When it comes to movies, few genres have grown as stale as the superhero variety. It often seems like studios are intent on taking decades of wonderful comic book source material and processing it into cookie-cutter celluloid offerings. The new Marvel movie, “Dr. Strange” tries harder than most to bring something new to the table.
If “Doctor Strange” has one weakness, it’s the plot. The titular hero, a brilliant, narcissistic surgeon irreparably injures his hands in a car wreck and goes to Nepal seeking a way to heal. There, he learns about magic and finds himself in a war between good sorcerers and poorly-developed evil ones. Punches and jumping around and special effects ensue. (Anyone remember 2010’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” with Nic Cage? “Doctor Strange” is surprisingly derivative of that of all things.)
The personal growth of the hero is satisfying, thanks largely to Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal, but villains are pretty boilerplate. Besides Cumberbatch, everyone else’s acting is decent but nothing to write home about. There are some great scenes between Doctor Strange and his ex-girlfriend Christine Palmer (played by Rachel McAdams), and there’s quite a bit of humor sprinkled in to make the characters at least somewhat relatable.
For how cerebral Doctor Strange comics tend to be, with characters leaping from dimension to dimension flinging colorful silly-named spells at one another, the movie has a great deal of physical combat. Strange occasionally uses some exciting mind-bending magic, but mostly the sorcerers fight with summoned weapons and shields – or just slap and kick each other. Unless you go into the theater expecting a kung fu film, it gets old pretty quick. For once, we have an action blockbuster that could have used more explosions.
Luckily, the film spends quite a bit of time developing the magical nooks and crannies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. These visual effects are perhaps the most interesting thing about “Doctor Strange.” Unfortunately, it’s go-to magical realm is a rip-off of the world-bending in “Inception” if you mixed it with a kaleidoscope. Once Doctor Strange leaves the real world, though, the film takes off. The Dark Dimension, where Dormammu, the movie’s ultimate villain, dwells, lovingly and spectacularly evokes Steve Ditko’s surreal worlds from the mid-’60s “Strange Tales” comics.
Outside of the profane, black humor-laden “Deadpool,” “Doctor Strange” is the most enjoyable comic book movie of 2016. Then again, when its competing against “Batman v. Superman” and “Suicide Squad,” that’s not saying much. If you’re not sick of superheroes, or you’re a fan of the Marvel comics, it’s a fun, clever installment. But by no means is it essential viewing.
email@example.com. Nick Gonzales is one of The Durango Herald newsroom’s resident film buffs. He welcomes movie recommendations. Follow him on Twitter @lackingzones.