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.
Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight opens with a quick vignette at a Boston police station. Using subtle camera movements and specific acting choices, the subject of the scene becomes clear: a young boy has been molested by a local priest. A green policeman doesn’t seem to understand the protocols, but he watches as the strings get pulled and the wheels get greased, and the offending priest gets whisked away from the police station without consequence. This serves as a preamble to the harrowing story we are about to witness: the rampant sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests, and its systemic cover-up by the Church.