You know that old saying “you can never have too much of a good thing?" Well, that is nonsense, and Doctor Strange proves it.
Now listen, nerds. I’m not bashing anyone here - not your critic-proof Marvel film cannon, not your adult Harry Potter character and not Benedict Cumberbatch, who, for some reason, you all worship.
"Doctor Strange" is a perfectly fine movie. I would go so far as to say that it’s a very pretty movie to look at, but good god, Marvel! We get it. You’re the fun guys and make sure to mix every script equally with action and good natured ribbing. It’s something the whole family (’s wallet) can enjoy!
This movie is about a superhero/wizard I had literally never heard of before I saw the first trailer. Benedict Cumberbatch is Dr. Steven Strange (because consonance is also key to the Marvel formula). He is a world renowned surgeon at one of New York’s top hospitals, where his ex-girlfriend (Rachel McAdams) is the second best surgeon and the third best surgeon doesn’t know how to read x-rays and can’t do surgery without supervision.
After we see how amazing Strange is with a scalpel, this movie turns into a very expensive texting and driving parable.
Strange is reviewing patient x-rays on his smartphone while driving his sports car at high speeds through the mountains we all know exist right outside of New York City. Strange misses a turn and goes off the road and down a cliff. He is left broken and bloody. His hands, which at this point are only metaphorically magic, are no good to him as a surgeon because of the tremors the accident leaves him with.
In physical therapy, he is told to find an old patient who used to be paralyzed but now isn’t. It turns out that old patient is Benjamin Bratt, who I guess is making a career out of playing tough-talking, mysterious Latinos these days. Bratt tells Dr. Strange (who is still not a magician yet) to find a temple in Kathmandu, so that’s what Dr. Strange does.
There he meets The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and her best pal Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor of "12 Years a Slave" fame). They help Dr. Strange realize he was magic all along, but, in order to stay both magic and alive, he will have to defeat the guy who played Hannibal Lecter in that TV show.
So then there’s fighting and interdimensional travel. Dr. Strange learns to love again and finds the facial hair look that is just right for him. There’s a cape, which I think is supposed to be Aladdin’s magic carpet’s dumber cousin. I could go on, but you get it.
As I mentioned earlier, the other thing Dr. Strange (both the movie and the character) is full of is sarcastic punch lines. Now look, I like comedies infinitely more than I could ever like a superhero movie, and, in my opinion, the best superhero movie is, unquestionably, "Guardians of the Galaxy," because it’s actually a comedy disguised as a superhero movie. But there is a point when copying a formula that worked so well turns from smart business into a tired, rehashed t-shirt and toy commercials.
I never saw "Deadpool." The producers of that movie were kind enough to show us in the trailer that the entire movie is Ryan Reynolds reciting internet memes and hashtags. I assume he broke out into a Borat impression at some point too (credit for this line goes to my friend and writer Mike McPadden, whose Facebook page this joke was stolen from. He’s great. He writes about murder, metal and marijuana. Google him!). The point is, there was no secret about what you’re in for with "Deadpool."
"Doctor Strange," though, has been sold as one of Marvel’s darker movies, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. There is a time span from when Dr. Strange first enters the temple in Kathmandu until he meets his cape/magic carpet where literally every line ends with a joke. It goes from being silly (in a bad way) to being annoying to being boring.
Now, let me give this strategy a little credit. The first battle between Dr. Strange and lil’ Hannibal Lecter does have a "Princess Bride" feel to it for the first two back-and-forths. After that, I just wanted it all to be over.
This isn’t a bad movie. "Doctor Strange" is certainly something amazing to look at. If only "Inception" hadn’t come out first, I might even call it visually groundbreaking. The twisting buildings and fractured sense effect on film is so cool they will actually make your head hurt a bit, especially if you opt for IMAX. I just think we’re at a point now where, if Marvel is going to follow the same formula with each script, the newest film always has to be the best one the studio has ever produced, and "Doctor Strange" isn’t close to that.
Finally, and I’m sure you nerds will be upset about this, just make the damn character British. Benedict Cumberbatch with an American accent is unsettling, especially because he isn’t very good at it until he starts yelling about life being unfair.
Now, after the first 875 words of this review comes the two most important and true sentences I will type. It doesn’t matter what I thought of this movie. You have already decided whether or not you’re going to see "Doctor Strange."
Demetri Ravanos is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association and has reviewed movies for Raleigh and Company, Military1.com and The Alan Kabel Radio Network.