By Dylan Carlson Sirvent, ’19
The opening sequences of “Dr. Strange”, Marvel’s first venture into the magical world, is a fight scene between Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) and The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). It is a mind-bendingly awesome and paradoxical scene, with buildings twisting and turning in a kaleidoscope of New York’s urban landscape. It is arguably Marvel’s greatest, most innovative and beautiful scene it has created, and “Dr. Strange” is by far its best film.
Director Scott Derrickson’s first venture into the Marvel World shows great promise, with its beautiful array of CGI and visual effects that entrance viewers. Leading actors Benedict Cumberbatch (Dr. Stephen Strange), Rachel McAdams (Christine Palmer), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Mordo) and Tilda Swinton (The Ancient One) act their hearts out, expertly displaying their character’s complexities, the subtle expressions of vulnerability, the veneer of frustration and the jubilation of rejoice. They truly form Marvel’s most formidable acting quartet.
Despite these strong points, “Dr. Strange” displays some of Marvel films’ recurring flaws: plot holes, weak dialogue and repetitive narratives. The script is riddled with cheesy and predictable dialogue, contrasting with the strength of the film’s jaw-dropping complex and layered visuals. Its plot repeatedly jumps from one storyline to another, with no linear action or resolution in sight.
With the plot skipping from Strange’s internal conflict to his conflict with the Ancient One to his conflict with Kaecilius to the Ancient One’s conflict with Kaecilius and then again to Strange’s conflict with Kaecilius, the end of the film leaving the viewer unknowing of what divides and strifes have been resolved.
Following Marvel’s tendency to have similar and repetitive storylines, Strange loses what he holds most dear in life — his surgeon hands — and goes to a faraway place, the slopes of Kathmandu, to find himself; just like Tony Stark did when he was struck by a bomb, or when Thor went in search of Loki.
Each time trauma is inflicted, the hero struggles due to his own stubbornness, and finally finds himself in the last place he thought he would be. However, such an issue lies with the larger Marvel cinematic universe rather than with the direction of the movie itself.
In summation, the plot and storyline of “Dr. Strange” suffered in its translation from comic book to live-action form. In the comic book series, readers know Dr. Strange’s backstory, allowing its writers to explore in depth its mystical territory. However, the live-action translation must be mass-marketed for all audiences, therefore restricting the exploration of the Strange narrative. In fact, Ejiofor’s Mordor and Benedict Wong’s character have 60 percent of their dialogue dedicated to explaining relics, sanctums, astral projections, ancient tomes and the Eye of Agamotto. If a sequel is in the plans, let’s hope it will shift its emphasis from bland, and explanatory background information to a more complex and profound exploration of Strange’s orphic universe.
Derrickson’s first venture with Marvel is promising, so if there is a sequel, “Dr. Strange” could be the beginning of a new franchise. With the first film—the introduction— out of the way, hopefully we can finally get to the more exciting second act.