After seeing the original Doctor Strange, Marvel's master of the mystic arts became one of my favorite characters of the franchise. I knew next to nothing about the guy and found his story so compelling, and after several appearances in other movies, the good doctor finally takes the lead in his own adventure again. Unfortunately, the long wait for another strange adventure wasn't worth it.
In this tale of magic and wizardry, Doctor Strange finds himself on the run across dimensions to save a superpowered teen from the fallen hero Scarlett Witch, who wants to use the girl's powers for her own plans. Director Sam Raimi took a very interesting approach to superhero movies by making this one a chase movie, a niche subgenre of adventure films, that focuses primarily on running, sprinting, hopping, jumping, and more running. It's a bold take, but unfortunately, this doesn't lend itself to be a very character-focused story. It's more of what I refer to as a "roller coaster movie." It's exciting and thrilling and a whole lot of fun, but after you finish it, you probably won't think about anything other than the rush of adrenaline you had. Roller coasters are all about the thrill of the moment rather than the long-lasting memory of a good story, and that's exactly what this movie accomplishes. I find this rather unfortunate because there are some strong themes that are present here, except that the scenes don't linger on them long enough for us to appreciate them. The theme of loneliness and the loss of love is a major part of this, but it ultimately is used as an excuse to cause a lot of hocus pocus to happen rather than challenging the characters to grow and mature, like the previous film. It's a disappointing follow up to a fascinating origin story about a man who chose to give up his career, his fame, his wealth, and his love in order to serve the greater good, and though there are glimpses of Strange's internal struggles, he's a bit too busy running around universes to really be bothered by it.
The original Doctor Strange movie utilized the weirdness of the comic book illustrations to create a unique visual style that was amazing to watch on the big screen, and with the director of Evil Dead running the show this time around, the visuals are absolutely bonkers and are a wonder to behold. I guarantee you that VFX artists had a grand time coming up with the crazy designs of some of the spells on display. From conjuring weapons to battling with music, this is another delightful romp through the mystical corner of the Marvel universe. In fact, Raimi incorporates his knowledge of the horror genre to blend the superhero antics with some spooky imagery. If you recall in Spider-Man 2 starring Tobey Maguire (which Raimi also directed), there's a slightly terrifying scene where Doctor Octopus's arms come alive in a hospital and slaughter the doctors in the room. There's more of that in this movie, and it fits the tone of Doctor Strange much better than the wall crawler. In fact, there are horror elements that are used in some very creative and freaky ways. It's unlike anything previous Marvel films within the MCU have done before, and fantasy fans most likely won't be disappointed by the magical mishaps on display.
Because the movie focuses on chase scenes and moving at a rapid pace, the all-star cast don't really get a chance to let their acting prowess shine. There are a couple of notable scenes where Benedict Cumberbatch gets to explore the themes of sacrifice and loneliness, but it doesn't happen as often as I would have liked. Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlett Witch pretty much steals the show every time she's in a scene. She conveys anger, frustration, emptiness, and pain throughout the movie, and she does a phenomenal job. It's a little jarring at first because we've seen her play the innocent and sweet Wanda in several projects by now, so seeing her in a villainous role is somewhat odd but a welcome change of pace. Unfortunately, Benedict Wong is underutilized once again. He always delivers some stand out moments, but he is left on the sidelines way too often. Newcomer Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez does a fine job for her MCU debut, but I wish we had more personal moments with her. Here, she runs and screams and cries and doesn't really offer much in terms of character traits. She is definitely the MacGuffin of the plot, which doesn't allow much room to show us her personality and characteristics. This is her debut after all, and I'm sure we'll see more of her down the line. It's just slightly disappointing because she appears to have potential as an iconic superhero actress. There are not many performances to write home about this time around, except for Olsen and her devilish charm, and but that's not to say it's bad. They are very entertaining and do a fine job, but it's not necessarily something we haven't seen in other action films before.
Doctor Strange's adventure through the multiverse is a bit of a letdown of a sequel. With its focus on constant action and bombardment of spectacle, we lose a bit of the heart and meaningful storytelling of the original film. If the next chapter of the mystical master can combine the better elements of this movie and its predecessor, Marvel may have me under their spell again.
Leave a Reply.