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Movie Breakdown: Doctor Strange

November 3, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I’m admittedly feeling pretty ho-hum about Doctor Strange.  I like everyone involved and I’m fairly sure it’ll be fine, but at this stage in the game, the massive MCU-altering efforts (like this year’s stellar Captain America: Civil War) are far more interesting to me than an origin story … even if it is Strange’s.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Here’s the deal, I have a bone to pick with Doctor Strange (I’ll get to that later), but I did really like it.  Benedict Cumberbatch is great as the genius/mostly funny/enormously egotistical surgeon turned sorcerer, and he’ll undoubtedly fit in wonderfully with the rest of Marvel’s super bunch.  I also really dug Tilda Swinton as the peculiar Ancient One, Chiwetel Ejiofor as the goody two-shoes Mordo, and Mads Mikkelsen as the disillusioned Kaecilius.  Hell, I was even into B-movie action star Scott Adkins’s rando appearance as what IMDB describes as a “Strong Zealot”.  Then there’s director Scott Derrickson (Sinister), who with Doctor Strange has easily crafted Marvel’s most visually appealing film – a trippy, colorful, warped affair that will bend your brain.  The film – in all seriousness – is pretty damn good.

Here’s where the jaded side of me kicks in though.  SO?  Yeah, Doctor Strange is an entertaining flick, but it’s the 14th (FOURTEENTH!) entry into the MCU, and it’s difficult to not want to shrug my shoulders at another origin story with a couple of neat action sequences, a fluffy tone and a forgettable villain.  I’ve already seen this movie!  A lot!  And dammit, I want bigger and better.  Also – somehow someway – I’m nearing my “suspension of belief” limit.  For example, Strange gets trained by an order of powerful sorcerers who claim to protect the Earth from outside threats, and yet they were nowhere to be found when a MAGIC portal opened up in NYC and rained down aliens.  I mean, the wizards have a damn office there!  Come on!  It just doesn’t make much sense.  Maybe I’m wrong, but it’s starting to feel as though the MCU has gotten too big.  Nothing feels fresh or even 100% right because it’s all connected to years and years of others stories while also being cuffed by upcoming ones.  So hey Marvel, let’s just roll out Avengers: Infinity War already and rally up something new, yeah?

See Doctor Strange, of course, but maybe let me know if you’re starting to sense some of the aforementioned oddities.

One Last Thought:

Marvel clearly wants Strange to be the new Stark, but all throughout the film my brain kept lighting up with excitement over the eventual bevy of nicknames that the latter will sling at the former.  Not sure what that says about their plan.

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Movie Breakdown: Doctor Strange (Noah)

November 3, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

It’s a Marvel movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch as a snooty doctor-turned-master-of-mysticism. Duh.

Post-Screening Ramble:

At this point in the 14-film cycle of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you’re either in for the ride, or you’re trying to convince your friends that Suicide Squad is a good movie with a good story. That’s just how it is. Marvel Films, including this one, are molded by a committee of writers and producers to fit into a long plan, with each allowed a certain quota of artistic originality to separate them from the ever-growing pack. This makes sense to me because I’ve read Marvel Comic books for almost the entirety of my life, and well, that’s how comic books are. Each individual character is a part of a larger universe and as distinct as you want those characters to be, inevitably, their stories and their characters are servants of a grander picture. It’s just how it is. Doctor Strange is no different.

Benedict Cumberbatch (the latest in a long line of fucking fantastic actors who’ve slid into the Marvel sandbox) is Doctor Strange, a self-obsessed surgeon who must dive head-first into the world of mysticism when a car accident robs him of any functional use of his hands. He journeys to Nepal and meets The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and her posse of masters, including Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a rule-following magical badass who takes Strange under his wing. Strange learns some lessons, cracks some jokes, and faces off against a rebel magician, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) who’s fallen under the sway of a greater, of course, world-consuming villain. Though I won’t tell you (and don’t need to tell you) how it ends, if you’ve seen these movies before, you’ve probably got an idea.

So yeah, Doctor Strange under the direction of horror director Scott Derrickson, doesn’t sway terribly far from the Marvel Films canon we’ve seen before. This is a comic book origin story, it’s about taking a flaw in a powerful individual, overcoming that flaw, and then becoming the hero we always knew they were going to become. Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange is like a less-rich Tony Stark, a man so confident in his own abilities, he doesn’t need to reach out for help. Until he does, which, conveniently, occurs near the end of the film, allowing him to overcome both his enemy(s) and his distancing personal issues. And Cumberbatch, with delightful cornball humor a plenty, dives into this role headfirst, running around like a British Tom Cruise, waving his arms frantically so CG-wizards can throw a few effects in – it’s great, and if the rest of Phase 4 flits around Doctor Strange, well, no one should be complaining. Beyond that, Derrickson takes the Marvel Universe into a new world of psychedelia. Strange is pulled through the “multiverse” on several occasions and the mind-warping 1986 Star Trek black hole effects are a delight to behold and are striking homages to the bizarre and wonderful world’s Doctor Strange’s creator Steve Ditko once drew into comic books. Also enjoyable, the clockwork turns of the Mirror Dimension, a convenient world directly touching ours that allows the masters to turn all of New York City (and beyond) into spiraling, twisting playgrounds pulled from the mind of MC Escher. It is, quite frankly, the most visually impressive of any Marvel film before it. Is it a challenging film that will rearrange the way you see cinema? No. Does it work as a new branch of the MCU, introducing a fantastic new addition to the world while slightly bumping the entirety of the over-arching story forward? Yes. And it does so with aplomb and vision and an ensemble of actors who throw themselves into what could be a truly silly film with just enough conviction to make it all work.

One Last Thought:

Dear 3D Glasses: fuck you. I spent a considerable amount of this movie removing my glasses so I could actually tell what in the world was going on. When I did, the realization was clear: though it was nice to see broken columns poking out of the screen, if Doctor Strange had been shown in paltry, mundane 2D, it would’ve been a much better, much more easily watched film. At what point will this fad, as it was and as it will always be, disappear?

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