Marvel’s latest episode of superheroic wisecracking, Doctor Strange, has just been released and the verdict is in: it’s yet another win for the hit-factory studio. This film was the first to have zero influence from the comic publishing arm of Marvel and was overseen by Disney directly. Its unquestionable box-office cleanup and review adoration proves that Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige and co. know what they’re doing when it comes to handling these properties… if you rely on cash and critics as signifiers of quality. But there are those of us whose unholy devotion to continuity, plot, and character leaves us irrational and inflexible.
I am, of course, referring to fans. We are not reasonable and we are rarely fully pleased. As you walked out of the theater, you might have felt a certain emptiness. After the credits rolled for Avengers you were punching the air. When Guardians of the Galaxy finished, you felt like it was Star Wars for a new generation. But this time, as you marched back into the harsh lighting of the cinema lobby, something felt off. Yes, the visuals were amazing, there’s no doubt about that. You’re thankful you saw it in 3D. Yet you turn to your friends for what usually would be a recitation of all of your favorite lines and nothing comes. Instead of walking out feeling like the way you view the world and reality in general has been expanded, you only feel that the only thing that’s changed is your opinion on 3D movies.
Maybe you are a long-time fan of Stephen Strange, and understandably had lots of expectations going in. You know this is an obscure character who has very few iconic elements that would be considered essential for an adaptation, but you still held out hope that there might be some explanation of who the Vishanti are or an invocation of the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak. Perhaps you had no pre-existing affection for the character, but were anxiously awaiting a breath of fresh air to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a chance for a new type of story to be told on a subject that the previous movies have carefully avoided: magic. If all you craved was a fantastic special effects thrill ride, you’re likely very satisfied by the movie, but if you wanted more to sink your teeth into, you may feel disappointed.
Now, of course, the Superhero movie genre will be with us for quite some time. It’s in no danger of fading away any time soon, but the next couple years’ worth of releases will determine whether we continue to attend these showings happily or grudgingly. The movies are on the schedule and the plans are in motion in this assembly line, but we have no idea how we’ll feel about all of this by the time Avengers 4 comes out. (Avengers 5 if you count Captain America: Civil War as the Avengers 3 it very clearly is.) This is not about looking for flaws in the armor that Marvel is wearing. It’s not about calling an early time of death for the MCU. It’s about reaching out to those who might feel less enthusiastic about this movie and are wondering why. Why did this movie seem to be every bit a hit as other Marvel movies, but feel like something is missing?
Let’s figure it out, together. There will be spoilers.