Doctor Strange movie full length review - An extremely flawed exercise in visual overindulgence...
I'll preface this by saying I have seen and enjoyed almost all of the MCU films so far. I saw Doctor Strange in 3D in Coventry UK.
I have not written a film review before but I felt compelled to do so as I didn't feel my experience was in line with any of the other reviews that have been posted. This was my first experience of the character of Doctor Strange.
All of the performances were decent as expected. Tilda Swinton was the highlight.
The tone through most of the film had a unique feel which distinguished it from the other MCU films. If I hadn't known before hand I wouldn't have guessed it was part of the MCU at all. This was mostly a good thing, however there were two off-hand references to The Avengers which felt slightly out of place when spoken by a matter-manipulating wizard.
The first half hour showing the character pre-superhero was genuinely moving. It wasn't anything particularly new, but it was played out very effectively.
The climax of the film, whilst absurd, was definitely a breath of fresh air in the superhero genre. No portal in the sky, no expendable alien army, and no extended emotionally-charged 1v1 showdown.
The comedy. There were two scenes that made me laugh, and a handful of others that seemed like they were supposed to. However, other people in the cinema were laughing when I wasn't so take this with a pinch of salt.
Strange becomes a super-wizard too quickly. There isn't even a montage or other indication that time has passed. In one scene he is struggling with very basic space magic, and then next scene he is a bad-ass who can suddenly fight multiple fully-trained evil space wizards.
As soon as the science meets the fiction it becomes extremely jarring. There is a scene in the film where Strange, now able to manipulate time and space, visits an old neurosurgeon colleague to get himself patched up. What follows is a scene involving a character performing physical surgery in the real world interacting with two astral projections having a zero gravity fist fight. This sounds cool, and indeed it did look cool, but it made no sense. Why are astral projections able to physically fight each other? If they can move through walls then why are they able to throw each other into things? Why is the neurosurgeon not questioning any of this? This dissonance peaks when the climax of that fight scene tried to blend science with magic in a physical way which didn't make any sense.
There is a part of the film where Strange uses a particular type of magic to save the day, which we are told is "forbidden". We aren't shown why it is forbidden. There are no consequences for him using this particular power. We are told that it is "against the natural order", with no explanation as to why all the other destructive magic is allowed, but this isn't.
My biggest complaint was with the depiction of superpowers in the film. There was no consistency, minimal explanation, and multiple logic gaps as a result of this. If you have seen the trailers or the film, you will no doubt have been drawing similarities to Nolan's Inception. I will not claim that the films are similar beyond the visual, but the best way I can explain how poorly the superpowers were explored in Doctor Strange is to directly compare it to Inception.
In Inception, we have a bunch of characters who are able to manipulate the world around them. The film spends about an hour and a half meticulously explaining what is and is not possible. It has it's own set of rules and logic. We as an audience understand who can do what and why. When the proverbial sh*t hits the fan in the second half of the film, there is tension and a grounded sense of reality as a result of this.
Doctor Strange also features a bunch of characters who can similarly manipulate the world around them, both the "real" world and various alternate dimensions. The difference here is that the film spends 5-10 minutes explaining a portion of the superpowers, and then every fight sequence from then on was totally devoid of any tension or sense of realism because none of the characters have any established limitations to their powers. It was like watching fights take part in a vacuum where physics and logic don't apply. There is no tension in these scenes because we don't understand what each character is capable of.
Most non-fantasy action films don't have these problems because the characters are using weapons we are inherently familiar with, such as guns or knives. When Hans Gruber points his gun at Takagi in Die Hard, the audience understands the consequences of this action. When Voldemort points his wand at Harry Potter, we understand what he can and can't do because the films established this fact. When Kaecilius threatens Doctor Strange, we feel no tension because the film hasn't explained anything. Both characters could potentially do any number of fantastical things. As a result the confrontations do not work. In Inception, the "superpowers" were an integral part of the plot. In Doctor Strange, the superpowers were seemingly made up on the spot by the animators to make a visually entertaining sequence.
Let me close by saying that I did not hate the film, but I was disappointed with it. I paid to see this in 3D soon after release because it looked very enjoyable. I felt compelled to write a review of this film because I don't understand the praise it is receiving. It isn't terrible, and a lot of it was enjoyable. However, in my view it is an extremely flawed exercise in visual overindulgence which unfortunately tarnishes the better aspects of the film. 5/10.