I saw Dr. Strange last night and here are the thoughts that were going through my head on the drive home. I could say more, but I’ll just say this.
The movie is a lot like Dr. Strange’s hands: talented and expensive but there are still lots of pins holding the whole thing together. In fact, you can pretty much see the stitching. Many scenes feel awkwardly entered and abandoned, the pacing is off, and an incredible feast of opportunities for character development is left untouched. Heroes and villains are largely unexplained and unexplored. So are certain powerful motifs (time, immortality, my life for yours) and symbols (watch, cape, various and sundry weapons).
You’ve got money, Marvel! Spend it on screenwriters who actually read a book one time on how to tell stories. Instead, you got two horror-flick writers plus Jon Spaihts, responsible for the runny cream-of-wheat that was the logic of Prometheus. Also, spend any leftover money on better production design because those weird space-and-time scenes looked like a cheap screensaver of an electric fireplace stuffed with glowing Halloween candy.
Benedict Cumberbatch is thoroughly riveting but a bit overqualified for the job (though the job should have risen to the challenge) and he feels a bit like new wine in old wine skin—rather too amazing even for the Marvel universe. Like Tom Hiddleston, his talents outstrip the stage. And his character (sort of a Sherlock-Tony Stark hybrid) is only hastily explained mostly through dialogue from the mouths of characters like Christine (Rachel McAdams) and the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) whose analysis may or may not be accurate but we don’t know because we haven’t seen it for ourselves. SHOW, DON’T TELL. It works in movies too.
The film’s greatest moments—all the philosophical/moral discussions between Strange and the Ancient One; Strange and fellow sorcerer Mordo; Strange and the bad guy with weird eyes; but especially Strange and the ultimate Halloween candy villain—should have been THREE times better. Linger. Explain. Enjoy. Let these moments of truth bowl us over. Dr. Strange is especially magnificent in the climax, or would have been if the scene had slowed down and let us feel his pain as he saves the world. Pain = heroism, people.
Best stuff: I’ve never read the comics and I don’t know where they’re going with Mordo’s character, but the movie makes a good point: Slavishly, woodenly follow the rules without knowing why or when to break them, and you’ll end up breaking yourself.
Also, there were some truly golden lines scattered throughout (“It’s not about you,” “Death is what gives life meaning. To know your days are numbered and your time is short”), but I think Dr. Strange had the best reply of all when the demon declares he will never win: “No, but I can lose again. And again and again and again.” Way to go, hero.
Biggest problem: In an infinite universe with an infinite bad guy (two problems right there), where on earth does good come from? If evil has been around here forever and will last forever, what makes it bad? Who says? Where else is the Ancient One supposed to derive her power, so why are we mad at her? What’s so bad about tapping into a force that can’t be proven as bad in the first place? And just how is this infinite evil force bound by the laws of nature (like time) anyway? Where do those laws come from?
The movie doesn’t provide a source of goodness, relying instead on traditional views of right vs. wrong—but right and wrong exist only in a universe created by a perfect Creator who defines goodness as anything that pleases Him and evil as anything that displeases Him. That’s it. Forget bad religion, Dr. Strange’s entire framework is pure bad logic.
All in all, Benedict is a win but the movie is theatrically unfantastic and morally self-destructive.