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Doctor Strange (2016)

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Iron Man Goes to Hogwarts!

While the story is, by this point, a run-of-the-mill Marvel origin, the visuals and performances of the main actors definitely make this film a feast for the eyes and push all the right nerd buttons. Cumberbatch is perfect for the role of Stephen Strange, and Ejiofor & Swinton provide excellence all around in their roles, as well.

As per usual, a great actor is wasted as an underexplored throwaway villain; the visual effects and a truly creative Dr. Who-esque ending save this film. Loved it.

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Lacks Marvel Magic

Let me get this out of the way right off the bat; Doctor Strange is my favorite Marvel hero. A character that doesn't appear too frequently in the comics, Stephen Strange often pops into the stories of others, accentuating bombastic events with a witty and engaging figure who, ultimately, is incredibly flawed and often sees failure, seemingly more often than success. In understanding this, I realize that some of my critiques or thoughts on the film may come across as unfair or exaggerated due to my bias.

That being said, Doctor Strange was one of the most frustrating film experiences I've had in a long time.

Our film takes place at the origin place of the good doctor (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), a surgeon well respected in the industry, despite being something of an egotistical jerk. This is covered up mostly by a charm that harkens back to the original Iron Man film, as Strange seems to have good relations with his co-workers and ex-girlfriend, Christine Palmer (played by Ra...(more)

Let me get this out of the way right off the bat; Doctor Strange is my favorite Marvel hero. A character that doesn't appear too frequently in the comics, Stephen Strange often pops into the stories of others, accentuating bombastic events with a witty and engaging figure who, ultimately, is incredibly flawed and often sees failure, seemingly more often than success. In understanding this, I realize that some of my critiques or thoughts on the film may come across as unfair or exaggerated due to my bias.

That being said, Doctor Strange was one of the most frustrating film experiences I've had in a long time.

Our film takes place at the origin place of the good doctor (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), a surgeon well respected in the industry, despite being something of an egotistical jerk. This is covered up mostly by a charm that harkens back to the original Iron Man film, as Strange seems to have good relations with his co-workers and ex-girlfriend, Christine Palmer (played by Racheal McAdams). This comes to a screeching halt as Strange gets in a car accident that renders his hands shaky and unable to perform the miraculous surgeries he once mastered. Throwing away a majority of his fortune trying to reobtain his dexterity, Strange finds himself in Nepal searching out The Ancient One (played by Tilda Swinton) and a group of monks who ultimately provide him with new perspectives and the chance to redeem himself.

The similarities between this movie and the movie that started this franchise, Iron Man 1, are plentiful; Doctor Strange is a rich, successful individual, well known in his industry as charming but flawed and unkind, whose ego is too big to realize the mistakes he's making until one unfortunate accident of his own making results in Strange going on the path of redemption, giving up his old life, and by and large becoming a superhero. There are even moments when I felt Benedict Cumberbatch's American accent sounded strikingly similar to Robert Downey Jr. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it's understandable that the plots are similar, but it begs the question; why make this film at all? When the public was informed that the movie was being made, it was suggested that this movie would skip the origin story altogether in favor of a narrative that started sometime after the character had earned his reputation as Sorceror Supreme. Instead, we're left with a narrative that structurally is so familiar it borders on tedium.

Luckily, our lead, Benedict Cumberbatch, is just as charming as he always is, although not so engaging. Don't get me wrong, Cumberbatch has some excellent acting chops, as he's proven time and again with works like Sherlock and even his work as Smaug in the Hobbit trilogy, but it's clear that his abilities are being held back by the script and direction. At no point did I feel like Doctor Strange was a character I connected with closely or wanted to get to know. The delivery of most lines was believable but bland, and there was little that made Stephen Strange more than a typical protagonist.

Tilda Swinton did a phenomenal job of bringing The Ancient One, a somewhat nondescript and flavorless character, to the big screen, showing us a leader who's introduction is powerful and grabs at the viewers attention, but who is slowly turned into a trope as the film goes on, again by no fault of the actress. Despite the flaws in the character, Swinton's portrayal is somewhat mesmerizing, accentuated by a character design that stands out.

Unfortunately, there were no other performances that stood out as great. Some were passable, but most felt so phoned in it became irritating. Case and point, Chiwetel Ejiofor, aka Baron Mordo, one of the more rigid and advanced students of The Ancient One. Ejiofor's performance lacks all emotional beyond the occasional outburst of anger that feels undeserved, turning him into a polar opposite of Strange whose motivations feel confusing and fails to serve the story well.

Similarly, Mads Mikkelson joins the pantheon of awful Marvel villains as Master Kaecilius, who fills in the tired trope of the pupil who defected and became evil. Mikkelson is provided next to no lines throughout the film, and never comes across as intimidating or even interesting, often overshadowed by the promise of the devious and vile Dormmamu, one of Doctor Strange's best adversaries that's handled as well as Galactus was in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer; that is to say, incredibly poorly.

Rachael McAdams thankfully appears infrequently, almost to the point of questioning her presence, as a Jane Foster-esque human love interest who is amazed by Strange's new-found powers and helps him occasionally on his question of redemption. There's no witty banter here like that between Iron Man and Pepper Potts, although the script certainly thinks itself clever. Rather, we have a romantic side-plot that luckily doesn't encroach too much on the story at hand.

I say that the script thinks itself clever because the movie is constantly trying to interrupt the flow of the story to provide us with various jokes that are clearly supposed to make us bust a gut laughing (which they often did in the theater I was in), but felt so forced and out of place I couldn't help but be astounded by the absurdity. Wong (played by Benedict Wong) is a character whose sole purpose, outside of harkening to the comics, is to be comedy relief or exposition, lacking any character outside of a stoic disposition that results in various jokes, a strange and unfitting choice. Similarly, the Cloak of Levitation, a classic artifact of the Doctor Strange lore, takes on the properties of a conscientious entity solely to provide some physical gags that feel so forced it hurts. The subject matter of time, loss, and death are taken seriously for the most part, yet these moments of comedy are unsubtly sprinkled into every scene, making the film a mess from a tonal perspective, no thanks to these two figures.

What's perhaps worse, however, is the lack of understanding we have for the magical realm by the end of the film. So much is left unanswered, ignored to provide the same three-arc story that lacks all imagination. We're shown brief snipits of monks training or a few locations that house some of the magicians of this world. We're told about the multiverse and pointed to one specific dimension throughout the movie. Everything comes across from a surface-value perspective, never delving into the interesting, nitty gritty of what the locations had to offer. Similarly, the spells are glanced over so quickly and barely developed beyond a handful of techniques that are plot devices so obvious they might as well have labels stuck to them, leaving little to the imagination.

Despite how simple the story is, the pacing feels all out of sorts, likely a by-product of Marvel's recent tendency to get their grubby fingers into the interworkings of every Marvel film these days. It would perhaps explain why the script is so flat or why certain scenes are quickly brushed past. Most scenes felt jumpy, making those that didn't come across as odd and unnatural by juxtaposition.

The only truly fantastic part of the film was some of the visual effects, complex dream-like sequences that are entrancing and exciting to see play out, with one amazing scene standing out in my mind. Many have compared some of this to Inception, a fairly accurate comparison, but it's done very well most of the time, surpassing its predecessor. That being said, these moments are occasionally tarnished by the fight scenes, which come across as overly fabricated. At no point did any of the fight scenes feel viscerally satisfying, with the physics of them often feeling awkward and clearly fake. The Ancient One landing on the ground with the impact of the Hulk, despite the world not responding to her as such, or the odd appearance of the Cloak of Levitation as it moves through the air are two moments that stand out to me that drew me out of the experience in a big way. It doesn't help that none of Doctor Strange's opponents have any character, leaving me, as a viewer, feeling no interest in seeing them fight.

By and large, you only need to see one powerful scene to get what you can out of the movie, and it's not worth the price of admission for that one scene. Doctor Strange had such potential, yet was wasted with one of the most banal of stories that looks to copy the first of Marvel's successes, a perfect representation of the Marvel Studios we have today. My, how the great have fallen. (less)

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Pretty enjoyable overall. The visuals are spectacular, and even if a large chunk set in New York was "inspired" by Inception, it goes way beyond that in Escheresque reality-bending. The cast is fine and is given just enough to work with, and there's some welcome goofy humour (the cape steals the show).
It's a shade too long and there's a little too much portentous speechifying, and the "magic" usually adds up to little more than concentrating hard and waving your hands around a bit, but the effects and the original, imaginatively staged action scenes make up for it.

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Plot:

Marvel's Doctor Strange follows the story of the talented neurosurgeon Doctor Stephen Strange who, after a tragic car accident, must put aside ego 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.