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The UnPopular Opinion: Doctor Strange

02.23.2017

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

In my tenure here at JoBlo.com (5 years next week!), I have been called many names. Thanks to this column in particular, many of those names have not been very kind. But one that I do not understand is Marvel Apologist. Sure, this site covers a lot of comic book films but that is the cinematic world we live in right now. Superheroes and shared universes are all the rage in Hollywood and until that goes away we will be covering them. But, even at their worst, Marvel films are better than a lot of mainstream films out there. For every Marvel Studios effort that I love, there are others I truly don't like at all. I have taken both THOR movies and both AVENGERS films to task for their shortcomings and now I feel obligated to do the same for DOCTOR STRANGE. There was a lot of cool stuff on display in Scott Derrickson's mystical origin story but the movie also exposed the glaring holes in Marvel's impenetrable reputation.

Every time a new Marvel movie is released, fanboys are split between those who adoringly throw bouquets at the film and herald it as another masterpiece while others decry the film as another cookie cutter product meant to pad Disney's bottom line. The true answer lies somewhere in the middle. But, DOCTOR STRANGE is far from being a revelation unto Marvel Studios. Yes, the film had the gargantuan task of introducing the mystical side of the MCU but in the end it comes off as being nothing more than Marvel's GREEN LANTERN. The Sorceror Supreme, in essence, is a universal guardian chosen to ward off alien entities from harming Earth. Stephen Strange takes on the mantle of Sorceror Supreme begrudgingly thanks to his seemingly natural talents for magic. Somehow, we got all of this from an incredibly bland film made only unique by the trippy visuals that were marketing as groundbreaking despite having been done better years prior in Christopher Nolan's INCEPTION.

The UnPopular Opinion, Doctor Strange, Marvel Studios, Superhero, Comic Book, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Fantasy

The problem all stems from the lead role. Benedict Cumberbatch is an incredibly talented actor who brings a gravitas to his roles as Sherlock Holmes and Khan in STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS that is sorely lacking here. Cumberbatch portrays Strange like Tony Stark, MD. He is snarky, sarcastic, and thinks way too highly of himself. But, as Tony Stark developed a change of heart over the course of the first IRON MAN film, Strange's journey feels oddly forced. Even Paul Rudd's journey as Scott Lang in ANT-MAN felt more natural than Strange's transformation from cocky surgeon to mystical warrior. What has made every other Marvel superhero so watchable is the fact that they are flawed humans who embrace their duality as person and superhero. Here, Strange just feels like a guy who has no choice but to become a hero. The only time that Cumberbatch seems perfect in the role comes during the credit sequence featuring Doctor Strange and Thor (Chris Hemsworth).

The issue with why the credit sequence works and the rest of the film does not comes down to one thing: director. Derrickson is no stranger to big budget filmmaking but his previous foray into blockbuster territory, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, was equally as boring and generic as DOCTOR STRANGE. The credit sequence came courtesy of THOR: RAGNAROK helmer Taika Waititi who injected some levity into the proceedings. Every time Cumberbatch tried to deliver a joke or one-liner in this film it came off as very forced and not humorous. Derrickson absolutely did a great job with the physics-defying visual aspect of DOCTOR STRANGE but that was about it. The rest of the cast didn't fare much better with Mads Mikkelsen and Chiwetel Ejiofor coming off as bored to death to be in this movie. Rachel McAdams, a talented actress, was given virtually nothing to warrant her casting in the film. The lone standout was Tilda Swinton but, let's be honest, she could make reading the ingredients in herpes medication sound amazing.

The UnPopular Opinion, Doctor Strange, Marvel Studios, Superhero, Comic Book, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Fantasy

What I wanted from Scott Derrickson was for this movie to be much darker and riskier than it was. Derrickson is best known for working in horror with films like DELIVER US FROM EVIL and SINISTER. SINISTER itself was a relatively formulaic movie that played to the audience by delivering genuine scares using a villain that looked different than what you typically see. That film played within the confines of genre formula but managed to set itself apart. DOCTOR STRANGE plays so safely within the confines of superhero formulas that it never tries to be as groundbreaking as the visual effects. As I mentioned earlier, INCEPTION laid the groundwork for the visuals of DOCTOR STRANGE and this film didn't even manage to fully erase that film's legacy. When you see DOCTOR STRANGE, you immediately think of INCEPTION and if another movie uses similar tactics, you will still remember Nolan's film rather than this one. The entirety of DOCTOR STRANGE feels that way and that prevents the stakes from ever being more than characters yelling empty threats at one another.

More than Derrickson alone, the fault for DOCTOR STRANGE lies with Marvel Studios. Kevin Feige, who is absolutely a marketing genius with the way he has handled the MCU, played it very safe by enlisting former Ain't It Cool News editor C. Robert Cargill and PROMETHEUS screenwriter Jon Spaihts to script this movie. DOCTOR STRANGE is by no means a pivotal character in the MCU at large, but there is just so much more that could have been done with the material. Even the brilliant Michael Giacchino falls a bit flat with the score for this movie and that guy managed to pull off a decent orchestral soundtrack for ROGUE ONE on very short notice. Everything about DOCTOR STRANGE is the definition of formulaic and doesn't do anything unique or special for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which it absolutely did need to do. ANT-MAN, which itself was not a home run for Marvel, at least differentiated itself with a sense of humor. DOCTOR STRANGE just exists.

The UnPopular Opinion, Doctor Strange, Marvel Studios, Superhero, Comic Book, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Fantasy

When I attended San Diego Comic Con last year, DOCTOR STRANGE was still several months away from release and the presentation put on by the studio filled the audience with hopes that the movie would redefine the MCU by introducing the mystical arts to big screen universe. I was ready and bought in to love the movie but it just didn't happen. DOCTOR STRANGE represents for the Marvel Cinematic Universe what CARS did for Pixar: a hollow entry into an otherwise stellar track record. Is it terrible? No, not at all. Is it good? Sure, I guess from a technical standpoint. But being neither bad nor great doesn't really fly these days when you have the same studio putting out products like CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. When the bar is raised, you have to rise up to the challenge. There is a great film to be made with Stephen Strange and it can now be done with this movie out of the way. It just better be done by someone other than Scott Derrickson.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to alexmaidy@joblo.com, spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!

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Source: JoBlo.com

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