With the latest promotional blitz coming to an end, the final Marvel Studios release of 2016 hits cinemas in the UK, bringing magic to the MCU in emphatic fashion as Benedict Cumberbatch dons the cape and goatee of Doctor Stephen Strange.
Let’s start with the positives – the first act of the movie was truly fantastic. An intense, edgy introduction to Stephen Strange, packed with plenty of opportunities for Cumberbatch to flex his not insurmountable acting muscle. Fantastic, I thought! Marvel have actually opted to utilise a much-needed fresh approach for their latest cinematic release, just like they promised.
Well… as it turned out, my excitement was a tiny bit premature.
Almost like clockwork, as soon as the second act of the film began, things made a jarring jolt back to the established Marvel formula. The all-too-familiar visual gags, goofy one-liners and slapstick moments served as a forced reminder that as an audience, we’re not actually supposed to be taking any of this seriously, are we? It’s all just comics, right? Frustrating isn’t the word.
Almost every significant character or storyline beat seemingly had to have a punchline almost directly after it, diminishing their impact considerably. Don’t get me wrong, I love humour in movies, particularly comic book movies, and wasn’t exactly expecting a dark, violent, Netflix-esque Doctor Strange on the big screen, but come on, can we at least let something feel like it matters for once?
Making things worse, Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius served as the latest in a long line of paper-thin Marvel baddies, and found any attempts at gravitas – or flexing his own acting muscle – undermined by the aforementioned gags. Mikkelsen is a truly fantastic actor, one of my personal favourites in fact, so seeing him become yet another Ronan or Malekith here had me literally clawing my armrest in frustration.
It wasn’t all negative, though. Some of the humour was legitimately funny and well-timed, and the supporting cast – Chiwetel Ejiofor and Tilda Swinton in particular – did a great job with what they were given. Plus, as should be expected from the trailers and promotional images, it looks absolutely amazing, particularly in 3D, even if it did all get a tiny bit too much at times. I mean, once you’ve seen New York turning itself into a twisted M.C. Escher painting once, right? Cumberbatch exuded his familiar leading man swagger as Stephen Strange, too, and the structure of the final battle was a thing of sheer brilliance.
Overall though, I can’t help but look at this as a missed opportunity to do something truly unique with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With the introduction of magic and the lack of any ties to the established franchises – for the time being, at least – the potential was there to cut loose and deliver a bold new blueprint for what a comic book movie could be. As it turned out though, this ended up feeling like just the latest cookie cutter Marvel movie, fresh off the assembly line. Some great moments for sure, but ultimately Doctor Strange ended up being a gorgeous looking but disappointingly superficial affair.
Oh, and for those credit scene hunters, there are two scenes after the movie. I mean, it’s not like anyone actually leaves anymore, right?