If DOCTOR STRANGE represents the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s on a solid path, one that opens up new storytelling dimensions (literally) and brings engaging new characters to life in moments ripped from psychedelic Ditko dreamscapes and the stellar Brian K. Vaughan / Marcos Martin mini-series DOCTOR STRANGE: THE OATH. However, like every Marvel film before it, it isn’t without its problems.
At the root of those problems is the intractable Marvel cinematic formula. First film: introduction. Second film: set-up/join Avengers. Third film: result of character being in Avengers. At this point, I hesitate to even call Marvel’s films films; rather, they are a nebulous amalgamation of a streaming series, a movie, and a constant effort to show the utmost fealty to the concept of a shared universe. They are not films; they are components.
And, as this is the first film in another franchise, it must be an introduction. And introduction=origin story. Origin stories are a tricky beast, one that Marvel hasn’t quite gotten right–save for the first IRON MAN film– resulting in drama-challenged expository set-ups for future franchise installments. DOCTOR STRANGE, for all of its right notes—Cumberbatch plays Strange as a perfect balance of humor, drive, and arrogance, indeed setting him up as the new Tony Stark when Downey Jr. retires from the role—isn’t immune from the virus. It drives through the origin in a stakes-free unspooling of expository tedium: we already know that the title character makes it out alive to join the Avengers and have a crisis for having been part of the assembled world-savers.