Being emotionally invested on a particular universe or fandom is a double edged swords. Sure it gives me more knowledge and frame of reference, but it’s kind of hard not to be biased. So much so I’ve literally given up on writing a proper review about Captain America: Civil War.
Though, admittedly, circumstances also played a part on my lack of writing during those months. Anyway. the next MCU movie on the roster is up to bat, and Doctor Strange really have the making of something I’d gladly squeal over. A character that I do adore, trippy visuals, the holyness that is Tilda Swinton, and of course, Benzedrine Cutterpop Benedict Cumberbatch. But does it, really?
After an accident (he recklessly caused), renowned surgeon Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) are left with fingers damaged beyond repairs. Exhausting his resources for failed recovery attempts and even losing his ex-girlfriend Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), he finally uses the last of his possessions for a one way ticket to Nepal and search for Khamar-Taj.
Only the cure that The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) offer is not one he has in mind…
So I do like this movie, and Derrickson’s visual is intriguing enough that a second viewing in IMAX 3D is in order. But I also want to see whether or not Doctor Strange could hold its ground on a more scrutinized viewing. It does, however, deserves an applaud and pat on the back. In an increasingly saturated superhero universe, Doctor Strange offered something different. A world of magic, one that is so far removed from science – a concern that they also addressed in the movie – and doesn’t try to explain itself through one. When other superheroes explained itself through more grounded reasons, it feels nice to forget everything I’ve ever known and got transported to a different dimension. Doctor Strange is a breathe of fresh air, it’s fun without trying too hard, the visuals are gorgeous and the characters have potentials to be intriguing. But it inevitably falls to the trap that Marvel unwittingly set for itself.
Introducing a new character is hard, especially when there’s no tie-in to the larger existing universe. Unlike the upcoming Black Panther movie, Doctor Strange doesn’t have the luxury of popping up in past MCU movies. Well, unless you count the easter egg in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Not only that, Doctor Strange also responsible for opening up the previously untouched mystical world of MCU. So I understand why Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson, and C. Robert Cargill played it safe by penning a by-the-book origin story. It does the work, yes. It introduced Stephen Strange and established his peculiar world, along with its distinctive inhabitants. But it still is a road that so many MCU characters have taken before. For a movie that’s supposedly ventured to uncharted territories, it feels all too familiar.
Which you know, is something I’d willingly overlooked if not for Marvel’s increasingly apparent flaw. I’ve noticed this since Captain America: The Winter Soldier, created my hypothesis after Ant-Man, and Doctor Strange proved it. Marvel really needs to work on their characterization. They have this arsenal of characters with unique appeal and realms to play with. Yet somehow the output always lack the charms to engage. Both in terms of stand-alone characters, and their interaction with one another. Because I didn’t know Strange well enough to sympathize when he lost his hands, nor is he enough of a prick for me to jeer on.
I’m not saying Cumberbatch disappoint, no. He delivered. He was fragile and humbled when he needed to, endearingly bewildered at times, but never losing his underlying cocky and egoistic traits. He brought depth and clandestine sorrow to a character who could’ve easily been two dimensional. But his Strange wasn’t as haughty as I expected it to be. I’m not sure whether they avoid that route because it’s reminiscent of Tony Stark, or purely practical reason like writing and time limitation. It’s just that, considering you have the man most notably known for portraying all shades of arrogant know-it-all, it’s kind of a shame not to use it to the fullest. Plus it would give additional drama and meaning to his rediscovery. His relationship with Rachel McAdams’ Christine Palmer is shallow at best. For two people who supposedly were lovers, they barely had chemistry. Which wasn’t surprising, since her character was mainly a plot device. And I thank Derrickson for not forcing a Hollywood Big Damn Kiss on me.
Still side-eyeing you, Civil War.
Tilda Swinton was on a whole different level though. She was as ethereal as ever. Her Ancient One was graceful with steel underneath, commanding but compassionate, and complicated. She’s someone I would love to know more about, and Derrickson was right when he wrote the part with Tilda Swinton in mind, despite her controversial casting (it’s not actually that big of a deal. The Ancient One is a title, and it could’ve been passed on to her. And Derrickson’s reason made political scene. And none of you bat an eye about Ejiofor playing a supposedly Romanian Mordo. So let’s just move on, yeah?) Benedict Wong’s Wong was a scene stealer, with a hard-to-miss presence and occasionally funny reactions. Though their interactions were limited, he and Cumberbatch set up an interesting dynamics which serves as the basis for their next outing as partners.
When it comes to the other side of spectrum, however, Marvel still hasn’t learned shit. Like, I’m not asking for Loki’s level of charm and layered personalities. Just give me a well written adversary who isn’t clearly a plot device slash Big Bad of the week. Like Kaecilius. His lack of any distinctive traits was so apparent it’s painful to watch how Mads Mikkelsen wasted away. Thankfully Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo was just the opposite. He was outgoing and likeable, devoted but with a hint of darkness in him. He wasn’t explored as much as I hoped he would, but he had character development almost as much as Strange. And he had all the making to be as formidable and beseeching as Loki. If he’s written right.
With majestic scoring and trippy but gratifying visuals – starting from visual effects to casts and delightful fighting scenes, Doctor Strange was a pleasure to watch. It was a breathe of fresh air, and there was strength in its simplicity. It was easy to digest with magical Marvel trivia sprinkled here and there. And thanks to all those well placed quips, this is an MCU movie with a sense of humor that resonated with me the most. At the core, though, it still was a typical MCU movie. And that’s getting stale. But hey, Doctor Strange is one of Marvel’s better releases.
Director: Scott Derickson. Writers: Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson, & C. Robert Cargill. Released on: 26 October 2016 (Indonesia). Casts: Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, Benedict Wong, Rachel McAdams.