The Marvel brand is a fairly homogeneous one.
Their movies all have the same sheen, the same finish, the same general vibe. Sometimes that’s a good thing — they’ve got a disparate slate of projects, and that homogeneity helps remind the audience that all the movies occupy a consistent universe.
But sometimes it’s a bad thing. Sometimes that self-similarity can shave away a story’s sharp edges and sap it of the kind of flavor and personality that only arises from strong, distinctive choices.
Doctor Strange is a nice mix of the homogeneous and the distinctive. It’s funny—the movie reminded me of a quote about the great comic writer Grant Morrison. I’m paraphrasing, but gist was: What’s unique about Morrison isn’t the structure of his stories; it’s what he asks his artists to draw. In that spirit, let’s concede that the structure of Doctor Strange is basically indistinguishable from Iron Man—arrogant prodigy makes good, saves world—but happily, the filmmakers (B-movie shockmeister Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister), directing a script by Jon Spaihts (Prometheus), which Derrickson rewrote with longtime collaborator C. Robert Cargill) gave themselves a lot of admirably strange imagery to draw.
And what did they draw? Well, let’s just say things got trippy, man. The filmmakers channeled the psychedelia of everyone from Jack Kirby and Walt Simonson to Keith Pollard, John Buscema, George Perez, and Ron Lim. Comparisons will be rightfully made to The Matrix and Inception, but damn if Doctor Strange didn’t top ‘em both in terms of sheer, mind-blowing visual invention. The resultant movie is a full-tilt drug-out that would make a perfect third leg in a triple feature that included Ken Russell’s Altered States and Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It’s ego death wrapped in a big red cape.
Also welcome was the movie’s final baddie, classic Doctor Strange nemesis Dormammu, which gave the MCU team a chance to show us what Galactus might look like under their command. (I also appreciated the reference to the Marvel Universe astral deity the Living Tribunal. Here’s hoping all of the astrals’ll come out to play in future installments. Paging Eternity and the Lords of Order and Chaos!)