Doctor Strange delivers engrossing visuals but just about everything else commits the sin of similarity in a film that by its very namesake has license to be different.
Before I get too deep into the discussion, I’d like to clarify that I enjoyed Dr. Strange thoroughly. As far as popcorn flicks go, it knocks it out of the park, providing ample spectacle. While the spectacle entertains, it also distracts from the fact that Doctor Strange favours convention over character. Call me crazy, but character is integral to an origin story. Rather than write a truly unlikable genius, that’s there when the universe needs him—like the very troubled Rick from Rick and Morty—Marvel hired someone good at playing the unlikable genius. They cooked up a misplaced love story and peppered the script with goofy jokes.
Now to attack the love story convention that hinders Strange’s development. At the beginning of the film, Doctor Strange suffers a terrible accident and finds himself in the care of an old squeeze (Rachel McAdams). He treats her like dirt and fucks off to the mountains for training. He’s gone for quite some time and sends her letters in size 100 font—it’s almost like he’s typing for the benefit of some unseen audience. Then he gets in his first battle and ends up on her operating table. Turns out, she’s happy as a clam to see him, when any other lady in her position would tell him to fuck back off to where he came from. She has no reason to follow him to the ends of the earth or be the patient wife. And he, as a monk, as every reason to be abstenant, or at the very least, solitary. In fact, if she had told him to fuck off, he would have learned the moral needed for his arch, that it’s not about him. But Marvel kept the love story and had his yogi relate the moral to him through exposition instead.
To clarify, when I say Marvel threw a bunch of goofy jokes into the script that feel out of place, I’m not talking about the Abbott and Costello banter or other smart witticisms like the one above. These absolutely serve the smart-ass persona of Doctor Strange. I’m criticizing the goofy jokes about Beyonce that feel bi-polar for a movie that opens with a fucking beheading. Even the climax teeter taters between moments of extreme gravity and levity: They crack wise in the rubble of what was once a city block. The clever way in which he resolves his confrontations—or deals with his devils—expose his character better than offbeat jokes.
It worries me, because it seems like Marvel is afraid to be serious. No doubt thanks to the massacre that is the current D.C. filmic universe. But the D.C. universe did fail because it was serious, it failed because it tried to paint all of their characters with the same “Serious” brush, and by making Tongue and Cheek jokes intrinsic to the Marvel Universe, Marvel’s doing the same damn thing. Only, instead of a “Serious” brush, it’s a “Silly” one.
Again, the only sin of Marvel’s Doctor Strange is one of similarity. It tries so hard to fit in with the conventions of the franchise that it doesn’t have any individuality in character or story. But hey, the psychedelic imagery’s pretty dope.