural transition and forced the rejection. And of course it’s all useless because almost immediately (maybe a minute or two) he is convinced to embark on the journey, but then The Ancient One rejects him because of… the screenwriter said so… and almost immediately she invites him back and they both go on with the story.
And the final blow is in the after credits scene, when it is revealed that, after having left the team, Mordo is evil now, cause he kills the guy who originally told Strange about how he was healed. I have no idea where that came from. It’s as if the writers wrote the entire movie and then remember that in the comics Baron Mordo is actually a villain. I thought the MCU was mostly planned out. Did nobody send these writers the memo or something? Did they forget? Was it decided after the whole movie was made? Unless you read the comics, there’s no reason for the audience to suspect that Mordo is either mentally unstable (as his villain version seems to be portrayed as) or villainous in any way. It’s not a natural arc. It would be as if it’s revealed in Indiana Jones 5 (Last I checked it was coming out in 2019, but I haven’t heard anything new about it), that Indiana Jones is now a rapist pedophile ax murderer. I’m guessing some people would wonder, at the very least, “huh… well that seems out of character.”
***End of Spoilers***
Look, I really do enjoy the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. I look forward to them every year and it’s even become a sort of tradition in my house to watch them all at least once with my family, along with however many times I watch them with friends or on my own. And I’ve accepted that there’s a checklist somewhere, which every single one of the movies follows. However, they all make that checklist so enjoyable. This one had a few cool-looking, trippy fractaly visuals, but everything is really hollow. I don’t know why I would be expected to care about a villain, whose motivations are basically nonexistent. There’s absolutely no reason to care about anything. The worst part is that, because of the visuals, which, really are quite spectacular, it doesn’t seem like it’s empty, but it’s as vapid as an iTunes or Microsoft Media Player visualizer for audio.