SHARE

 

dr-strange
Marvel

It’s nearly impos­sible to fault Benedict Cum­ber­batch — but it’s becoming increas­ingly easy to crit­icize Marvel Studios, LLC, as it con­tinues to make the same superhero movie over and over again.

Marvel’s latest film, “Doctor Strange,” fea­tures Cum­ber­batch in the lead role alongside Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, and Chi­wetel Ejiofor. While the acting was on point, Marvel just can’t seem to divorce bad sto­ry­telling from pleasing the masses. Marvel still thinks it needs to stuff films full of dizzying action sequences and daz­zling special effects in order to make a profit, and as long as movie­goers are appeased by flashy fight scenes and melo­dra­matic, world-threat­ening cat­a­strophes, Marvel will con­tinue to make bad movies.

“Doctor Strange” focuses on an insuf­ferably ego­tis­tical brain surgeon, Dr. Stephen Strange, (Cum­ber­batch) who seeks miracle healing after his hands are ruined in a car accident. Strange lashes out against those who love him most, including his onetime lover and fellow surgeon, Dr. Christine Palmer (McAdams). He then travels to Southeast Asia to seek mys­tical healing, where he is taken in by the Kamar-Taj, a mys­te­rious society that prac­tices what appears to be some form of Bud­dhism com­bined with sorcery. The sor­cerers — led by their seem­ingly immortal leader, the Ancient One (Swinton) — promise Strange he can be healed if he learns their ways.

At this point in the plot, the film starts to get inter­esting, but director Scott Der­rickson yanks the story in another direction: Strange is needed to fight a rebel­lious sor­cerer who is trying to bring eternal death to Earth. Der­rickson squeezes in action scene after action scene, pushing the plot along with con­trived char­acter devel­opment until the anti­cli­mactic finale. Instead of expounding on the reli­gious sorcery hybrid prac­ticed by the sor­cerers of Kamar-Taj, Der­rickson shoots long scenes depicting sor­cerers racing through mind-bending alternate real­ities, prac­ticing a magic that the viewer barely under­stands. Instead of fleshing out Strange’s char­acter arc, Der­rickson burdens Cum­ber­batch with the role of a reluctant hero without pro­viding enough dia­logue and plot to develop his char­acter and then to fea­sibly sac­rifice himself to save the world.

That said, Cum­ber­batch delivers an enjoyable per­for­mance. The opening scenes are a treat: viewers watch the arrogant but tal­ented brain surgeon conduct surgery while choosing dif­ferent pop songs to suit his mood. In another scene, Strange rebukes a fellow surgeon for falsely declaring a man dead, then insists on removing a bullet from the man’s brain without auto­mated assis­tance. Strange’s arro­gance, cloaked by dry humor, is exem­plary of Cumberbatch’s acting skills: he knows he’s the best, he knows he’s right, and he’ll put you in your place while making you laugh.

Marvel does a few things well in “Doctor Strange”: the film bal­ances laughable moments with serious subject matter, and the actors manage this sym­metry well. Strange’s lev­i­tating red cloak has its own mis­chievous per­son­ality, stealing scenes left and right as it saves Strange’s life and pokes at his ego. Strange banters with pretty much every other char­acter, but his inter­ac­tions with Palmer are the most enter­taining:

“I went to a place called Kamar-Taj and talked to someone called the Ancient One,” he tells her after returning to her as a cloaked superhero-sor­cerer.

Palmer says, “Oh, so you joined a cult.”

“No, I didn’t. No, well, not exactly. They did teach me to tap into powers I never even knew existed,” he says.

“Yeah, that sounds like a cult,” she replies.

“It’s not a cult.”

“Well, that’s what a cultist would say.”

After Strange opens a portal in the hos­pital closet to return to the New York Sanctum, a broom clatters to the floor, prompting Palmer to jump and scream. It’s a cute moment, coun­tering the deep, con­tem­plative death scene that follows, but it also leaves the viewer wishing McAdams had more screen time.

“Doctor Strange” cer­tainly has redeeming moments, but the film’s basic plot is the same as every other Marvel movie, but with less char­acter devel­opment and a lack of the­matic explo­ration. But the Marvel formula still brings in the crowds and the ticket sales: “Doctor Strange” was the No. 1 film during its opening weekend and scored the biggest IMAX opening domes­ti­cally and inter­na­tionally to date, beating 2014’s “Inter­stellar.”

That means that for now, Marvel will con­tinue to make superhero movies as it always has: with light the­matic ele­ments, glit­tering visuals, and decent acting. But for those of us who want to see some­thing a little deeper and grittier, it might be time to turn to “The Dark Knight” trilogy and other more sub­stantive superhero films from DC Comics, Inc.