‘Doctor Strange’ is but a glance through a key hole at Marvel’s mystical multiverse

Maybe this is where I preface with how much I love the character of Dr. Stephen Vincent Strange a.k.a Doctor Strange a.k.a the Sorcerer Supreme.

Well…

There really isn’t all that much to say honestly.

He’s a character I sort of stumbled upon by accident actually when I was much younger. It’s probably not too much of a stretch to say I was initially drawn to the visuals to which I argue there are no better to be found in the comic book medium than a Doctor Strange book. He also probably has my favorite look of any in the Marvel canon as well. Not to mention possibly the best base of operations of any superhero. Yes, I am including the Bat Cave in that debate.

Character-wise, I think what I like most is his matter of fact-ness approach to magic. As a neurosurgeon, he is anything if not pragmatic. That goes along way when you’re dealing with stuff as goofy and outlandish as the typical problem of a Sorcerer Supreme. His last name should be a pretty clear indicator for the general tone of the conflicts in which he deals with issue to issue.

I also loved how his house served as a hub for a good portion of Marvel’s street-level New York heroes. I’m fairly certain everyone has stayed there at some point and when it was destroyed (for a bit…for like 40 minutes….for the fourth time….that year) it was always cool to see his friends rally around him and trusty manservant, Wong. Seconded maybe my Nick Fury, he had possibly the most extensive contacts lists of any one in Marvel.

All that said, I had no illusions in my mind that a Doctor Strange movie would ever exist. Well…except this one…

And yes…that is a young Jessica Walter (Lucille Bluth).

To me, more than any other comic book character, he was the bar upon which films would never reach.

Then this little movie happened…

Now that this exists, where does that shift? Squirrel Girl?

Oh.

Right. 

Well, for what it’s worth, this movie was made and I was pretty gosh darn(?) excited about it.

I wanted this to be my favorite Marvel movie.

And the trailers did very little to levy the fact that this would be incredible.

End result? Not incredible. Not great, really either. But a lot of fun. So…at least there’s that!

doctor-strange-comic-con-poster

The plot:

“Marvel’s ‘Doctor Strange’ follows the story of the talented neurosurgeon Doctor Stephen Strange who, after a tragic car accident, must put ego aside and learn the secrets of a hidden world of mysticism and alternate dimensions. Based in New York City’s Greenwich Village, Doctor Strange must act as an intermediary between the real world and what lies beyond, utilizing a vast array of metaphysical abilities and artifacts to protect the Marvel Cinematic Universe.” – Marvel

The review:

See this in IMAX 3D.

You’re doing yourself a real disservice if you bother with any other format. Perhaps the highest praise I have for this is that it truly is the first Marvel film that needs to be experienced on the biggest screen at your disposal. Oh sure, many of their past endeavors have been treats for the eyes as well but Doctor Strange elevates the bar (visually) to level in which all subsequent releases are sure to be compared.

Visually and conceptually, the effects owe quite a bit to the inverted physics of Inception with a healthy how-do-you-do to the East-meets-West influences of The Matrix. From those sparks however, Doctor Strange becomes what I presume to be the winner all of next year’s visual effects awards. Like…all of them.

Every sequence feels distinct, more innovative than the last. While it doesn’t reach the comic book-y glory that was the airport sequence in Civil War, there’s something to be said about just how outside the box this movie gets in relation to how it operates on a basic, visual level.

You’ll probably hear that certain sequences will make you feel as if you took LSD, molly, or whatever the kids are calling it these days. And to a degree, those statements carry validity.

Let’s go down the list. We have:

A race through an M.C. Escher-fied Manhattan war zone.

A fist fight between disembodied spirits.

More than one instance in which the Doctor’s iconic cloak gets a punch or two in.

A 2001 meets ultimate acid trip through all of time and space.

And that’s just a taste. Director and co-writer Scott Derrickson (who really hasn’t stood out to me as a director before this) really outdid himself in delivering such a distinctly-visual film in an environment that unfortunately seems to widdle down the unique flairs of its directors.

The cast, as is typical with Marvel movies, is perfect to a tee. I’d be lying if I didn’t say the could have been given more interesting things to do, but they perform admirably with the some lackluster lines scattered throughout.

There was a considerable amount of controversy surrounding Tilda Swinton’s casting as the Ancient One, a typically Asian role. To me, it’s a double-edged sword. Sure, it would be great to see an Asian actor given a high-profile role such as that but the stereotypes imbued with it, I think Marvel chose wisely in just casting an incredibly talented actress.

I also liked Cumberbatch’s Strange. He wouldn’t have been my first pick, but he defied my expectations here. He imbues Strange with same level of charming arrogance Robert Downey Jr. can in his sleep at this point as Tony Stark albeit different enough to where it doesn’t seem like he is merely mimicking the success of the other actor.

 I’m more than ready to see how he fits in with the rest of the MCU as a whole, particularly the ever-skeptical of magic Tony Stark.

Not to mention the onscreen reunion of the Facial Hair Bros.

Not to mention the onscreen reunion of the Facial Hair Bros.

We get a preview of what role he’ll play in a future movie in our now mandated first of two after credits scenes and SPELLS exciting things for a certain film involving a certain God of Thunder and a golly, green giant. Not to get too spoiler-y, but that quick scene made me so giddy at the mere fact that Strange is taking a similar role to the one he’s had in the comics for decades.

Every other actor and actress, while talented, kind of fades into the background. Similar to Terrance Howard in the first Iron Man film, Chiwetel Ejiofor serves as sidekick Mordo (not yet a baron), who will go on to become much more interesting in the sequel. (Hopefully they actually keep him around for the second film though.)

Our villain, Kaecilius, didn’t really do a lot for me. I guess he was fine to say the most, helped mainly by the fact that he’s played by our most recent Dr. Lecter, Mads Mikkelsen. The guy probably sleeps with a menacing face on.

I got a kick out of Benedict Wong’s take on Wong. It would have fairly easy to get uncomfortable with that character, but I think this interpretation is largely successful.

Also he’s not in it long enough to really offend anyone. Assuming he plays a larger role in future films, (as I require him to) hopefully they keep that balance up.

The only performer who I felt was kind of wasted was Rachel McAdams. She’s fine but she’s equated to same role as Natalie Portman in the Thor films in that we needs someone to humanize this asshole of a main character for us but otherwise serves no real purpose in the plot. Oh wait….I just remember….Michael Stuhlbarg is in this too. Okay, mark that as TWO wasted performers.

As with the comic, the character’s origins mirror that of Iron Man’s which leads me to the only substantive argument I can petition concerning this film, and it is a biggie. For all the bells and whistles, it is about as generic as white bread with no crust and a side of milk. There are some flourishes here and there (I really love how the good doctor approaches his final confrontation with the big bad at the film’s conclusion as well as its resolution), but the crux of the story is something we’ve seen again and again and again and again.

It’s a common complaint I share regarding superhero films in general.

I’d probably be less disappointed if I hadn’t been naive enough to buy into the rumors spread by alleged gross person Devin Faraci at birth.death.movies that the film WOULD NOT be another origin story.

Look, I get it. Disney is all about accessibility and when you’re entering a pool as crazy as the magical side of the Marvel Universe, you’re going to want to go in with some floaties first particularly if you have no experience with it.

There is also lion’s share credit to had by Derrikson and his co-writers for cramming what could have been Star Trek levels of exposition and explanation and quasi-comfortably fitting it into something much more digestible for John and Sally Q. Public. Fortunately, when that explanation does start to wear a little thin, the film wisely cranks up the action.

It’s a similar complaint I had to last year’s Krampus. Sure, it’s crazy but there’s so much potentially for more without getting bogged down in logistics. That’s the beauty of magic, particularly comic book magic.

I don’t want to play “Tyler writes a better movie,” but maybe they could have place a bit more focus on a normal character -coughmugglecough- who is cursed or is in someway affected by magic in which they need Strange’s assistance. Strange, is already Sorcerer Supreme as this point much in the same way Cumberbatch’s Sherlock is already a detective at the start of Sherlock. We then find out more about his world through an audience surrogate. I’m not arguing that is an anyway better. Hell, we’ve seen that story before too, but as we press forward, my origin story burnout is becoming all the more real.

I wouldn’t even hazard to say I’m disappointed. 2016 has been a fairly disappointment year in the blockbuster department, but I wouldn’t classify Doctor Strange as one of them. It’s fine. I say that a lot, but trust me it’s true. Movies can be just fine. They neither have to blow you away or make you angry. They can exist in the in-between successfully. I often harp on the fact that the most important aspect of any movie is whether it carries a memorability or not. That’s the most I can really ask of any film. I think The Incredible HulkIron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World suffer the most in terms of that.

Doctor Strange‘s mere existence is a win for me. It’s coherence another.

So yeah, I enjoyed the movie for what it was. I’m honestly more disappointed I don’t have more to say about it given this is something I’ve been wanting to see for a good portion of comic book-reading life.

I don’t particularly have anything that profound to say about it outside I hope this sample platter of a film is simply a fraction of what Marvel has in store should we get a fully-fledged sequel. I think I said the same thing about Green Lantern, a movie I still maintain was not as bad as everyone made it out to be. It wasn’t great, but it too was fine. Like Doctor Strange, it left the door of limitless comic book possibilities open for something akin to my expectations. Unlike that movie, I think we have a competent company as represented by Marvel Studios behind the reigns to ensure we actually get to see those possibilities brought to fruition competently.

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