**Non Spoiler Review**
It’s a strange era we live in. Since Ironman in 2008, we are now miraculously on our 14th chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (whisper: it’s all connected). No slight of hand, no smoke and mirrors- just a commitment to the source material and an monumental effort to keep it all connected (whisper: it’s all connected). Out of confidence, Marvel Studios can take almost any property and make it an instant hit, illustrated by the likes of Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy. However, now we have the likes of a hero that is a mix between a Vegas magician, Dr McDreamy and Sherlock Holmes. But, is it genuinely magical or a two bit parlor trick? Honestly, I think it’s a little of both.
I’ll cut straight to it. As mentioned by many critics, Doctor Strange is quite the visual spectacle. It’s Inception meets Harry Potter- and there is nothing wrong with that. It’s so mind bending that it’s likely to induce a little vertigo for those with inner ear issues. Introducing magic in such a grounded Marvel universe is no easy feat and I think Scott Derrickson does an admirable job making it spectacular but believable. I also commend Marvel architect, Kevin Feige, and Marvel for their commitment to be true to the character’s design and origin. Cumberbatch looks good, feels good and is pretty much a cosplayer’s dream. Benedict is great in anything he does. He struggles a bit with the ‘Robert Downey Jr’ wit and clearly is more comfortable in dry sarcasm then trying to banter. It’s not a stellar performance but he has already made it hard imagining anyone else in the part- which is what you want. So all in all, great visuals, comics accurate Doctor and thumbs up on Cumberbatch. Thus ends my praise of this film.
As multi-dimensional as Doctor Strange is suppose to be, it is largely unimaginative. With the underlying structure of aforementioned Ironman (2008) but with a new veneer, we get the same structure that we have seen for all of the origin films. The formula: Arrogant protagonist + the purposeless love interest + Yoda x plucky minority sidekicks (division sign) generic evil villains. This pretty much describes almost every Marvel origin story we have seen. I love most of these films and many of them I consider quite good. But for a film that really is suppose to break the boundaries of reality I just expected a little more effort. The story is perfectly serviceable and if you don’t care that you are getting the same plot you’ve seen half a dozen times, then you will like Strange. I was just surprised how paint by the numbers it was. Like it or not, with every installment, the bar keeps rising. Like Steven Strange, Feige may need to forget everything he knows and open his mind to what else is possible.
The most egregious crime Doctor Strange commits is it’s blatant appropriation of Asian culture. With an almost entire Western cast, it really is embarrassing how little Marvel seems to care about this important issue. The white washing of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) was bad enough but come on, at least make an effort to make up for it in other ways. Despite some obligatory wide shots of Nepal, there are NO NEPALESE in this film. With the exception of a few background characters scurrying about, this could have been set in almost any mystical Asian mountain top. Heck, they could have put the cast in a PF Chang restaurant and it wouldn’t have made much difference. Clearly the entire cast are not indigenous and are just renting space in Kathmandu for the reasons. Even Benedict Wong, who is a Brit of Chinese dissent, can’t balance out the inequality. It’s really a ashamed too. With such a brilliant cast, the authenticity is lost because it feels like they are playing in a paper world. For a movie that is suppose to be set in an exotic land and culture, Doctor Strange is just bland and banal. While I appreciate comics source material, most of the Kathmandu cast, protagonist and villains, should have been Nepalese- or at least Asian. It probably didn’t help that before Doctor Strange, the trailer for Matt Damon’s The Great Wall played. Which will no doubt be another reluctant ‘white knight’ that has to step up and save an entire people group. Similarly, Doctor Strange has to go save Hong Kong since no indigenous heroes exist. I’m tired of it. A lot of people are tired of it. Marvel, 14 films in, you should be tired of it too. Black Panther should be a welcome change to this downhill slope to mono-culturalism but it can’t turn the tide alone. Marvel Studios needs to care for the people and culture that are depicted in their stories- period (Remember, Iron Fist is around the corner too). In 2008, like Tony Stark, it was all about having fun and partying like a millionaire playboy philanthropist. On the eve of 2017, it’s time to mature.
On a related note- Doctor Strange abysmally fails the Bechdale Test. Talented actress, Rachel McAdams, does nothing but just serve as caretaker for Strange. She has no volition of her own and is just there to pamper and praise Strange. I’m tired of that too. Stop it. Just stop it.
With all this ranting, I don’t think Doctor Strange is a bad film. While it doesn’t bring much new to story telling, it’s quite good in parts. Strange shows the symptom that we have all been feeling in the back of our minds for some time now; Lazy thinking is setting in and it’s time for something new. Good news is that Strange will fit nicely in the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is what we all mainly care about anyways right?! Am I expecting too much from a Marvel film. Are my concerns valid as a comic book fan? How important should race and culture play in superhero films? Let me know what your thoughts are by leaving a comment below.