At a certain point even formulas for success become just formulaic. Of all the metaphysical worries surrounding the plot of Doctor Strange, the production is clearly concerned with becoming just another Marvel movie. It doesn’t help that Strange the character is noticeably similar to Iron Man, Tony Stark. Both learned to sublimate their egos and work for the greater good only after a life-threatening injury forced them to reevaluate their existence. They are even groomed similarly with matching goatees.
The leading portion of Doctor Strange has to be yet another comic book origin story and its treated as almost a formality. It’s playing in the sandbox set up by Iron Man, while borrowing a substantial portion of Batman Begins for its Western infiltrated far-East set pieces. Doctor Strange though feels more of a piece with Ant-Man. Both films are incredibly light affairs, even as they dangle the collapse of humanity as consequence for their hero’s failures. Neither pictures boasts a distinct tone like what Joss Whedon infused in his Avengers features. The effect in Doctor Strange in particular is keep the lavish designs and twisting logic from demanding any serious investigation.
The visuals in Doctor Strange build on Inception’s architectural dreamscapes. City blocks and buildings fold into each other, turning into watch gears as they reconfigure and reorientate themselves. In these effects there’s a hint of the Asgard of the Thor films, but primarily uses the “microverse” sequence of Ant-Man as its starting point.
Tilda Swinton drew the lionshare of the ire in the lead up to the picture. Her casting as the Ancient One, an Asian character in the comics, was singled out as textbook whitewashing. However as anyone familiar with Swinton’s other features would suspect she’s the best thing in the movie that’s not an animated cape. She imbues the all knowing, centuries-old Ancient One with palpable self doubt and a touch of guilt. When the Ancient One abandons Stephen Strange on Mount Everest in a do or die test Swinton’s expressions telegraph her lack of faith.
The production waited for Benedict Cumberbatch to become available for filming. Doctor Strange is a familiar character for the British actor. Charismatic, incredibly talernted, while socially off putting. Where daddy issues spurred Tony Stark, its a palpable fear of failure that informs all Strange’s decisions. Even as an accomplished medical practitioner, Strange refused to see patients he deemed too risky, lest imperil his “streak” of successful operations.
The big finale is a steadfast requirement for all action-orientated mainstream films. The paradox being that the bigger the late cardinal threat, the more quick the resolution. Marvel movies have generally done better with their final acts since the first Avengers film where an invading army of faceless goons were instantaneously felled by deft action from Iron Man. 2016 also saw Captain America Civil War that worked down from large set pieces to conclude on an intimate display of close quarters fistcuffs which may remain the best of Marvel finales.
Dormammu threatens Doctor Strange with swallowing the whole dimension into nothingness. The entity too is unsuccessful in its endeavours. While the Doctor takes nary ten minutes of screentime to rebuff the infinitely powerful being, its accomplished with great creativity and filmmaking panache. In a year that Star Trek Beyond punted its climax with a musical montage, things could have gone much worse.