Doctor Strange (2016) Review: Of Magical Formulas And Trippy Drugs

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Another year is ending, and another pair of Marvel movies made their way to cinemas. Doctor Strange is the second Marvel movie released in 2016 and it is the 14th movie to enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It is also the seventh MCU origin story tasked with introducing a relatively unknown character to the general viewing public.By that description alone, experienced viewers will know what to expect from Doctor Strange. 

Based on the mystical comic book character of the same name, Doctor Strange shows how Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) turns from brilliant but arrogant neurosurgeon into the incredibly powerful Sorcerer Supreme after surviving a deadly car accident. Helping Strange achieve self-discovery and enlightenment are his love interest Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), and his mentoring mages the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Master Wong (Benedict Wong). Together, they must stop Kaecilius (Mads Mikklesen) from bringing about the end of the world and all known life.

The advertisements for Doctor Strange invited audiences to “open their minds” but if the movie is anything to go by, Doctor Strange doesn’t really give a fuck about what viewers think or deserve. Doctor Strange is yet another entertaining but missed opportunity for Marvel to rock the metaphorical boat though at this point, what the fuck is to be expected from a company that made a massive profit peddling the same shit for the past part of a decade.

A Familiar Acid Trip

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An old adage once preached about not fixing what’s not broken, and this is something Marvel strictly abides by. The story’s formula may be tiresome, but Doctor Strange is still a good showcase of a generic superhero origin story done right. To date, Doctor Strange is the best Marvel origin story since the original Iron Man (2008), and that’s saying something considering how all of Marvel’s origin stories are pretty much the same fucking thing.

Once again, a cocky prick who is knocked into the shit is forced to rise back up through a training montage and reluctant heroics. Doctor Strange may not change the formula, but it follows the checklist with a level of grace, creativity and style not seen in quite a while. The casting of legit award winning actors elevates Doctor Strange’s characters from stock archetypes (such as a Mentor or Rival) into memorable role-players in Strange’s journey to heroism. Unlike other Marvel movies such as Thor where only one guy (i.e. Loki) gives a shit, Doctor Strange (for the most part) maximizes its star power and gives viewers a group of onscreen mages and mystics worth rooting for.The only exception would be Rachel McAdams, whose incredible talents are wasted when she tries her best to portray Marvel’s usual disposable love interest, just like how Natalie Portman wasted her time in Thor. McAdams is so replaceable that her role could have been played by a fucking fridge, and Strange’s character arc and newfound calling would still remain intact.

Doctor Strange also boasts some of the most inventive visuals seen in a spectacle movie. The visuals in question can only be described as a simpler Inception (2010) with both steroids and every known ’60s era psychedelic drug ever sold replacing the mindfuck of Christopher Nolan’s writing. Dedicated comic book fans have always joked about how Doctor Strange was probably drawn while high as fuck, and the movie does an amazing job of bringing the story’s trippy fucked-up worlds to life. That and Doctor Strange also benefits from a sweet soundtrack and more importantly, not being as offensively generic as either Thor or Ant-Man (2014).

Then again, Doctor Strange IS still a Marvel movie. Leave it to Marvel to squander the chance to make Doctor Strange something truly different and deliver the same old story while tripping fucking balls.

By The Power Of The Status Quo

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Everything that could be expected from a Marvel movie finds its way to Doctor Strange and makes sure the Sorcerer Supreme doesn’t stray too far from the formula popularized by Tony Stark. From poorly timed humor to rushing the final act with an overblown action scene, Doctor Strange religiously follows the Marvel Superhero Formula with nary a thought of sin in mind. There are inspired moments when Doctor Strange tries to do something new like trying to actually give the villain, Kaecilius, a sympathetic motive and backstory – but all of that is thrown aside in favor of turning him into a forgettable bad guy who has cool computerized powers and is dispatched in maybe two seconds.

Doctor Strange adheres to the status quo so much that by the end, it literally gives the titular hero the power to reset the status quo whenever he wants. If you thought Captain America: Civil War lacked stakes and lasting ramifications despite the Avengers’ broken friendships, wait until you see Doctor Strange shrug off the Marvel equivalent of Cthulhu, and save reality itself with the power of Tony Stark Snark and a convenient rewind button.

That’s not to say that Doctor Strange is not worth watching.The amount of generic bullshit stuffed in Doctor Strange is not enough to diminish the fact that it is still an enjoyable stand-alone Marvel movie that doesn’t need the overarching lore of the MCU to make sense. While the narrative is functional and serviceable at best, Doctor Strange is still told with so much bravado and enthusiasm that it deserves to be seen at least once. It’s easy to bitch about how interchangeable Marvel movies are, but give credit where it’s due: Marvel’s worst is an other’s best. As safe as Doctor Strange plays, it’s still a metric fuckton better than the self-indulgent and pretentious bullshit Zack Snyder crapped out earlier this year. If it’s anything, Doctor Strange just proves that Marvel knows how to give its loyal supporters a fun time, and it also shows why the comic brand deserves the respect it commands today.


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