Monday, November 7, 2016

Doctor Strange: Marvel Cinematic Universe enters the mystical realms!

Doctor Strange Review
"Doctor Strange" is the fourteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise. At this point, it shouldn't even be called that. Each film could easily just be called "Marvel" and each chapter could focus on one character or several. Kevin Feige and all the brilliant actors and collaborators who have had a chance to work with him have done the unthinkable. They have successfully created a massive, interlocking universe on film. Through it all, they are still finding time to introduce different characters into the storyline and consider different ideas. If you thought this franchise was going to keep things real simply because "The Dark Knight" made money, well you'd be wrong.

Now, I saw lots of pictures online jokingly call "Doctor Strange" a mixture of "Harry Potter," "The Matrix" and "Inception." Honestly, I hate comparisons like this. Let's not oversimplify this thing. In "The Matrix," Neo found out that the normal world he lived in was not only a lie, but was keeping him prisoner to an unnoticeable force. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) isn't a prisoner, but he learns just how big the world really is. That makes him more in line with Harry Potter than Neo. But even Harry Potter is bad comparison. Harry Potter became the person he is, because he was the Chosen One. I wouldn't call "Doctor Strange" a Chosen One story. Which is nice, those are a dime a dozen. Stephen Strange is a brilliant neurosurgeon with a hotshot record. This has brought him a lot of clout in the medical world. Then one night, tragedy strikes, and Strange looses the ability to operate with his hands. Looking for any outlet to save his hands and get back to seemingly the only thing that gives him a purpose, he stumbles upon The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) quite by accident. All he wants is his hands back, Strange never asks to join a group dedicated to keeping the world save from mystical threats. He never asks to battle against Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a mystical warrior who lost his way. But he does anyway, because its the right thing to do.

"Doctor Strange" follows the "Iron Man" template closely. Both men are pompous pricks when we meet them. Both are humbled by situations of great strife. Both men become heroes after overcoming extraordinary circumstances. Its interesting how "Doctor Strange" takes the bones of the movie that got this franchise going and does something different with it. "Doctor Strange" isn't merely a remake of "Iron Man," just like I really wouldn't call "The Force Awakens" a remake of "A New Hope." The characters have similarities and I liked how the show exposes how the characters are alike, but most importantly, how they differ.

Many movies recently in the MCU have had to do with the hero or heroes in question collecting a McGuffin in order to stop the bad guys or thwart the good guys plan. Captain America had to keep Red Skull from getting the Cosmic Cube, Thor had to stop Malekith from getting the Aether, The Guardians had to stop Ronan from getting The Orb, Ant-Man had to make sure Cross's particles didn't end up in the wrong hands. Its a easy storytelling device that has been the pinnacle of Marvel's complaints. I am happy to say that this isn't a movie about Doctor Strange finding some McGuffin before the bad guys do. Although, that doesn't mean the movie isn't simple. "Doctor Strange" is about the millionth blockbuster this year that features a glowing doodad of terror erupting in a city during the film's climax and Doctor Strange has to simply do something or turn something off in order to save the day. Okay, so its a little different, so that's why I could stand "Doctor Strange's" formula, but its hard to ignore that our blockbusters are all starting to look alike. I'd also argue that nearly all the Marvel films thus far have had bold, superb musical scores. The work done by Michael Giacchino is fine, but doesn't give the epic feeling these movies usually have. The scenes weren't happening musically.

The work by the cast is fantastic, and this could honestly one of the most talented casts ever assembled for a Marvel movie. We have Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange, and while Cumberbatch seems to be everywhere at the moment, it never affects his performances. He brings a energetic life to Strange that I quite enjoyed. Rachel McAdams is an actress I usually don't champion, but she allowed to create a likable character in the limited screentime she has. Tilda Swinton does good work as The Ancient One. I also have to say that Chiwetel Ejiofor is outstanding as Karl Mordo. While he's mostly heroic in this movie (something his character wasn't in the comics), we can see the villainous seeds begin to take hold by the end of the film, could Mordo rival Loki as Marvel's best villain? We'll have to wait and see. I hope so. Marvel still struggles in the villain department and it stinks that such a great actor like Mads Mikkelsen is given so little to do in the film. He etches in enough detail to make this count, its just that the script lets him down. The Marvel universe is so rich in villains, and I can't believe that the bad guys of the films seem like afterthoughts.

"Doctor Strange" isn't the best Marvel film you've ever seen, but its a film that will likely stick in your mind. Marvel is still unstoppable at bringing massive canvasses of pop entertainment to the big screen. The shots of the multiverse and different dimensions and astral projections should be reason enough to see this on the best screen in your area. The actors came to work and did a good job. Yes, Marvel still has problems they really, severely need to tweak, but I am astounded by how they are able to make big, fun superhero movies despite featuring the same problems. Will that affect them down the road? We'll have to wait and see.

FINAL GRADE: B+

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