a review by the Raven.
A STRANGELY MARVELLOUS ORIGIN MOVIE
From the director that crafted schlock movies such as The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister, we encounter Marvel’s final cinematic release of the year: Doctor Strange.
Stephen Strange is a comic book character who is a brilliant but egotistical neurosurgeon, who goes on to inadvertently become a Sorcerer. Sounds straightforward enough, but this film is layered with far deeper topics sandwiched in between all the typical comic book fluff.
Scott Derrickson does a good job as director – because he manages to tie a pretty bow on a rather difficult pair of sneakers. This movie addresses existential topics in a tight 2 hour window (no easy feat, mind you) – and actually manages it to pull it off. Perception, our human reality, other-worldly dimensions and the notion of healing oneself through the power of the mind – are just a few of the many complex philosophies that we encounter in this movie. They are approached with kids gloves on, and you’ll only receive a basic education on the topics (which is what most of the masses would be able to digest).
Visually, a lot of the scenes were reminiscent to that of a lovechild between Inception and Alice Through The Looking Glass. The actors across the board were strong and believable, which made this film far more mature than I expected. A phantasmic psychedelic trip to Tibet, indeed.
WARNING: THIS SECTION CONTAINS SOME [MINOR] SPOILERS
In Doctor Strange, surgeon Stephen Strange learns the mystic arts from the ‘Ancient One’ (an experienced sorceress played by Tilda Swinton) after a career-ending car accident. He is a selfish yet fast learner, and shows massive disbelief in the notion that there is anything more to life than what science proves as fact. He starts out as a self-righteous and gifted neurosurgeon, akin to that of House MD (Sorry Ben, you’ll never be as good as Hugh Laurie). Firmly rooted in logic and our physical reality as we know it – our character has multiple edges and a massive ego. Obsessed with work and perfection, he picks cases that intrigue him and his entire life revolves around his career.
This was shown well via subtle details and nuances, which really exemplified Strange’s headstrong nature. Soon after, he meets with a horrid car accident and loses control over his hands. This is the first time our character experiences powerlessness, and it drives him insane. After a tip off from an ex patient who miraculously survived from paralysis, Strange travels halfway across the planet from NYC to Nepal and eventually surrenders to a power he never believed in: Magic.
He is then introduced to a world unlike ever before, and is taught by ancient leaders and textbooks in a mystical setting in the Himalayas. After embarking on his own eat-pray-love journey, Dr Strange finally realises his powers and embraces the concepts of spiritual energy – after seeing how powerful it can be if harnessed correctly. He eventually replaces his mentor and has a battle with a shape shifting, planet-sucking villain Dormammu, who is being served by the Ancient One’s once protege, Kaecilius.
The setting of Tibet was fresh in terms of location, and we get to see some beautiful shots of Strange in the great outdoors, which creates a feeling of expansiveness and adventure. Also, if you enjoyed the trippy tunnel scene in Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory, (or just like looking at fractals or light bursts on instagram) – you’ll really dig some of the sequences of Strange falling in and out of dimensions and worlds of mirrored realities, all blazing in bright technicolor. But in essence, it’s all a rehash of thing we’ve seen before. Disney – please push the envelope, and give us a stronger dose of magic. We’re not amateurs anymore and neither are you. Walt will thank you for it.
At its core, Doctor Strange is an origin movie. Based on that fact, it was very well done considering how unknown this character is in comparison to other superhero protagonists. In order to have an origin movie be successful, it is imperative that the viewer has clarity on the character’s backstory, so that once they’ve been avenged, one can actually emotionally connect and relate to it. This is when you get hooked. The more honest a character is with us, the stronger our vicarious bond with the person on screen becomes, because we trust them. From the first frame of the film to the last, I was entertained. Was I transported to a different world? For the most part. Was I intrigued? Yes. Did I want more depth and respect for some of the quantum physics notions that were addressed? Of course, but I also understand that Hollywood dumbs down their films for the average guy. So don’t expect a life changing experience, but get a lot of popcorn ready.
Many of the visual shots that forced Dr Strange to believe in magic were exactly like one’s first acid trip in college. Shiny, scary and somewhat fun! Tilda Swinton is a much needed break from the quintessential Hollywood masters like Mr Miyagi (Karate Kid) and Master Shifu (Kung Fu Panda). Androgynous, mysterious and wily – she holds her own well and adds a sense of ‘is she good’ or ‘is she bad’ right till the end of the movie.
There are two points where this movie failed, the first is that it follows a predictable story line; the second is that it just doesn’t play enough with the vast new world it was presented with. In comparison to other comic book movies, Doctor Strange had the perfect mix of all things sellable – a great visual setting that included practical effects and VFX alike, a badass yet loveable protagonist, a talented cast and yet, it also had that element that all artists and filmmakers crave – a completely UNIQUE storyline in comparison to other superhero movies. The only other magic based hero present in the comic book-cinematic crossover world is Black Panther, and he’s only coming out with a stand alone film in 2018. So Doctor Strange has a massive head start, and has no excuse to not solidify and cash in on the magic element. Did it cash in? Yes, but it could’ve had a full sweep with a stronger dose of Marvel potion, and hit the jackpot.
In terms of the plot line, there was a steady mood throughout. I especially enjoyed the time loop sequence at the end between Dormammu and Strange, which is one of the most colossal (and amusing) battle sequences I’ve seen since The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Sometimes, the timing of humour felt out of place and awkward, just like in Suicide Squad but quickly salvages itself with stellar performances from Swinton, McAdams and even Stan Lee’s tiny (but adorable) cameo, in which he’s cheekily reading a copy of the Doors of Perception!
DR STEPHEN STRANGE – Benedict Cumberbatch 8/10
Solid. That’s the perfect way to sum up his performance. I wouldn’t change much except send him into the woods for a bit. I feel as though Ben wasn’t able to really let go and connect with this character for some reason, and it came through on screen. Perhaps we’ll see a more at-ease-in-his-skin Dr Strange in a following movie. My only sore point with his performance was to do with his aha scene. I wish I believed him more when he seemed flabbergasted by everything new that he suddenly had come to learn from the Ancient One. For someone so heavily rooted in logic, I expected more shock from his character’s portrayal. Its worthy to point out, that Cumberbatch also voiced the villain in this film – Dormammu, which is quite commendable as I wouldn’t have guessed that one. Well done, Sherlock.
CHRISTINE PALMER – Rachel McAdams 7/10
Rachel gives us a likeable, safe performance. A lot of heavy blocks of humour were placed on her character’s shoulders, and she carried it off rather well. It probably wasn’t easy being the love interest in a complex, heady setting such as this – but she pulls it off smoothly. Not much else to say here, except I don’t have anything bad to say about the nurse. Which is a good thing.
THE ANCIENT ONE – Tilda Swinton 9/10
Originally a male character in the comics; I’m glad that Derrickson changed it up a bit and gave us a different take on your run of the mill spiritual mentor.
The perfect amount of badass and sass, Tilda is brilliant as the Ancient One. She toys and plays with Stephen in her own way to actually bring out the best in him. She serves as a perfect mirror, and really drew me in with her timing, delivery and expressions. Slick, mysterious and enigmatic; Tilda has an eclectic mix of a dry, disconnected personality, with an oddly nurturing momma bear streak.
KARL MORDO – Chiwetel Ejiofor 6/10
Okay – this guy’s character was the quintessential, predictable sidekick. He’s the narrator, the dude who explains plot points to our protagonist and pushes the movie forward. We’ve seen him countless times before and we’ll see him again. What came to mind was a wannabe Black Panther. I also didn’t like how easy it was for him to turn over to the dark side. He switches team easily, and believes in each one with the same vigour as the last, thereby showing signs of blind herd based fundamentalism. If a Marvel character ever went stupid and crazy enough to start a terrorist group of sorcerers, this foo would probably be behind it.
WONG – Benedict Wong 8/10
The comic relief of the film, Wong plays Wong and guards chambers of magic books full of powerful know-how. He’s a mix of Po the Panda and your local noodle guy. Relatable, huggable, time filling – these are the words I’d attach to his character, and there ain’t nothing wong with that.
KAECILIUS – Mads Mikkelsen 6/10
This character just didn’t feel developed enough. I wonder how much homework goes into crafting the supporting antagonist in a film, considering he is the first impression of what is meant to come, from the big evil daddie. If the appetiser isn’t scaring me, I really don’t think the main course will be that daunting. Mads played Mads – you’ll recognise him from past movies of a similar avatar. He’s just wearing different costumes in each one, but nothing else changes.
Don’t get me wrong, this was a fun film. It ranked high in terms of storytelling concepts, but fell a tad short in terms of execution of that innovative setting. It just lacked that next level wow that I was craving, but was so close. The story was screaming for so much more to be played with, but in true Hollywood style, the production team played it cookie-cutter-safe and gave us the same old edits, timeline, and droll sound effects (Remember that video about Marvels predictable temp audio clips?). The VFX was fun, and took us into a fractal mirror based Inception-esque world, and then spun us in and out of portals and dimensons. I must admit, I tried conjuring my own wormhole entry after I got home but only managed to scare the crap out of my roommates with my failed attempts at spawning a hadouken.
I was (and still am) truly excited by the creative collision of Disney and Marvel, especially because Dr Strange and Black Panther are from magic based worlds, and I thought that that combination would indeed cast the perfect spell for these two giants coming together. Since most of the stand alone films are designed to be stitched into a family tree of movies – interconnected universes are here to stay. What I’m glad about is that we’re getting solid comic book movies to enjoy from a well-oiled marvellous machine.
Trippy, trippy, trippy.