dr strangeIntellectual, sophisticated, thought-provoking, and unimaginable. Dr Strange hit the big screen promising a lot, and FLG manging editor Carl Smith went to find out if the movie delivers.

Universe building. It’s the cinematic franchise model that has changed the movie going experience dramatically over the past decade or so. Marvel changed everything by setting up movies through post-credit teasers, cross over movies, Easter eggs, and multifranchise story arcs. Now owned by Disney, it’s something that we’re seeing happen to Star Wars. People are starting to feel tied into their movie going experience, much in the same way as they feel tied into Apple. You want something different, but you’ve invested so much with them already. That being said, if the movies consistently deliver, it’s not a problem.

That’s been the nut Marvel has had to crack. If you’ve been following things, you’ll have noticed a shift in their offerings through this last cycle. Rather than a formulaic super hero story, we’re getting super hero adaptations of diverse genres. We’ve had the ‘buddy movie’ of Iron Man 3, the action-spy thriller of Captain America Winter Soldier, the loveable misfits movie of Guardians of the Galaxy, and the heist movie of Ant Man. Unfortunately, they do all come down to the same thing. Good guy goes through some conflict; there’s probably a romantic interest; someone turns out to be a bad guy for unexpected reasons; a big battle happens at the end; the good guy wins and feels better for having gone through an enriching experience.

It’s much the same thing for Dr Strange. For all the promise of giving us something new, Marvel served up the exact same dish, on a different plate. It’s frustrating, as there’s a lot you can do with Dr Strange as a character. Joss Whedon’s frustrations making Avengers 2 are well documented. You can’t help but feel that he isn’t the only director finding themselves extremely limited in what they can do within the Marvel cinematic universe.

The enjoyment you take out of Dr Strange comes down to two things – do you like Marvel movies, and are you a fan of the source material? If you answer yes to either of those, then it’s worth a watch. If you answer yes to both, it’s unmissable. If you answer no to both, then you should probably give it a miss.

The film succeeds in doing something remarkable. You feel like you’ve seen it all before, while making you feel like you’ve seen nothing like it before. It’s a hideously formulaic origins story, but it is a glorious visual feast. As you journey to different worlds and dimensions, you can’t help but feel a little rush of excitement as you realise you’re not just seeing Steve Ditko’s world realised, but seeing things that maybe even he couldn’t have imagined. And that’s the real frustration. This movie could have been a real statement. The ‘wow’ moment we’ve been lacking from Marvel. Sadly, on this occasion, the story just didn’t match the ambition of the visual effects team.

If you read my interview with Kari Stefansson, you’ll appreciate this as well. Those guys all succeeded because they didn’t want to be the same as what had come before. They wanted to be extraordinary and revolutionise. I’m also fairly confident none of them let a fear of failure hold them back. As I said in the welcome, a good idea will only take you so far. Dr Strange is the perfect example of that. Some great ideas in there, but just lacked the ambition and drive to make something unforgettable.

Verdict? Okay, rating 6.5.

This movie was Marvel’s best chance to really push the boundaries of what a super hero movie could be. Unfortunately it just plays it far too safe.

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