Saturday, November 5, 2016

'Doctor Strange' film review

"Doctor Strange" is surprisingly good.

Even though it's well executed and the special effects make it worth seeing on the big screen, "Doctor Strange" isn't a must-see. And overall, I would place it in the middle of the pack to the lower third of Marvel Studio's movies. (Go here for Part 1 of CCC's rankings of Marvel's flicks as of just before the release of "Ant-Man.") I expect moderate box office returns for "Doctor "Strange."

Above all else, there are two outstanding things about this hippy-trippy movie: the mind-blowing visual effects and the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch and Tilda Swinton.

Marvel takes these visual effects to new heights; the Industrial Light & Magice team and others that created them deserve a massive amount of respect -- and a slew of awards for what these talented people created.

Really, the only way to do a "Doctor Strange" movie any sort of justice is to truly nail the visual aspect. After all, we're dealing with a sorcerer who can project his astral self outside of his physical body and travel to places outside of time and realms we understand.

How best to get your mind wrapped around these special effects? These colorful and vibrant FX are ones that would make the makers of "The Matrix" envious and ones that seem to have come out of the trippiest acid trip you could have -- as if imagery from Pink Floyd's "The Wall" and the psychedelic sequences from the 1950s and 1960s Walt Disney cartoons were for beginners.

Cumberbatch simply is spot-on as Dr. Stephen Strange. It's not surprising that Team Marvel considered him dream casting for the role, as Cumberbatch has nailed playing arrogant intellecuals in such memorable parts as Sherlock Holmes and Khan in "Star Trek Into Darkness."

Strange just can't handle the fact his trembling hands are so far beyond ruined that he never will do his life's work as a neurosurgeon.

Not only does Cumberbatch have a remarkable resemblance to the comic-book Strange (even before he trims his unruly beard into a crisp goatee), he nails an American accent. There's hardly any trace of his British accent.

Swinton, as the Ancient One, is surprisingly good. She is very Yoda-esque in the teachings she first delivers to the befuddled Strange. Yet Swinton is able to balance a firm hand with her gentle, centered soul to the role, which in the comics has been nothing less than a bad stereotype of a wise Asian.

Her being a Caucasian woman should take nothing away from what she brings to the "Doctor Strange" world. While I don't believe in stunt casting just for the sake of stunt casting -- especially when it comes to casting against the character's original race, I firmly the actors playing these roles deserve getting a fair shot.

Simply because casting officials and movie directors think it's necessary to go against a character's original gender or race goes against the essence of being colorblind and open-minded. It's ugly PC-ism. Such casting ends up feeling as they bowed to pressure from the studio's directives to "go find a (fill in the category here) for this typically (category) role." That's counterproductive to being intentional in fighting the Hollywood so-white mindset.

As I said in a related op-ed two years ago, casting diversity can and should be a beautiful thing. In other words. getting the right actor -- regardless of gender or skin color -- is what's most important in casting roles. I'm beginning to argue my point in circles, but let's just say Swinton fits what's needed for the Ancient One (and what Strange needs in learning to be less self-centered).

That being said, actor Benedict Wong brings a great nobility to Wong, who has been reinvisioned as a wise, master sorcerer instead of being Strange's servant. What a brilliant way to rethink a character!

Rachel McAdams as Dr. Christine Palmer isn't given much to do but be her usually adorable self. Aside from point out to Strange how much of a pompous asshole he is, Palmer later operates on him (at Strange's direction) and saves his pompous ass when he returns to the hospital badly injured after a battle with the perpetually creepy Mads Mikkelson's misguided sorcerer and his minions. (Mikkelson is best known for playing Dr. Hannibal Lecter in the short-lived TV series and the James Bond baddie LeChiffre in "Quantum of Solace.")

The CCC Doctor Strange disclaimer: I can't wrap up this review with a good conscience without this rather lengthy disclaimer: the magical aspects of Marvel Comics isn't really my thing and it never has been. And not surprisingly, I've never read a solo DOCTOR STRANGE issue. His whole universe always has been too, well, strange for my love of the cape-and-cowl crowd.

Doctor Strange has been nothing more than a plot device in comics who only lives up to his title/nickname of being the Sorcerer Supreme on occasion. Inevitably, the Avengers and others in the Marvel Universe come to Strange when their situation has come down to "what we're doing isn't working, so let's see what he can do and maybe Doctor Strange can make it all OK."

And Doctor Strange has only pulled through and saved the day when it fits the plot -- or when it's convenient for the writer who has written himself into a corner. There have been no good explanations for the limits of Strange's powers. So I just don't "get" magic users in comics.

That's why I had little interest in seeing "Doctor Strange" in the theaters. But I'm glad I did; it's an enjoyable film featuring visual/special effects that will have fans buzzing for years. The Ancient One's and Wong's reasoning for the way and more importantly, why and where sorcerers operate makes sense. Grade: B

Final thoughts/predictions: "Doctor Strange" really could be a movie set apart from the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is a film that doesn't beg for a sequel.

Again, all that being said, it's obvious from the delightful mid-credits bonus scene that Strange will be giving the God of Thunder an assist in "Thor: Ragnarok" (out Oct. 28, 2017 -- what a simply awful subtitle!). It also sets up Doctor Strange's role in the third "Avengers" film. Guess who might be saving the Earth's Mightest Heroes' bacon when the Infinity Stones are collected and used? I for one will be glad to no longer hear anything more about those gems. ... Just sayin'!


  1. Thanks for your thoughts, but it's "Thor: Ragnarok" not "Thor: Rangorak" ... Just sayin'! ;)

  2. Thanks for keeping me honest on my spelling! I got it changed. But that's what they get for coming up with such an awful subtitle and a name that's so tough to spell. … Just kidding!