Film Score: 2 out of 5 (Below Average)
In this new Disney-Marvel Expansion, prominent surgeon Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is struck by tragedy, leading a to a mystical journey from surgeon to ‘heroic’ magician. That journey felt like a 4 a.m. taxi ride on a Saturday night after one kebab too many.
Doctor Strange is part of Disney’s inevitable expansion of the Marvel Universe as it leads up to the Infinity War. The film feels like a rushed attempt to cash-in on acquired I.P., rather than a holistic introduction to a character unknown to many viewers unless they are Marvel readers.
I have no bias against Disney’s Marvel expansion, some of the Disney-Marvel films were great, particularly Guardians of the Galaxy. Having watched the Doctor Strange trailer, and seen the actors involved, my expectation was that Doctor Strange would mirror the wackiness and humour of Guardians of the Galaxy.
Doctor Strange’s persistent flaw is the aggressive urgency by which the plot develops. The film feels like a check-list of events, exposition and emotions which have been rushed through in competition with a deadline.
The most obvious example of Doctor Strange’s ridiculous pace is the romance element between title character Doctor Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and colleague Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). It is clear from the first hospital scene that the pair have been romantically involved at some point, yet little reason is given to why the relationship failed. Following the film’s introduction, their romance seems to reappear and disappear at a whim, until Strange seemingly forgoes Christine to fight the villain Kaecilius (Mads Mikklesen).
The film is so eager to conclude the story that it veers between serious drama and slapstick humour, pushing the viewer between emotions and leaving them confused as to what they should feel at any given time. The scene where Doctor Strange is introduced to magic is the worst affected by the film’s rushed feel. Strange’s reality is shattered and I should have shared his sense of being overwhelmed by this new world. I spent the 2 minutes of that scene laughing out loud, to my realisation that I was one of the few laughing in the audience. This excessive alteration between comedy and drama blots out the genuine moments in the film, tinging Doctor Strange with a sense of melodrama.
The main cast are seasoned actors, particularly Mads Mikklesen (Kaecilius) who has been one of my favourite actors since watching The Hunt. The acting is great throughout but once again the plot weakens the film. Character development is very limited. Characters appear on cue, but no time is afforded to develop any emotional bond between them and the audience. When the film concluded, I had the same sense of investment in what had unfolded as when I half-heartedly watch a Sunday T.V show with my parents.
There were opportunities to develop the film’s characters further, some of the character’s past history and motivations are stated but not expanded upon. These omissions stem from what appears to be a lack of time. Doctor Strange is the character that lacks the most development, he comes across as a jerk who is too clever for his own good, refusing to accept any of the lessons afforded to him during his journey from surgeon to mage. The end attempts to show that Doctor Strange has become a hero, but it was missing a good twenty minutes showing the protagonist’s actual transition.
It is probable that the next cinematic appearance by the good Doctor Strange will humble him and expand on his past. However, Doctor Strange would have been better suited to the generous runtime of a Netflix series, allowing characters and the story to grow naturally.
Despite watching Doctor Strange in 2D the film’s special effects were impressive, but that is to be expected from a company with Disney’s financial stature.
The franchise awakens
Doctor Strange raises concerns for Disney’s second and far more recent I.P. acquisition, Star Wars.
I am a fan of the original films and I did enjoy The Force Awakens, although I did not dress up for my local premiere in Star Wars garb like the middle aged father, and his two embarrassed daughters, sitting next to me. The next films in the Star Wars franchise are Rogue One and the Han Solo’s origins story.
The upcoming Star Wars spin-offs boast robust casts but I have my doubts. Rogue One is essentially a story with an ending that is already known to fans of the series. Moreover Han Solo is the fan favourite of the original films and will definitely reap a profit. I fear that for Star Wars, in comparison to how Marvel is faring under Disney, that the franchise is going to be exactly that, a franchise. Instead of Star Wars being a film series which at certain levels deals with matters such as morality and spirituality, it is going to become a conveyor belt of ever minor characters to a point of saturation.
In Disney’s defence they are a major company and they need to maintain profit growth for shareholders. Yet I was hoping with Disney’s acquisition of the Star Wars title, that there would be spin-offs exploring deeper issues for the older Star Wars audience which has grown up with the original films and the prequels from the late 1970’s to the 2000’s. A potential subject for a more mature Star Wars film would be the fact that Republic’s Clone Army is a force of slaves. A film exploring this issue could cover many issues within our reality in a sci-fi setting, such as the loss of identity in warfare, freedom and destiny, and so forth.
When I left the screening of Doctor Strange, I did have a sense that Disney was basically selling the family silver, rather than taking risks. I hope that my opinion will be soon disproved.
Target audience: Younger teens and children.
By Saul Shimmin
For the trailer, see below: