Doctor Strange – Or: How I Stopped Blindly Accepting The Marvel Formula And Detect Franchise Fatigue

After being impressed by the visually impressive trailer, it took me quite some time to get excited about the movie but the hype and my trust in Marvel Studios finally did the job a week prior to the release.

The movie starts with an amazing fight sequence. The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) fights Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), who has just stolen pages from a powerful spell book, in the so-called Mirror Dimension, where space can be folded. A fight in a spinning surrounding (another inspiration from Inception) is something we haven’t seen yet in the MCU and adds a layer of fun and excitement to the visual (Inception-like) impressiveness of these scenes, making it probably the best aspect of the movie.

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Copyright: Marvel Studios

Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is introduced as a massive prick: An enormously arrogant world-class surgeon with delusions of grandeur, the writers definitely achieve their goal to make him an unlikeable asshole in the beginning. One problem of the movie is: He never quite manages to win me over, which is kinda a prerequisite for a superhero. Moreover, the cocky-jerk-learns-humility-and-resurfaces-with-new-strength-story isn’t the most innovative.

After a pretty long exposition, which was necessary to understand his character, and after his car crash (Don’t text and drive, children!) caused severe injuries in his skillful hands, he makes a journey to Nepal as he heard of a place that healed a paraplegic.

Strange meets the Ancient One, who explains to him that his “reality is one of many”. The skeptical scientist dismisses her speech as “fairytales” and is impromptu sent on an astounding trip to the astral dimension. Visually interesting, the trip has the viewer feel as in awe as Strange. After some begging, the Ancient One accepts his request to be trained.

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Copyright: Marvel Studios

It probably was a good decision to skip most of the training and jump to a more advanced stage of his power but that comes with a cost: Mastering the craft does not seem to take much of an effort and Strange becomes pretty powerful without us seeing him struggle. He stays as cocky as in the beginning and survives a confrontation with powerful, way more experienced dark sorcerer Kaecilius. This feeling causes the movie to lack some real tension as the stakes do not seem particularly high. This is reinforced by Marvel’s compulsion to add moments of levity. What might be initially funny in the first encounter with the Cloak of Levitation later completely ruins the feeling that the multiverse(!) is at stake in the battle. The tonal dissonances, which are e.g. caused by Strange still having time to joke around is the biggest weakness in the movie, prevent me taking the threat seriously. Caused by the very hit-or-miss humor, this was the biggest weakness of the movie. The Wi-Fi-line was nice and there is some good banter in the dialogue but all the visual humor (the cloak and Rachel McAdams jumping at every “jump scare”) and the cocky lines in the battles did not work at all for me.

Taking the threat seriously is even harder when the villain isn’t particularly well-written. Mads Mikkelsen feels almost typecast and doesn’t have much to act on with this very bland, average-antagonist character. Some of the other characters remain rather two-dimensional as well; Rachel McAdams and Chiwetel Ejiofor portray rather pale characters. I always like to see Rachel McAdams as she is an absolute peach but her relation to Strange … let’s say isn’t the focus of the movie (although there was one strong moment between the two when Strange really insults her). The fact that I couldn’t remember her character name is pretty unusual for me and is rather telling.

However, Tilda Swinton did an amazing job as the Ancient One and it would be fair to rate her performance the most interesting, if not even the best. Cumberbatch has played similar characters before so everybody knew he was a good choice.

Although Doctor Strange is one the shortest Marvel movies, it feels rather long as the climax drags on for too long. In my opinion, it starts with the first confrontation between Strange and Kaecilius and after a little break to catch our breath the battle continues. How the conflict is resolved, however, is a very refreshing idea and adds some much-needed deviation from the Marvel formula.

From a story standpoint, I as a huge fan of the superhero genre was pretty disappointed. The marvel formula with the pretty mediocre humor and the lame-ass average story has been applied one time too often and I perceive the beginnings of franchise fatigue as the movie lacks fresh ideas, which would have been totally possible with the mystic world.

Visually top-notch, the very impressive scale and the movie’s impressive imagery are selling point of the movie, as is Cumberbatch’s cocky performance.

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Spoiler section:

The writers showed incredibly lazy writing when they just drop the bomb that the Eye of Agamotto is an Infinity Gem. After enabling Strange to manipulate time is one of the strongest scenes of the movie, the revelation that the Eye of Agamotto is the Time Stone could have happened more elegantly.

Another rather boring turn of character is Mordo (Ejiofor) becomes the villain in the sequel (?) with the exact same motivation as Kaecilius, disappointment with their master.

As I already mentioned, the fact that not a particularly hard punch was necessary to defeat the villain but a trick was a cool idea.

The Mid-credit scene makes me a bit more interested in Thor 3: Ragnarok, as Strange will join the Hulk and Thor. The director Taika Watiti (What We Do in The Shadows) is promising and the Planet Hulk storyline (whatever that is) seems to enjoy a lot of popularity among fans.


shorter German version:

Nachdem ich ziemlich beeindruckt war durch die imposanten Trailer, hat es bisschen gedauert bis ich wirklich gehyped war. Als MCU-Fan war ich dann aber kurz vor Release doch sehr gespannt, wurde insgesamt aber ein bisschen enttäuscht.

Ein Problem ist die eher unsympathische Figur Steven Strange: Klar wird am Anfang groß darauf herumgetreten, dass er ein arrogantes Arschloch ist, sogar nach seiner Verletzung, aber ich brauch eine gewisse Sympathie für Superhelden, um mit ihnen mitzufiebern, und die hat mir auch am Ende noch etwas gefehlt. Außerdem ist die diese Story von einem Arsch, der Demut erfährt und als besserer Mensch hervortritt, nicht gerade neu.

Andererseits bietet der Film einige Stärken. Da ist einmal die visuelle Bombastik zu nennen. Die Kampfszenen in rotierenden Umgebungen fühlten sich frisch an, gerade in Kombination mit dem Einsatz von Magie. Aber auch das Design der Astralwelt und von anderen Dimensionen sind interessant und gehören definitiv zu den Stärken des Films. Eine weitere Stärke ist für mich die Figur der Ancient One und in Verbindung damit Tilda Swintons coole Performance; für mich auch die interessanteste des Films, da Cumberbatch zwar auch eine gewohnt sehr starke Leistung abliefert, aber schon ähnliche Rollen gespielt hat.

Dahingegen sind andere Charaktere wieder blass geblieben. Nicht nur Love Interest(?) Rachel McAdams bleibt blass (man sieht sie immer gerne, aber sie hat wenig Möglichkeiten hier was zu reißen, da ihr Charakter recht flach bleibt (mit einem starken Moment, wenn Strange sie beleidigt), auch Chiwetel Ejiofor als prominenter Nebencharakter ist ziemlich uninteressant. Dazu kommt dann noch das klassische Marvel-Problem des schwachen Bösewichts. Mads Mikkelsen fühlt sich wie ein Typecast an und hat mit diesem 0815-Charakter nicht viel Grundlage um zu glänzen.

Ein weiteres Problem ist für mich der Humor. Natürlich gehört ein gewisser Humor zu den Marvel-Filmen und ist auch meist ein erfolgreicher Comic-Relief. Aber Witzeleien in einem das Multiversum gefährdenden Kampf führen halt dazu, dass ich das Ganze nicht ernst nehme und sich die Gefahr nie besonders drastisch anfühlt. Die Szenen mit dem Cloak of Levitation waren anfangs ganz witzig, aber man hat meiner Meinung nach auch ein paar Mal zu oft darauf zurückgegriffen. Es gab einige nette Sprüche in den Dialogen, aber gerade der visuelle Humor hat mich eher genervt.

Zuletzt fand ich auch das Pacing nicht ganz gelungen. Die Exposition war relativ lang, aber das war noch gerechtfertigt, um den Charakter kennenzulernen. Ich fand das Finale allerdings viel zu lang, weil es im Grunde genommen fast die zweite Hälfte einnimmt, mit einer kleinen Pause durch Durchatmen.

Insgesamt merkt man, dass einige Aspekte der Marvel-Formel mir langsam uninspiriert vorkommen und mich deswegen etwas nerven. Ich denke, das sind die Anfänge der Franchise Fatigue, denn ewig wird es nicht so weitergehen kann mit der Superheldenflut. Auch wenn ich viel kritisiert habe (auf recht hohem Niveau), war Doctor Strange nichtsdestotrotz ein ziemlich unterhaltsamer und mitunter auch amüsanter Film mit bombastischer Optik und interessanter Action.


© by Marvel Studios, taken from their website

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