Movie Review: Doctor Strange
By Matthew Huntley
November 14, 2016
It may seem “strange” (pun intended) to say so, but Doctor Strange is a movie that's easier to like than admire, at least on a narrative level. This is yet another superhero origin story from the seemingly bottomless Marvel Comics Universe canon that's perfectly well produced, directed and acted, which is probably why it's so likable. But as the latest notch on Hollywood's superhero whiteboard, it's also fairly routine and, as such, will no doubt become a formidable box-office hit and spawn several sequels and/or spin-offs. This has been the default pattern for movies of this type for years now and it's showing no signs of waning.
However, my interest in such movies is starting to wane, and while there is, indeed, plenty to like about Doctot Strange” I don't think it's right to recommend it just because it's a sound example of its genre. Yes, the special effects are exquisite - they're among some of the best I've seen in recent memory - and the actors are convincing and fitting in their respective roles, but at this point in time, the success of a Marvel superhero movie depends on how well it balances the familiar notes, which rarely change, and the new angles introduced by the plot and characters. And with Doctor Strange, I found the familiar outweighed the new by too great a margin.
The filmmakers are happy to keep it within the confines of a basic origin story, and part of me hopes Marvel simply foregoes this step for future superheroes. We've seen it done so many times and are so familiar with this world that we can easily put the pieces together for ourselves, without a formal introduction. Instead, the filmmakers should just use the characters in stories that are bolder, more daring and more interesting, where someone or something actually seems at risk and we're left to wonder how the various conflicts will resolve (Captain America: Civil War was a superb example of this approach). With Dr. Strange, I didn't wonder so much; things just sort of played out as I expected.
Maybe the reason for this is because Doctor Strange's qualities aren't all that novel. I'm sure there are other examples, but while watching this film, I couldn't help but see parallels between Strange's characteristics, conceived by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee in 1963, and Neo's from The Matrix, which arrived over 30 years later. Perhaps the makers of The Matrix, Andy and Larry Wachowski, drew inspiration from Ditko and Lee's character and based their hero on him. In any case, stories like Strange's have been filmed before.
Consider: both Doctor Strange and Neo live in a world where they think they know the truth but are actually unaware Earth's very existence hangs in the balance - in Doctor Strange's world, Earth is at the mercy of three sanctums, located in New York City, London and Hong Kong, and in Neo's, the planet is already a dystopia where only factions of humans remain. Strange and Neo also become students of masters with higher intellectual and physical power, who teach them “the ways of the force,” if you will, with Strange falling under the tutelage of the Ancient One, and Neo receiving guidance from Morpheus. The Ancient One is sorceress who's lived for an unknown amount of time and claims to “reorient the spirt,” while Morpheus reveals to Neo what the Matrix is and Neo's purpose within it. The Ancient One and Morpheus are themselves similar in that both teach their respective protégés how to practice the mystical and martial arts, and to utilize meditation, concentration and the freeing of the mind to manipulate their surroundings and control their enemies.