Monday, November 28, 2016

"Doctor Strange" Review: The Sorcerer Supreme Delivers A Supremely Entertaining New Chapter In The MCU


By this point you are either a Marvel fan (which means you know how the MCU works) or you are a casual fan (which means you could care less how the MCU works). Of course there is always the people who just don't like Marvel or superhero movies in general which means you have already stopped reading by this point. Either way you slice it there is little to no reason to go into detail about how each new film from Marvel works as we have all been down this road plenty of times now. However, the strange thing here (pardon the pun) is just how much Doctor Strange goes against the grain to establish a new more vibrant world filled with infinite dimensions and infinite possibilities for the MCU going forward while also providing the tried and true superhero origin story. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: 2D Digital
Film Rating: PG-13
Film Runtime:  2 hr 10 min
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
Release Date: November 4, 2016

Biases:  
Loves:  Most Marvel movies
Likes: Benedict Cumberbatch, the Doctor Strange character, introducing magic into the MCU
Neutral: Bland villains
Hates: That the end credits easter eggs have become jokes instead of something more substantial
Any links to other Marvel heroes?: There is an off hand remark about a soldier wearing armor that needs emergency back surgery...War Machine perhaps?

Steven Strange goes through your usual origin story growing pains.

Doctor Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is one of the worlds most gifted surgeons who is able to do stuff like play games such as name that song while performing a complex brain surgery or is able to diagnose a patient, treat them and save their life all by simply looking at their x-ray for a mere second. Those qualities come with a serious attitude problem though as Strange has a seriously inflated ego that drives him to alienate his colleagues and even his girlfriend Christine (Rachel McAdams) who works as a nurse in his hospital. As often the case with these sorts of stories it doesn't take long for Strange's world to come crushing down (or in his face in this case) where after a horrible car accident leaves his hands nearly useless he begins a decent into obsessive madness in search of a way to fix himself.

After some digging he learns of a place in Kathmandu Nepal called Kamar-Taj, a hidden temple of mystics led by the all powerful being known only as The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). Upon arriving at the temple Strange is thrust into a new world filled with sorcery and other worldly knowledge that presents an opportunity for him to regain the use of his hands once again. Under the tutelage of Baron Mordo (Chewitel Ejiofor) and the The Ancient One his/herself Strange begins his quest to learn the mystic arts but his training comes to a quick end when Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelson), former student of The Ancient One steals an ancient spell which he intends on using to bring forth the evil Dormmamu who is intent on capturing the Earth and sending it to the Dark Dimension for all eternity.

His training is right out of the superhero handbook.

On paper this all appears to be a rather cut and dry superhero origin story. You have your egotistical protagonist who suffers a life altering experience and just when they bottom out they discover a new found ability in themselves which is the catalyst for a metaphorical metamorphosis that results in them learning that not everything is about them. Doctor Strange follows that formula to a T and rarely drifts from its predetermined path. While that might seem like grounds for immediate dismissal, as often is the case with Marvel they have found a way to make this tried and true formula feel fresh again simply through clever casting, sure-footed direction and a number of remarkable mind bending action sequences that push the boundaries of what we have come to expect from our superhero movies.

As with all Marvel flicks the main protagonist/hero is the most important choice when assembling their actors since he/she will undoubtedly show up in other Marvel films down the line and per usual we are graced with some inspired casting in the form of Benedict Cumberbatch as the Sorcerer Supreme himself Doctor Steven Strange. One look at his Sherlock Holmes on the BBC series Sherlock and it was immediately apparent that he was the best man for the job. Strange and Sherlock have very many similar idiosyncrasies such as being egotistical, extremely smart and lacking in basic human emotion. On that note Cumberbatch didn't really have to stretch his talents too far here but that doesn't take away from how perfect a fit he was for character.

Marvel continues its trend of lackluster villains.

The supporting cast is just as strong with Chewitel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen and Tilda Swinton all turning in strong performances for characters who are basically one note through most of the film. Ejifor comes across especially strong as the true believer and companion to Strange who finds his faith broken and must reconcile with the reality of who/what he has been fighting for. The smaller roles are filled with great actors as well but are sadly underutilized. Benedict Wong is basically the comic relief and Rachel McAdams, who starts out strong, is relegated to an afterthought by the end which is just a crying shame considering how great both actors can be when given the proper amount of screen time.

The characters and their motivations are par for the course for the most part bu what really sets Doctor Strange apart from its Marvel brethren are its visuals and the introduction of the mystic arts into the MCU. Strictly on a visual level director Scott Derrickson whose last film Sinister was not all that interesting to look at has come out of his shell and delivered one of the most visually interesting films since Christopher Nolan's Inception (of which Doctor Strange feels eerily similar to). Most of the action scenes are your standard good guy versus bad guy, I hit you, you hit me sort of back and forth but what really makes them standout is everything going on around them.

Where Doctor Strange shines the brightest is when it doesn't feel like a superhero movie.

The best example of this is a foot chase through New York that happens mid-way through the film that isn't much more than two guys being chased by some other guys but when you add in this idea of how these characters can call on the mystic arts to warp and bend the world around them the scene suddenly becomes much more enthralling. This sort of stuff was used in all of the marketing for the film and doesn't come as a surprise when it does happen but when put into context as to how and why it is happening helps make the effects more a part of the action than just some neat background imagery. Better yet is that this just the tip of the iceberg as the film constantly throws new twists into the mix and ups the ante such as introducing time manipulation and this idea of a traveling outside of ones body which keeps the action from ever becoming stagnant.

If there were one area that can be looked upon as somewhat underwhelming though it would have to be the villains. Marvel still hasn't found a way to create an interesting and complex opposing figure for the much more three dimensional heroes. Kaecilius is only ever interesting because it is Mads Mikkelsen who adds dimension to his words and that's it. His plan isn't that unique or even interesting and his actions are predictable to the point of being almost irrelevant. To their credit though we do get introduced to another villain who appears to be a much more omnipotent being in the form of Dormammu, the ruler of a realm known as the Dark Dimension. There is certainly a lot of potential with this character but he is so underutilized herre that it never truly makes up for the blandness that is Kaecilius.

The introduction of magic into the MCU is a gamechanger for sure.

Writing reviews for Marvel films has become a rather mundane task at this point. Each film feels as though they share the same strengths, flaws and basic story structure that after a while it begs the question of who really cares? We all know going in what to expect for the most part and while Doctor Strange does add a lot of visual variety and some clever mechanics in the background it never stops being a Marvel film which is both a blessing and a curse. Doctor Strange doesn't reinvent the wheel and it was never meant to. But it does add an interesting wrinkle into the growing MCU that will likely have some fantastical repercussions in future films which is all that we were expecting. The question then becomes at which point do Marvel films stop being pieces of a puzzle and instead become a complete puzzle in and of themselves?


FINAL THOUGHTS:

Doctor Strange was tailor made to satisfy both the rabid comic book fan base and the ever growing casual viewer who knows nothing of the MCU beyond what they are presented with. But that is what Marvel does best, they know their audience so well and have perfected their formula to such perfection that even when they put their best foot forward it is impossible to not feel as though they are treading water. Being the best at what you do is indeed both a blessing and a curse in this regard.

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