In all honesty, Doctor Strange is probably the MCU character I care least about, and so the prospect of rewatching his 2016 solo effort wasn’t one that filled me with much joy.
I enjoy Benedict Cumberbatch – he’s a capable actor and by all accounts a pretty nice guy – but hearing him talk without his characteristic British accent is jarring, to say the least. That isn’t to say his American accent is bad (it’s perfectly passable), but it just sounds wrong coming out of his mouth, and that’s the first thing going against Doctor Strange. From the off, it’s just… strange.
Now, credit where it’s due, Doctor Strange had the odds stacked against it from its conception. Making magic work convincingly on the big screen is no mean feat, particularly with the caveat that it needs to hold up with the MCU in both a visual and narrative sense, too, and so it’s always worth judging the film without the high bar it had to clear just by merit of its own existence.
Doctor Strange‘s story is coherent, and its visual effects are evident in abundance. The use of CGI was always going to be heavy in the film, owing to its magical nature, and while it all looks pretty impressive, it’s still impossible to escape the fact that so much of the end result came from a computer. Visually, Doctor Strange clearly belongs in the MCU, but the extensive use of mind-bending digital effects are easily enough to overload the senses of its audience.
This actually takes away from the story, although that aspect of the film also has its flaws. Strange is shown to be an obnoxious, toxic, nasty human being, and only manages to achieve his powers through persistence – not by learning to be more tolerable or less arrogant, but simply by impressing the powers that be with his consistent disregard for the rules. There’s a problematic lesson in there somewhere about entitlement (and probably, to a lesser extent, cultural appropriation), but ultimately, the fact that the protagonist isn’t entirely sympathetic is enough to undermine the film’s story. There’s also the question of the love interest (played by Rachel McAdams), with whom Cumberbatch shares no real chemistry and who mostly disappears from the film, leaving the audience wondering if her inclusion was at all necessary.
Cumberbatch himself brings his impressive acting ability along, and there are a few moments where this is utilized well, but Doctor Strange is ultimately hampered by its need to explain the nature of magic, the rules of magic, and introduce the audience to a whole new side of the MCU that had previously gone unseen. This all leads to a film that, while necessary to the franchise, falls short in its own delivery. It isn’t bad, it’s just a little boring in places, something which the extensive reliance on CGI doesn’t help with whatsoever.
Even acknowledging the impressive effects and set design in the film, Doctor Strange simply doesn’t interest me. There’s nothing out-and-out bad about it, either – it’s just a little boring, not to mention predictable. In all honesty, if it wasn’t for the fact that leaving it out feels wrong, I’d have skipped this one.
Summary: If visual excess and occasional one-liners are enough for you, you’re in luck – Doctor Strange offers both. But if you want something genuinely exciting, maybe look elsewhere.
Highlights: Cumberbatch serving as numerous characters’ punching bag is pretty funny, and there are a few decent jokes peppered in along the way.