Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Doctor Strange (2016) review

    Truth be told, I wasn't looking forward to this one. Not because I don't like Doctor Strange, I love the character, it was instead due to the fact the Marvel Cinematic Universe has felt rather bloated of late. There's a lot going on and I also felt Doctor Strange was a bit too much of a paradigm shift for the setting. Having focused so extensively on sci-fi elements, it seemed like adding magic would feel like too much of a change.

    One thing I wasn't worried about was all the talk about white-washing which dogged the movie. For one, Doctor Strange's origin always had an orientalist vibe. Removing that element was going to cause some problems but I think it's better than the stereotypical story of, "White guy goes to live among some ethnic people and learns how to do their stuff better than they do."

Really loved his final look.
    For those unfamiliar with Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), he has is an arrogant surgeon who injured his hands in a car accident before wasting his fortune on phony cures. Journeying to Tibet, Nepal in the movie, he meets to meet with the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) where he learns humility before rising to become a hero. In this case, he is faced against Kaelicius (Mads Mikkelsen), a former pupil of the Ancient One who has stolen a magic ritual that can summon the power of the Dark Dimension. Doctor Strange's allies in Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong) help him in a martial arts and magical war which threatens the whole of time itself.

    As a Doctor Strange comic book fan, the movie is all over the place. Kaelicius is basically Baron Mordo, Mordo is basically the Silver Dagger, Wong is more like his animated movie counterpart, and Rachel McAdams plays Christine Palmer versus Doctor Strange's more traditional love interest of Clea (probably best played by Emilia Clarke). The plot also feels like a combination of Batman Begins, Inception, and Iron Man. There's even a little bit of Aladdin with Doctor Strange's Cloak of Levitation working like the magic carpet.

Christine Palmer works as a character to ground the Sorcerer Supreme.
    That doesn't mean the movie isn't good, though. Doctor Strange is a jigsaw puzzle of other popular films and it's not remotely a break from formula but it's still entertaining from beginning to end. Benedict Cumberbatch gives an amiable performance as a man who has serious personality flaws but is, mostly a decent person until he says some things he can't take back. While romance has never been the heart of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I actually liked Doctor Strange's relationship with Christine Palmer. He had a chance with her but his arrogance and directionless anger ruined it with no amount of magic being able to repair what has been lost.

    I was really impressed with the Ancient One, though, who managed to be a much better variation on the mentor character than most. She's humorous, intelligent, and altruistic but also flawed. The Ancient One has made many compromises over the centuries to keep Earth safe but these things have taken their tole. They've also led to some of the loyalty given to her being built on false pretexts. Seeing how it all unravels is an interesting experience and I have to say one which gives her almost as strong an arc as Doctor Strange himself.

Baron Mordo is a much improved character with a lot of layers.
    I love the movie's interpretation of Baron Mordo as well. Both of them. Kaelicius is basically the classic version of the character who is an evil infernalist mage out to achieve immortality through a pact with Dormammu. Comic Mordo has always been something of a flat character but Kaelicius manages to articulate why someone would want to do all the terrible things he does.

    The actual character bearing his name, though, is more a well-intentioned extremist. He is a figure who believes very strongly in pure good like Captain America and is grossly disappointed when Strange and the Ancient One trot out the "ends sometimes justify the means." It's a nice contrast with the kind of heroes who wouldn't compromise even in the face of oblivion.

Overall, I really liked the look and feel of the movie.
    The special effects are amazing in the movie and manages to invoke the trippy Steve Dikto dimensions which were a major part of the early character's success. I also liked the depiction of magic, which straddles the line between pure fantasy and science fiction. Certainly, it makes the Marvel Cinematic Universe more interesting without totally upending it.

    The action of the movie is excellent with a focus on manipulating the environment, magic, and the martial arts. They could have gone for just spell-slinging but the incorporation of wuxia-influences works well for the setting. I admit, it's a bit strange seeing Stephen Strange not the omnipotent demigod he is in the comics but it isn't a bad change. I also love seeing the Ancient One and Mordo getting into things alongside Stephen Strange so we see what more experienced mages can do.

    In conclusion, this is a decent enough movie and one I'll probably watch again on DVD or Xbox. It's not going to blow anyone away with the power of its storyline or characterization but it's certainly serviceable.


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