Hot Take: The best comic book film of 2016.
Walking into Doctor Strange, I expected to hate it. I remember the comic book and was never that impressed. I’ve always been lukewarm in my response to Benedict Cumberbatch, too. I’ve also expressed my displeasure with the overload of comic book films in recent history although I did rank Captain America: Civil War and Deadpool fairly high and am excited at the prospect of a Black Panther movie and a Spider-Man reboot to be completely transparent. Needless to say, though, the odds of me enjoying Doctor Strange weren’t very high walking in.
Fortunately, Doctor Strange was yet another well down film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Their ability to go outside of the main characters of the MCU and deliver quality films (Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man on a smaller scale, pun completely intended, as cases in point) continues to impress and even though there’s a definite comic book fatigue, the future of comic book films isn’t completely dismal. Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange is near perfect casting. He embodies the character and through the origin story, it is easy to buy into him as the titular hero.
From beginning to end, Doctor Strange is engrossing. There are definitely things that I could quibble with. If I wanted to rail on Tilda Swinton’s portrayal of The Ancient One, I could. I wasn’t blown away by it and it was one of the more cliché plotlines of the movie. However, it doesn’t fully take away from the film. Plus, you’ll be too busy enjoying the best visual effects since The Matrix. Even more impressive is the fact that the film isn’t just these visual effects. There’s a decent story here and one you can easily get into even without any background of the Doctor Strange comic book.
If there’s anything negative here, the origin story follows the blueprint of previous MCU origin stories and it’s a fair criticism that the plot while engrossing is somewhat generic. The visual effects add a layer to the movie that differentiate it from other offerings and the manipulation of time and space provide for some mind-bending concepts that are fun to think about. The climactic third act battle contains a particularly impressive scene that I won’t ruin here but it’s worth the price of admission even if you hate the rest of the movie.
In particularly normal MCU fashion, Doctor Strange sets you up for future installments. There’s absolutely no doubt Strange will be back and there were even hints he’ll be tied to the next installment of Thor in addition to a second stand-alone Doctor Strange movie. Unlike some movies, these set-ups do not take away from the movie itself as they are strategically placed in a way that do not distract from the plot development.
Take it from a previously indifferent Doctor Strange follower, this franchise has legs. It should be unsurprising considering the MCU’s ability to launch other lesser known characters but at some point, you expect a misstep. Fortunately, Doctor Strange isn’t that misstep and, if anything, it’s a pleasant surprise which makes it best comic book film of 2016.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Cumberbatch is Strange
Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange is an excellent job of casting. The character works with his persona and he seems comfortable in the cloak. This bodes particularly well for the future of the franchise.
- The Visuals
If you combined The Matrix and Inception visually, you get Doctor Strange. As time and space are manipulated in creative ways, you also get the benefit of sorcery which adds a layer to the visual effects that make it even more fun.
- The Third Act
This is the differentiator between Doctor Strange and the rest of the comic book offerings this year. If you divide all of the films into three acts, there isn’t another film that stays consistent through all three acts like Doctor Strange does. The third act is the strongest and that is due to the build of the first two acts.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- The Ancient One
Maybe it was Swinton’s performance or maybe it was the character which feels like every other wise mentor we’ve seen in the past (from Yoda to Dumbledore to everyone in between) but this was the weakest link in an otherwise spectacular début to the Doctor Strange story.