Friday, November 4, 2016

Doctor Strange

First introduced in Marvel Comics back 1963, Doctor Stephen Strange finally makes it to the big screen in the latest entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Although Marvel Studios has dipped their toe in the water previously with Thor and its sequel, this time the studio dives head first into the mystical for the origin of a neurosurgeon who became the Sorcerer Supreme (Earth's primary mystical protector).

More notable for its look than plot, Doctor Strange is a visible smorgasbord of delight. After the perfunctory set-up where we're introduced to a genius/asshole surgeon (Benedict Cumberbatch) whose life turns on a dime with a single event, we follow Strange on his journey to learn the mystical arts in hope of reclaiming what he has lost. That journey takes him to Nepal where he encounters the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and his understanding of the world is forever changed.

Following the basic layout of The Matrix, Strange moves from non-believer to the most powerful wizard ever over the course of the film. It may have taken Luke Skywalker three movies to become a proper Jedi, but like Neo the Doc only needs about 90 minutes.

Doctor Strange borrows heavily on themes, look, style, and plot from a variety of films (Inception, Star Wars,The Matrix, Harry Potter, and others). The talent of writer/director Scott Derrickson isn't so much creating something original but blending these ideas into a single film that works so well you can overlook its flaws without much effort. And the humor! Marvel Studios seems to have learned their lesson here as the humor which made Thor work, but was sadly missing from Thor: The Dark World, is back. Doctor Strange's cast and crew know and acknowledge that the concepts they are dealing with are goofy and thankfully don't take their subject matter too seriously.

Cumberbatch was the obvious choice for a lead once the film was announced. The role is tailor made for him, and he makes us both initially dislike and then later grow to root for a character who evolves over the course of the tale. Filling out the movie is Mads Mikkelsen as the ridiculously named villain Kaecilius whose plan to turn the world over the destroyer Dormammu in your basic villainous scheme that makes no sense for the character if he would take five seconds to think about the consequences of what he's doing, Rachel McAdams as Strange's friend and former lover, and Benedict Wong and Chiwetel Ejiofor as two supporting characters who will be increasingly important should Marvel greenlight a sequel. Oh, and then there's the cloak. The cloak is so damn good it actually steals more than one scene from the film's title character.

That's not to say that Doctor Strange is perfect. There are some nagging issues, particularly once the spectacle has died down, which are hard to ignore. Strange's quick mastery from intermediate poser to savior of Earth bends the script nearly to its breaking point. However, the biggest of these concerns a wizard's effect on the natural world. The film offers an intriguing idea of a mirrored reality where such changes can be controlled suggesting that outside of this space the world does indeed bend to a sorcerer's will. However, if that's the case why are there inconsistencies at what people witness (or are effected by) during these Inception-like moments? The movie doesn't offer an answer for this leaving it for the audience to puzzle out on its own. Thankfully the film is so darn entertaining that you're willing to allow issues like this to slide for most of the 136-minute run-time.

The special effects of the film work fairly well, although it did take me a little time to accept that magic for the Marvel Universe on the big screen is the equivalent of someone waving a sparkler around in a pretty pattern (seriously, try not to think of that as Strange attempts his first conjurings). I did view the film in 3D which certainly enhances the bigger CGI set pieces (although I think also detracts from some of the quicker action scenes where some action gets blurred). It doesn't need to be seen in 3D, but it doesn't hurt sell you on the magical nature of the story. While it may not rank with the best that Marvel Studios has produced, Doctor Strange is a solid entry to the franchise, and from what we gleam from both the mid-credit and post-credit sequences we may not have to wait all that long before seeing more of him.

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