For a film meant to expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) into the novel territory of alternate dimensions and mind-bending magic, Doctor Strange sure does play it safe. Though many of the visuals are fascinating, some are overly show-offy, like an elaborate ornament on an otherwise bland facade. The acting talent and the performances that they deliver are impressive, but they are relied upon to prop up a flimsy story that inadequately introduces us to this new facet of the MCU. Similarly, most of the characters are unbalanced, uneven, and inconsistent – as though the filmmakers were afraid of allowing Dr. Strange to be too much of an asshole. Finally, aside from an innovative and interesting climactic sequence, the plot is about as by-the-numbers as one can imagine. Overall, this is the disquieting flaw of Doctor Strange: the eye-popping visuals are in direct aesthetic conflict with the safeness of the narrative and thematic choices. The result is a reasonable entry into the MCU, but a film which isn’t appreciably better than the average origin story.
It is remiss to classify The Martian as “Ridley Scott’s” or “Matt Damon’s” or with any other possessive; it is a true ensemble film. Though the story begins in serious medias res with the crew of the Ares III mission escaping a Martian dust storm and leaving Matt Damon’s Mark Watney behind on the red planet, this is not Cast Away where we dwell on our lone character for the majority of the runtime. The success of the narrative and the impact of the theme require that seemingly infinite characters aid in Watney’s survival, but also that Watney himself is capable of titanic intellectual feats. What results is a film dictating that the strength of humanity is found in the reasoning mind – from an isolated individual struggling to survive to large teams working towards effecting a rescue.