Yesterday I got to see Dr. Strange and it was unexpectedly marvelous. I was not expecting much from this movie, not many Marvel fans were but Marvel really has delivered big once again. This is Marvel’s 13th/14 consecutive critical and commercial success in MCU (Incredible Hulk was baaad). I was also not expecting it to be this funny while also beautifully handling deeper themes and magic stuff. Many were thinking of it just as Marvel tries to release it’s “magic movie” before Fantastic Beasts comes out. How wrong they must feel now. In 3th week of it’s release and with 256 reviews Dr.Strange is still going strong with 92% on rotten tomatoes. Fantastic Beasts released this week is at 76% with 155 reviews. The ratings of both will go down but it’s the early ratings that matter. When a movie starts at 76% it mostly ends at 60 something after the crazy fans have cooled down like for BatsVSupes or Suicide Squad. It’s unfair to compare both. FBs has the advantage of the harry potter fan base but is based on a small booklet that is supposed to be a text book in the story of another book series. Strange although a Marvel movie is not taken as seriously by the fans as FBs but is based of years of comic book stories. Although both movies were written for film and not strongly tied to the source material, FBs has the advantage that it’s type of magic is already explained in 8 movies. Strange had to introduce it’s own type of magic for the first time. Magic movies have the problem of having no limits to powers. They can do anything with magic. In Dr. Strange however magic is basically science (quantum mechanics). Although they didn’t explain it in the movie it is fairly obvious from the look of it that this type of magic is more sci-fiction than fantasy. The best aspects of the movie are the visuals and actor’s performances. Not only Benedict but the whole cast really played their roles very convincingly. The visuals of this movie will make you forget those mind bending 30 second clips in inception. It doesn’t get anywhere near as brilliantly complex as Inception was but visually Strange is more stunning. The amount of research they did in even the background elements and moving mirrors and patterns is insane, knowing that no one really gives any attention to such minute details (I noticed because MatPat pointed out by the end of above linked video). These moving patterns are fractals (infinitely repeating patterns) that are different in each scene depending on the type of magic used or the emotion of the scene to artistically match the meaning of that pattern. That’s an art student’s essay right there; linking each pattern to it’s meaning in the scene. While mirror world scenes are basically abstract art pieces the whole movie itself is exceptionally detailed. At any time the objects around are all moving and feel alive on their own. The explosions, transitions and pieces felt not like any other 3D movie I have ever seen. There are some parts of the movie however that raise same old questions about Marvel movies in general that can be explained.
1) ‘Dr.strange is Tony Stark with magic powers’ (All Marvel movies are the same). To be fair all origin story movies are the same. They have to follow ‘the hero’s journey‘ formula to be successful. Like any good origin movie it doesn’t let you feel disconnected at any point while introducing and making you like characters you haven’t seen before. If that was the target, I don’t see if they have failed in any way. Now that the character is introduced, they can explore a complete story in a movie. If you notice all superhero movies have just a good origin movie and then the 2nd one is comes with better story and bigger threats. Iron-man, Thor, Captain-American, all have kinda boring 1st movies compared to the scope of their later movies. (Guardians of the galaxy is an exception.) This is because once you have established the character’s road to power and audience understand his motivations, it is easy to focus entirely on telling a better story.
2) Easily Forgettable Villains: Dormammu is treated as a joke. Kaecilius’s motivations do not really come through properly. Basically, just 2 more easily forgettable Marvel villains. The answer is simple, Marvel didn’t want it’s villains to be memorable right now. People demand more of a villain when they like him and are disappointed to not see him in future movies. Marvel can’t do that right now. You built a memorable villain (like Loki) when you know he will be a regular part of the ongoing MCU story line. Kaecilius, Dormammu or any other marvel villain so far are just one time threats preparing our heroes for the big bad, Thanos. That is a constant threat that they always show by the end of their movies. The ending was actually my favorite part. I was thinking, okay here we go again with the beam of light in the sky while a powerful being comes to destroy earth, but they handled it nicely. Dormammu was not treated as a joke. It was a battle of wits between two powerful beings and showed how Dr.Strange is willing to suffer infinite pain over and over again to save earth. This was his true hero moment which is very different from any other movie. Or would you rather like it to be the same old fight in the sky like Man of Steel or Ninja Turtles? Also by the end of the movie his hands are still shaking. He can reverse time on his hands and heal them but he doesn’t. A hero’s principles are what makes him different from a villain. He does not bend rules to suit his needs. Also it is a story of a man who thought he knows everything but is introduced to a whole world he didn’t knew exist. It is a man of science to a man of faith story. Iron-man don’t have that. He is a rock-star, usay roz hota hai pyaar. He has no time for deeper meaning and touchy feelings. Dr.Strange however has to deal with it and since one day he will become one of the most powerful beings in the universe, it is important for his character to stay in touch with such deeper themes.
3) They gave Dr.Strange photographic memory. So in the movie it is explained that Strange can learn fast because he has a photographic memory. In the comics, like they also hinted in the trailers, he is a hard worker and spends years practicing his magic to perfection. Answer is, they had to do it. In case you didn’t notice Dr. Strange is still not the Sorcerer Supreme by the end of the movie but only the guardian of New York sanctum. Sorcerer Supreme is one of the most powerful entities in the Marvel comics. He can defeat Thanos and his army alone. The movie established that although he has learned a lot quickly he has still not mastered everything and still needs years of practice. He is not ready to save the earth from Thanos or any other big villain because he has not reached his true potential yet. If he did become SS in his 1st movie the sequels or the whole infinity war will be pointless.
4) Marvel is not as dark or serious as DC. Okay so Marvel doesn’t take itself too seriously on screen, well DC does and where did it take them? In Marvel most of their intense fight scenes are filled with funny moments and they don’t show any blood or graphic violence rather have “cartoonish” fights. The answer comes from the PG ratings. Kids to grandparents, everyone watches Marvel movies. Every Marvel movie is layered so everyone can understand and enjoy it on their own level. Forget nudity, they don’t even have kissing scenes in most of their movies. The jokes are never immoral or even mean. This has translated good in ticket sales. People buy a Marvel to have a good family enjoyment. It has also allowed them to reach international audiences and cultures like some Muslim countries with very strict censorship regulations. This may not seem like a big deal but see how much more Marvel movies earn internationally than other hollwood movies does. Not saying R-rated superhero movies have no future, Deadpool’s success will definitely give rise more R-rated superhero movies in the future but so far Marvel is reaching a wider demographic and is building a fan base of kids and youngsters that will start reading their comic book. Which brings me to the next point, how Marvel is using MCU and comics for symbiotic success: It’s funny that when Marvel announced they are making a Sorcerer Supreme movie I had no idea to who he was. I was confusing him with Dr.Fate (original name Dr.StrangeFate) from DC comics whom I saw in Young Justice. Fate was introduced in 1940 while Marvel in it’s pursuit to have it’s own DC counterparts introduced Strange in 1963. If you know the history, it’s not a surprise. From 60s to 80s when some DC creators/artists left and joined Marvel they brought some of their characters with them under new names. But mostly old Marvel ripped off many DC characters to have equivalent characters for the competition to who can tell better stories. DC also did the same but not as embarrassingly obvious. DC ruled the comic book world for a long time but now with such immensely popular movies, Marvel is also domination the comic books. DC had to go through a comic universe reboot twice in the last decade. Marvel also did by introducing new multicultural heroes and stretching it’s combined multiverse even more strongly in comics. Now we have Pakistani, Indian, Arab, African countries Marvel heroes that DC doesn’t offer. Like I said, I had no idea who Dr.Strange was before it was announced but by the time I went to see it I had done my research and also read the Shuma-Gorath and Eternity saga. See what’s happening here? Marvel’s on screen success is translating into comic book success because people want to get all the easter eggs and enjoy a marvel movie to it’s fullest. How can Dr.Fate compete with a guy with almost similar powers who has his own successful movie and shows up in other movies that the fans like. This is the Marvel’s true genius. They make their movie fun to watch for casual viewers who are just there to watch a blockbuster while giving true fans something only they can understand and fully appreciate, meanwhile building more comic book audience in kids who watch the movie, like it and then buy comics.
5) Marvel doesn’t kill any of it’s heroes. Well it did kill the ancient one in Dr. Strange but I see the point here. Also they brought Wan back to life with time reverse so. Anyway when you built a character for 2-3 movies you don’t want to kill him for one time sake. It will be a big aaw for once but the fans of that hero will leave and have nothing. Like if they killed Captain American in Civil War it will be awesome for one time but won’t the fans who only like captain america action movies feel disconnected from the MCU? Also you don’t kill your hero by the start of the story or in-between. You kill him sacrificing himself for the greater good by the end of the movie. This is a heroic death. MCU is one big story. The characters will most definitely die in infinity war, the end game. Most of the contracts with actors will end by then and there are big chances they will be killed to be replaced later with newer actors taking the mantle. Except if actors agree to renew their contracts which some might not. See while Marvel pays a lot more, they also bind the actors in a contract in which they have to show up in any of the ten other movies that they are making and/or show up for re-shoots for some scenes of someone else’s movie or it’s after credit scenes. Still most actors will prefer renewing unless Marvel thinks they are too expensive like Robert Downey Jr. Dying in infinity war will be the real heroic death that counts, the ultimate payoff the fans been waiting for. They will die and more than one, so relax for now.
7) Music in Marvel movies does not stand out. Almost all Marvel movies have forgettable music. The only one I like and remember is Avengers Assemble and Winter Soldier’s theme. Other movie franchises like Harry Potter for example has a catchy memorable theme music. Music can be powerful. When I heard that HP music in the Fantastic Beasts trailer it gave me chills. Marvel however don’t have any such music. Their music, like explained in this video essay, remains in the background and does not draw any attention to itself. This video however uses Marvel as a face to criticize all blockbuster movies in general. This is mostly because of the successful and thus popular modern trend. Now the point is to keep music hidden, giving viewers guidance to how they should feel rather than telling them to, because when music doesn’t resonate with the audience emotion they feel this disconnection immediately. This new technique can be called playing safe and not taking risk. I know it is a weak point in Marvel’s movies and many new movies in general. I won’t disagree like a stubborn fanboy. The music sure is easily forgettable. But one should give credit when it is due. Many Marvel movies have amazing sound tracks like Avengers and CA:WS as I mentioned earlier but also Guardians of the Galaxy has one of the best tracks in any superhero movies. GotG volume 1 is the most downloaded movie album. Music really makes audience connect everyone knows that. Marvel can easily hire the best music composition team there is so why not? Actually they have. The composers working for Marvel movies are the best in the business. This is why Marvel deserves the benefit of the doubt here. This is done intentionally in modern cinema like explained here. If Marvel wants it’s themes to be memorable it won’t keep changing it’s score in every movie. Harry Potter has the same score for 8 movies and now the 9th. It becomes memorable on it’s own. Also spider-man TV music is memorable because it plays by the start of every episode for 6 or more years. We all remember the Game of thrones music but will we if it only played once at the start of first episode of season 1? All iron-man, thor, captain america movies have a different score that better suits that movie and that movie alone. The only music they keep is the leitmotifs (that small piece of music that when we hear reminds us of a certain character in a movie/TV show). Here is a response video to the above linked video essay.
8) Marvel movies do not use color grading and they all look dull and grey. This point I only found in this video essay and not anywhere else so I will keep this short. Guardians of the galaxy and now Dr. Strange have colors that stand out and look very vibrant. Again the answer is by the end of this video itself, ‘grey color grading/ flat colors give a more realistic look’. DC has much darken tones than Marvel’s “dusty grey” because no one want’s their superhero movie to look or feel like transformers. It’s not like they haven’t tested their movies with different color grading in front of a test audience. They are the experts, they know what look they are trying to achieve. Still Marvel has shifted to red camera since Dr.Strange so maybe the later movies will be more vibrant.
9) Marvel ‘plays safe’ and doesn’t take risks. On the contrary Marvel has taken more risks than any other movie franchise in history. Even in the start with Iron-man and later in Ant-man, Guardians of the Galaxy and now Dr.Strange, Marvel has always taken risks and always introduced something new, be it the seemingly odd idea of a combined superhero movie universe, robbery comedy, space adventure with strange characters or a new type of magic respectively. Marvel has made one risky decision after another that have repeatedly proven to be more effective than conventional choices. Be it hiring relatively unknown directors to do their half a billion budget blockbuster movies or the parallel interconnecting story-lines that are challenging for the writers. The trick is to hire die hard comic books fans of that character and give them creative control while under the constraints of the combined multiverse and a basic movie structure known to work. They have been so consistently successful that even casual viewers know they will have a good time when buying a marvel movie ticket. Marvel likes to takes risks. To be fair it doesn’t have bigger than life characters like Batman, Superman or Wonder Woman. While a kid in Sahara desert know batman he has no idea to who is iron-man or captain america. Marvel works like a machine. Everything they do have steps on different layers. First is the phases, the 4 phases of MCU leading to infinity war. Each phase has a theme that is further broken into different story arks for each characters that will finally reach their conclusion in the final phase. Every character individually movies with further 3 stories like a trilogy. First is the origin story which are the hardest to pull off correctly. All origin stories follow ‘the hero’s journey’ ark and are almost similar. 2nd ones are mostly the best in marvel movies be it iron-man, thor or captain america winter soldier. The 3rd ones mostly a farewell to that character’s individual stories and merges with the bigger story like in iron-man 3 and civil war.
10) Marvel movies do not have any animals. I am not even joking. There are people who have raised this point repeatedly on reddit and I have no answer. Why not Marvel? Guess I never realized it on my own. What else Marvel movies have been missing that I am unable to realize on my own. Has the fanboy totally taken over? I need help. I didn’t know how much of a Marvel fanboy I have become until I wrote this, something that started as a Dr.Strange review that turned into a rant on defending MCU. Only thing I wish now is DC to get their act together and catch up. Later :p