Doctor Strange

"Be careful which path you travel down, Strange. Stronger men than you have lost their way."

With Doctor Strange, Marvel Studios show that they have mastered the art of taking risks while also playing it safe.

In terms of plot, Doctor Strange is nothing we haven't seen Marvel do before. In fact, it is pretty much a rehash of Iron Man. Turns out that Stephen Strange and Tony Stark share a lot more than just carefully crafted goatees. Like Tony before him, Strange starts out as a charismatic jackass whose genius is rivalled only by his arrogance, suffers life changing injuries that lead him to rethink many of his life choices, and eventually becomes a heroic charismatic jackass whose genius is rivalled only by his arrogance. So yeah, Doctor Strange tells a very familiar origin story, but it is one that Marvel has got so good at telling you kinda don't care that you've seen it all before.

What sets Doctor Strange apart from all the Marvel films that have come before it are its visuals. This is the first Marvel film to explore the mystical side of their fictional universe and director Scott Derrickson takes full advantage of that to bring the technicolor psychedelia of Steve Ditko's imagination bursting to life. Strange's initial journey into the other cosmic realms is the trippiest things I've seen on the big screen since Dave Bowman went beyond the infinite.

The film's various conjurers battle by using their magic to bend space and time, reshaping the reality around them like a kaleidoscope. Comparisons have been made to Inception, but Doctor Strange goes ten steps further and does a tap dance on M.C. Escher's head while playing the violin. And yet there is a nagging sense the film is holding back, wary of going all in on the Ditko psychedelia for fear it might scare away potential punters. This is disappointing, but understandable. Strange is one of those characters you have to be very careful with. Go too far with the weirdness and you risk ending up in Zardoz territory. And no one wants that.

At this point in his career, Benedict Cumberbatch has turned playing brilliant, charismatic jackasses into an art form. He is the perfect choice for a character like Strange, despite sounding like he got his accent in Hugh Laurie's yard sale. Tilda Swinton's inherent otherworldliness is also put to good use as the Ancient One, while Benedict Wong steals every scene he's in as Wong, the best librarian since Rupert Giles. Chiwetel Ejiofor's Mordo is a more complex and sympathetic character than his comic counterpart, who was just your typical power mad megalomaniac. He isn't given too much to do, but it is obvious he's been set up for bigger things in the inevitable sequel.

Sadly, Rachel McAdams and Mads Mikkelsen are both completely wasted as the bland female love interest and the underwritten villain. Are Marvel ever going to get those two right? Seriously, why continue to hire actors of this calibre if you are just going to waste them in thankless roles that any idiot with a SAG membership could do?

Do you remember where we parked? 
Witchcraft and Wizardry

--There was a Doctor Strange TV movie in the seventies starring Peter Hooten as Strange and John Mills as his mentor.

--In one of the best deviations from the source material, Strange's Cloak of Levitation is given a mind of its own and almost steals the whole film. Sorry, Edna Mode, but this is one hero who definitely needs his cape.

--Michael Giacchino's score is the best produced for a movie yet. His end credits theme is the intoxicating mix of Pink Floyd and John Barry.

--The film was a lot funnier than I expected, but the humour never once comes at the expense of the drama. 

Christine: "Where have you been?"
Strange: "I went to Kathmandu, and I learned to tap into powers I never even knew existed."
Christine: "So you joined a cult?"

Kaecilius: "You'll die defending this world, Mister..."
Strange: "Doctor!"
Kaecilius: "Mister Doctor."
Strange: "It's Strange!"
Kaecilius: "Maybe, who am I to judge?"

Three out of four charismatic jackasses.
--
Mark Greig is a master of making things disappear, as long as they are made of chocolate. More Mark Greig.

7 comments:

FlopHairedWuss said...

Great review. More of the same is pretty much what I was expecting so hopefully I won't be disappointed. As long as it's a ton of fun, I'm sure I'll be satisfied.

Although now that Ike Perlmutter is gone I was hoping it would allow the filmmakers to take more risks with the material. This is perhaps a slightly tired conversation at this point but as much as I liked Ant-Man, I really would've like to see what Edgar Wright would've done with it. Seeing as Perlmutter seems to have been partly responsible for his departure, I was hoping Perlmutter leaving would allow for more experimenting (as much as Marvel movie standards will allow. This does have to cater to general audiences after all).
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS is one of my favourite movies so I'm really excited to see what Taika Waititi does with Thor. It has the potential to be one the best Marvel movies so far provided he's allowed to make more creative decisions.

Billie Doux said...

What an enjoyable review, Mark. I feel like I have a good idea now of exactly what I'll be getting when I see this movie. Which might not be until it comes out on DVD.

Mark wrote: Go too far with the weirdness and you risk ending up in Zardoz territory. And no one wants that.

I just saw Zardoz for the first time a month ago. It was on Turner Classic and I knew I'd heard of it but couldn't remember what I'd heard, and realized I'd never seen it. It was a level of awful I've never experienced before. I thought about doing the snarkiest review I've ever written, but couldn't make myself watch it until the end.

Mark Greig said...

FlopHairedWuss, Taika Waititi actually directed the mid-credit scene for this film, and if it is any indication to go by, Thor 3 is in very good hands.

Billie, you really didn't miss much.

The Ponderer said...

Marvel's already gotten villains and live interests right plenty of times, to be fair; Pepper, Peggy, Loki, Ultron, Red Skull, etc.

Anonymous said...

By the numbers and not Marvels beat effort..Fairly enjoyable regardless and i like that the 3rd act ws lot different to most Marvel films.
These are the types of films Dc fail to make. When Strange appears in the inevitable future Avengers and other heros films he will have a relevance and a connection to the audience through this solo outing and origin film.
A big reason why Dc's films are failing to land..All spectacle and style with little care for the characters and their interactions.
Hopefully that changes with Wonder Woman.

migmit said...

This movie made me reevaluate the entire MCU.

I just saw it — in Hungary it only opened today. Original, untranslated version, which they, thankfully, show in local theaters.

So, about MCU. After the pure joy that was The Avengers, and a few quite enjoyable Iron Man movies (and, actually, a very nice Winter Soldier), I was sure MCU is going to make some very good-quality product. A few mediocre movies, like Civil War, and really bad ones (I'm looking at you, Guardians of the Galaxy) didn't change my mind.

This movie did.

I'm finally accepting MCU for what it is. A bunch of badly written, badly directed, and badly played movies with some good actors wasting their talent for a ton of money.

Plot, as I mentioned, so predictable that it's impossible to spoil. Absolutely one-dimensional characters. Cringeworthy jokes, scattered in the worst possible moments. Painful waste of talent on a really cosmic scale.

Personally, I don't really care about visual effects, but I couldn't help but notice that they very much resemble a kaleidoscope — a childrens toy. Which is enjoyable for a few minutes, true, but that's it.

So, I'm giving up. I won't be going to theaters for other MCU movies from now on.

migmit said...

In case you're wondering about the "as I mentioned" part: my mistake, I removed the earlier mention, but not this bit.