I have never abandoned a movie theater as sad as I did on the night I watched Doctor Strange.
The evening began with a promise, with my friend graciously buying me a ticket to attend the opening night showing of Marvel’s latest. As soon as I took a seat in the packed room however, illusion turned to disenchantment.
The barrage of trailers assaulting my senses consisted of pure noise; a series of sequels, prequels and incredibly expensive looking blockbusters was the only thing adorning the screen before the Marvel Studios logos hushed the crowd into submission.
And then, the origin story. The bad guy. The love interest. The training montage.
Doctor Strange is a very entertaining and fun movie. Visually, it is splendid, aided by the finest CGI money can buy and performers who bring class to even the silliest of one liners. The action sequences are competent and the score is unique enough to at times make the movie seem like it is not part of a massive superhero universe, but something that can stand on its own.
In the decade or so Marvel Studios’ been around, the only movie of theirs I have not liked has been Iron Man 3, and not because the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) turned out to be a fraud. I remember being annoyed by a little kid that pops up halfway to help Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and by how Pepper Potts (Gywneth Paltrow) ends up defeating the bad guy, when everybody was tricked into thinking she had died.
I bring this up not to rail against Marvel for toying with my emotions for cheap drama, but to commend them for consistently keeping me entertained with the fun and entertaining movies they produce.
This factory line of movies that Marvel has perfected is what ties into my sadness from Friday night. They will keep producing decent and enjoyable pictures for as long as the audience demands it, which judging by the response from the crowd that night, will seemingly last forever.
If cinema is truly an art form, then surely it must provide more catharsis than the sense of satisfaction brought about every time planet earth is saved from annihilation.
My sadness began when I realized, halfway through Doctor Strange, that I could not summon the necessary enthusiasm to care for what was happening on the screen. This not out of bad will, but out of the weariness that having already seen this play out many times before takes on me. The world can only be threatened so many times before peril becomes obsolete; thousands of faceless individuals have perished in the name of spectacle that human loss is neither tragedy nor figure, but the catalyst for kicking the climax into motion.
In attempting to bring the universe to earth, what these movies have done is get rid of the personal. And what motivation to engage with them do I have if the only thing movies have to offer is fun by way of witticisms and entertainment by way of explosions? Marvel is so adept at delivering consistent good entertainment, that pretty soon that is all I will have. Perhaps bad movies will cease to exist, but when that happens, great film will cease to exist as well. Marvel is not interested in making great cinema; if that were the case, their pictures would not feel so depressingly interchangeable. And that would be fine, except everybody seems to be taking a page out of their playbook. And when that happens, cinema ceases to be cinema and becomes something mundane, predictable, and worse of all, average.
Average will become the new norm and nobody will object as long as it keeps making them chuckle.
How long until viewers stop engaging with fare that is challenging, or even just plain different, on account of it not fitting the parameters dictated by their blockbusters? And when that occurs, how long until different movies stop being made altogether?
On the way home, my friend kept talking about the inevitable sequel and the teased team up between Doctor Strange and another Marvel hero. When he finally stopped, he shifted his focus to another established property that will have a sequel soon.
“How about Life?”, I asked, the only trailer for an original idea we watched all night.
“It will most likely bomb”, he said, unaware that he, just like Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) can peer into the future.