2016’s Doctor Strange is the fourth-best-reviewed Marvel film on Rotten Tomatoes. This is an easily proven fact. Less easily proven is the fact that Doctor Strange is also the most okay movie of 2016.
My argument for Doctor Strange‘s okay-ness is slightly less subjective than you think. Demi Adejuyigbe (Gilmore Guy, Vine star, purchased 57 copies of Click) put out a call to action in the summer of 2015 to determine the most okay movie.
best/worst is boring. what is the most "okay" movie ever made. i'm talkin a middle-of-the-road, no change in emotional register masterpiece
— demi adejuyigbe (@electrolemon) July 7, 2015
An okay movie like Doctor Strange is difficult to find. It has to be tedious, but not rage-inducingly so (see ya at the Razzies, Suicide Squad). It must be insipid, but it cannot be cringeworthy (My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2). It must be pointless, without ever verging into unintended camp (The Huntsman: Winter’s War).
For a movie to be simply okay, it cannot stray too far from an emotional dead zone. A movie like Rogue One is not an okay movie, though some would average its highs (K-2SO) and lows (Darth Vader’s choke pun is a good argument against teaching arts in schools) to an end result that hovers around “ehh, pretty good.” Rogue One is a good movie, and it causes far too much happiness to be as okay as Doctor Strange. An okay movie could never inspire emotion the way a Star Wars movie does (though, if you’re wondering, Attack of the Clones is the most okay Star Wars movie).
Determining the most okay movie of all time would be a ridiculous undertaking, but if you narrow the field down to the 2016 releases, only one winner remains: Doctor Strange.
Surely you’ve heard of Doctor Strange? Benedict Cumberbatch plays Dr. Steven Strange, the least strange Marvel leading man by far (unless you count his very loose grip on what an American accent is supposed to sound like).
Doctor Strange is, like many Marvel leading men, an arrogant hotshot surgeon. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is filled with superheroes who were hotshots in their day jobs: hotshot prince (Thor, Black Panther), hotshot arms manufacturer (Iron Man), hotshot thief (Ant-Man, Star Lord), hotshot assassin (Black Widow, Gamora). Over the course of their origin films, these hotshots must become humble in order to accept the great power (and great responsibility) that comes with being a superhero. Thor literally does not become worthy of his hammer until he accepts his limitations.
But as we see Doctor Strange masterfully retrieve a bullet from a patient’s brain using only his two hands, it seems like maybe… he deserves to be arrogant? Because being a surgeon is literally the closest thing we normals have to being a superhero?
From the gate, Doctor Strange misses the mark. We’re supposed to think Doctor Strange is a prick, but he’s kind of just a really good surgeon. We’re supposed to be blown away by the wise pan-continental mysticism of Tilda Swinton, but she’s kind of just white. We’re supposed to salivate when Doctor Strange removes his robes for the obligatory Marvel beefcake money shot, but he’s kind of just not Chris Hemsworth. Or Chris Evans. Or Chris Pratt. We’re supposed to be impressed by Doctor Strange’s nemesis Dormammu, listed on the official Marvel Universe Wiki as “The Dread One, Eater of Souls, Lord of Chaos, Lord of Darkness, the Great Enigma,” but he’s kind of just a giant floating colorful head that, confusingly enough, isn’t Thanos.
The best way to describe Doctor Strange is “kind of just okay.” I was more excited by the brief glimpses of Stark Tower in the background than I was by the entirety of Doctor Strange’s little mind journey.
Doctor Strange is especially okay because it predictably follows Marvel’s pattern of releasing their most forgettable films just after their most hyped ones. Audiences, fresh from watching the Hulk pulverize Loki, emerge from the movie theater excited to see the next film in the Marvel storyline, even if it’s something as merely okay as Doctor Strange.
After The Avengers? A year-long wait, then Iron Man 3 because what the American people needed to spend their American dollars on was Tony Stark trading banter with a 10-year-old then trashing all of his suits only to be retconned by Avengers: Age of Ultron. Avengers: Age of Ultron was followed by Ant-Man, itself the most okay movie of 2015.
The Marvel movie preceding Doctor Strange? The billion-dollar smorgasbord Captain America: Civil War.
But the thing is, Marvel went all in on Doctor Strange. They didn’t release Doctor Strange as a vehicle to establish future plot points for Iron Man to handle. Doctor Strange is fully integrated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Doctor Strange 2 is already in the works, the dear doctor is making an appearance in Thor: Ragnarok (with rumors that Doctor Strange will be a main character along with Thor and Hulk), and he’s slated to appear in Avengers: Infinity War as well, I guess because they didn’t have enough characters to work with.
Finally, here’s what truly makes Doctor Strange the most okay movie of 2016: I just wrote 900 words about this movie, and I couldn’t tell you a single scene that emotionally affected me. And that’s not okay.
[Featured Image by Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Pictures]