Dazzling visuals aside, DOCTOR STRANGE is a superhero origin story that is not only cut from the same cloth as movies like BATMAN BEGINS and IRON MAN, you can actually see the seams where they stitched in elements from both flicks. But also like those two franchise-launching films, what might have been rote is elevated by a strong cast. Sure, Benedict Cumberbatch may want to take a stab at a leading role that isn’t about a misunderstood, misanthropic and (of course) egocentric genius — but damned if he doesn’t pull it off every single time.
Although similar in formulaic structure to the aforementioned BB & IM, DS doesn’t do quite as good a job balancing the origins of the main character with the ultimate threat he must face to “save the day/world”. Perhaps fearful of a second act sag, the script has Strange go from novice to master of the mystic arts a little too fast, which is epitomized a key scene at the Sanctum Santorum in New York City. It’s still quite enjoyable, but they were really cutting to the chase far faster than a more fleshed out film should have.
In addition to the somewhat rushed nature of the script (which still feels more fully baked than other of this this year’s DC entries, if I’m being honest), there are attempts to lighten the story and characters sprinkled throughout the film. Some jokes land but others feel forced, as if concerns over the mostly humorless BATMAN v SUPERMAN from their rivals over at DC/Warner Brothers meant they needed to make damn sure smiles were being cracked here. No specific line or gag made me groan, so I wasn’t that put off with the attempt. After all, not every joke line in DIE HARD makes me laugh either. In either case - be it well crafted or not, the humor doesn’t negatively impact the overall tone of the film. And ultimately there IS something satisfyingly funny about how Strange ultimately DOES “save the world”.
I would also give the movie high marks for those dazzling visuals I mentioned at the top — the trippy nature of Strange plummeting through cosmic vortexes and mystical realms is far more “out there” than anything I’ve seen in any film of this genre so far. As for the INCEPTION conceits — yeah, there’s no denying that, but I’d also point out that both are tips of the hat to the works of MC Escher — done to great effect any number of times throughout the movie. This might be the one time I wouldn't have minded seeing the 3D conversion version (can one say “conversion version” — I’m not sure, but I just did).
Overall, I’d probably put the film a notch below ANT-MAN. It’s not as funny (which therefore reduces the fun), but you do get better antagonists (even in the typical limited scope of an MCU villain, I will always have a ball watching Mads Mikkelsen work), and I am very intrigued to see Stephen Strange appear in future Marvel films. There’s been 14 MCU films so far — I’d say this one lands almost exactly in the middle of the pack.
PS: Doctor Strange's cape is an actual fucking character unto itself — how crazy cool is that?