What I'm Watching: Doctor Strange
By the transient tesseracts of Trisk, I am back from seeing Doctor Strange, and I've got some thing to say about it!
(Oh, and while this goes without saying, there's gonna be some spoilers here and there, so you've been warned.)
First up, I'm not gonna discuss how racists or not this movie is. If you think the movie is racist, you've already made up your opinion, and I ain't gonna change it. Nor should I, because sure. The casting and production has its problematic elements. And there are better people out there to discuss that. Quite frankly, this was a no-win scenario. Whichever way they turned, someone was going to be offended and upset. But they absolutely could have done better. However, if you wanna know how the movie that got made is, then read on, true believers!
ANYways, the movie is another origin story, obviously for Doctor Stephen Strange. He's an arrogant, sure of himself doctor, and it is not without cause. Being arrogant is one thing, but this is definitely well-earned arrogance, but arrogance nonetheless.
He is in a car accident, ruining his hands, and thus his career. He tries every avenue possible to him to try and fix them. Once he runs out of options in the realm of medicine and science and fact, he turns towards more esoteric means. He is a proud, and desperate man, willing to do anything to get his old life back.
Stephen finds an ancient order of sorcerers, led by the Ancient One, and is told all about magic. And he's not a believer. The movie chronicles his growing change of heart, powered by that desperation again, and eventually coming into his own.
Like I said, it's an origin story. You know most of the beats by now, and it's already been compared to Iron Man's story, but with magic. And that's fair, as a surface analysis. There's more to the story though, and Strange's arrogance and pride is different from Stark's. So while they're very similar, they're also different paths on the same highway.
The Big Threat for the movies comes from Mads Mikkelsen's Kaecilius , another student of the Ancient One's who steals some pages from a magic book, and has plans to bring down the entire system.
I really enjoyed this, as should be no surprise. But that comes with a few caveats. I really think we need to move past the basic Marvel movie story at this point. After almost 18 of these things, you kinda notice some similarities. A lot of the characters have surface similarities. The worlds, and stories keep things just different enough, but I need a break from origins and the trouble, misfit white guy who discovers his inner strength. Fortunately, we get the big Avengers tentpoles every so often as a giant explosive palette cleanser.
Hopefully Black Panther and Captain Marvel can mix that up even further. But I digress away from discussing other movies.
I've been saying for months, based on trailers, that Doctor Strange had the potential to be the most visually unique, and stunning, Marvel movie to date. They teased a fraction of that at the end of Ant-Man, but Doctor Strange blew that out of the water. It's Inception, taken to the nth degree. It tickled my little Dark City fanboy heart, watching the landscapes twist and turn and contort in every direction, and how they made that work without alerting the real world to magic was simple and brilliant.
The cast is amazing. I know Tilda Swinton is not a popular choice for the Ancient One, and rightly show, but ignoring the problems there, she did a great job, and had an amazing presence about her.
I won't lie, I was waving my "Oded Fehr" flag for Strange before the movie was even announced, and I still wish that had happened, but Cumberbatch did great here. This might even be his best role that I've seen. He brings such depth to Strange, and has that perfect mix of arrogance and yet also charm. You understand why he's so full of himself through the story, and also why people like him. But that arrogance also is his downfall, in so many ways. I'm trying to think of better words to use, because Strange's arrogance and surety is so different from Stark's, I hate using the same word for both of them. But you get what I mean.
I absolutely loved that the first thiiird-ish or so of the movie, after the opening magic laced chase to get your interest, was almost completely straight and normal. It was all Strange and Christine Palmer, his colleague and occasional lover, in a medical drama. There was no magic, no super heroes, just establishing these characters, their personalities, and a 100% normal world. This is the most normal, average look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far. It's *real* and *normal* and is the world outside your door, in ways they've yet to really show. And it's all the better for it, because of how weird and magical the rest of the movie gets. They nailed the contrast for the mundane and magic.
Rachel McAdams is great as Christine, but I may be biased there. She didn't really have much to do with the overall plot, as tends to happen, especially since this is Strange's story. But she weaves in and out of the story, helping to keep that grounded nature as part of his world. Strange and Christine play well off each other, and she does get some amazing, meaty acting moments when Strange is at his lowest and lashes out at her. She does not flinch from Cumberbatch's acting, and gives as much as she gets. It's a shame she gets reduced to yelping and being surprised in the second half of the movie. Even though those bits of humour are great, and Rachel plays it perfectly, because she's a professional.
I've loved Mads Mikkelsen for years, and while Kaecilius may not be a Hannibal Lecter, he's still a solid enough character, and Mads infuses the sorcerer with enough charm and belief in what he's fighting for, that you can understand why he's doing what he's doing. A lesser actor might have made him a straight villain, but you understand there is some moral rightness in fighting to stop death. In fact, that's what Strange has always been fighting against as a doctor, so it's an interesting counterpoint with the science and magic sides of their characters clashing on that level, that wanting the same thing, but the question comes down to; how far are you willing to go?
I'm not going to break down every single character/actor, but one last entry worth noting is Benedict Wong as *ahem* Wong. This is a character they did right by. In the comics, Wong is Strange's manservant, and yeah. You can instantly see the problems there, right? Even if they are played as friends in the comics. But in the movie, they made him a colleague, a superior even, and one of Strange's teachers and friends. He's an obstacle at times, puts Strange in his place, and while he's not straight outta the comics Wong, he is the best version of him, and the actor is a great presence.
Another great thing about this movie is that it doesn't come down to a big fight at the end. Yes, there's action, yes there's fighting, but ultimately, the solution is Strange THINKING his way out of it. And having an Infinity Stone on hand to help is also a plus. A movie about magic should come down to clever tricks and wordplay, not big explosions or guns.
One of the things I didn't like, and this is a sticking point on a number of the Marvel movies, is the attempts at humour. Now, it's not quite the goofy kind that Iron Man 3 got into at times, but I think they just didn't know when to STOP with it. Christine's frights at the magic world constantly butting in get old, as does the cloak of levitation's personality and humour. It's good, but they play the jokes just a bit too much at times, even if the levity is warranted and needed. It's like hearing a good joke, and it IS a good joke, but when you hear it again and again and again in a few minutes, well...it's still a good joke, but you're done hearing about it now.
It's not my favourite Marvel movie, that's still Ant-Man for the solos, and Civil War for the bigger pieces. But it is definitely up there.
A solid cast, mind blowing special effects, and a good story that may be a bit familiar at this point, but comes at it from its own place of magic, and has its own solution to the typical world-ending problems.