Movie Review: Doctor Strange – An exciting promise?
The promise of introducing the spirititual in one of the Marvel series with the unveiling of a reverred character should have had me running before the screen. Coupled with a portrayal by Benedict Cumberbatch, the coming of the Infinity Wars, the craving for a Marvel beauty and the need to see something that might make up for the underwhelming (not disastrous just meh) X-Men Apocalypse, should have been enough to have me run to the movies.
Yet, I went to the cinema more because I wanted a break. We watched Dr Strange more because my daughter wanted to. I am normally so much more enthusiastic about these films after having devoured the comics and the hope and empowerement they have fed me for so long. What had happened? Was it that having waited for Sherlock for so long seeing Cumberbatch continuing to regale Hollywood and therefore mis-priotising lol was truly now getting on my nerves all the more as the wait had lasted long enough to pass the new September 2016 law whereby BBC iPlayer now required a licence to be watched… which means that I would have to wait even longer to see Sherlock and only on DVD… and, in brackets, Jonathan Creek too… Was it that I was protecting myself from great expectations and from falling from their heights? Was it…
There was promise in the trailer. A touch of the Inception magic reimagined, a touch of the Cumberbatch magic expanded, a touch of the Marvel magic transcended, and what appeared to be more… Yet it felt like it was not enough. Maybe too many trailer promises had taken their toll on me, maybe too frequent times seeing Cumberbatch in big main roles, maybe maybe…
(But I diverge). For the first 10 minutes, only males enter into the theatre. That made me smile. Just before the film started, 5 girls came in, then it was too dark to see, maybe it balanced itself out. Statistics were no longer my concern. Benedict Cumberbatch as going to do one of his magic impersonations again, Marvel was going to give me marvel again and I was going to be engulfed in a world where heroes help your heart soar. Ye, in spite of my earlier mood, I couldn’t but surrender to the present, its sparkling of curiosity. There had always been an amount of good minutes even in an average Hollywood movie. Marvel movies, Fox or otherwise, whether or not they are good, always have an element of greatness. Too much can hide it, from underdeveloped characters to sensationalism but it is important not to miss the great moments.
Movie Review: Doctor Strange – Cast or miscast?
Hooded figures appeared in the dark. The film had started. I surrender to each moment, filling my head with its music, characters, plot. Cumberbatch fitted in his role like the gloves on his doctor’s hands. He is, as usual, the very good actor. There are those moments when you watch a movie and you realise that the actor was born to play that role. I felt that when I saw Cumberbatch in Sherlock, and he was as much the embodiment of the character in modern society as his predecessor Jeremy Brett had been the perfect Sherlock in his times, Ryan Renolds is Deadpool and Robert Downy Jr is Tony Start aka Iron Man. This was not it. This was more the case of a great actor getting a role on star power, playing well as expected but still not being able to brige the gap created by the perfect casting. Although I liked watching him play the role, I could not push away the wonder about whom could have been more Doctor Strange. Maybe Cumberbatch needed more depth from the character to showcase his own breadth and give Strange more shape than a British medical Tony Stark?
It was weird to see McAdams playing Strange’s interest especially after seeing her as Irene Adler in the American Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr. It is almost as if the movie felt it needed to inherit some of the Sherlock movies’ best magic. Strangely, and pardon the pun, it was easy to associate her with her new character. Maybe she was the better actor or just more relatable this time around.
Doctor Strange lawfully borrowed from the universe in which he evolves, ascertaining the MU quite a few times with the Avengers mentioned implicitly or explicitly several times, their tower shown towards the start, an infinity stone presented, and Chris Hemsworth appearing as Thor in the mid-credits scene to tease the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok. It is clear from the film who is coming back in sequels and so their casting is extremely important because of this. The previous two characters are definitely part of the recurrent ones. It is also clear that the character played by Chiwetel Ejiofor is coming back and we will talk more about it later on in this article. Wong is also one that is returning, hopefully played by the same very well cast actor, as expected from the film and the comics. He has given a convincing significance and presence to a secondary character . Finally, In spite of her demise, we are expecting the following character, The Ancient One, to somehow reappear: it is the mystical, anything is possible, no? As if Marvel needed an excuse to ressucitate its characters.
The mystical comes unsurprisingly from the East but with the twist of being led by a Celtic character. I quite liked the idea actually but I still think it was a miss for two main reasons. One, it was under-exploited and would have benefitted not just from a mere and disappointing replacement of an Eastern character with a Western one. A clever blend of the Eastern and Celtic spiritual beliefs would have lifted this interpretation beyond your average East meet West script. Secondly and possibly extremely inter-dependent with the frst point, the underdevelopment of the Ancient One played a big role in the feeling that Tilda Swinton was miscast. Avoiding racist stereotypes should be as important as making sense. Having watched Tilda Swinton in various acting roles, I can safely say that she embraces her characters marvelously because she feels them to her bones. She can be the cold and manipulative witch or the warm and passionate adulterous woman and far beyond, and either ways you will empathise with the “humanity” of her character. The excitement of seeing yet another one of the facets of her superb talent and of her changing face was abruptly stopped by the performance. The script was read, her voice was heard, but nothing was felt.
Movie Review: Doctor Strange – Did it lose the plot?
The plot itself was unsurprising but nonetheless held its course of a Western mind embracing Eastern spirituals albeit with the struggles of a man looking for logic and reason behind every element of seeming magic. It did not keep things as exciting as maybe its premise suggested, and neither did the just-very-nice acting or the visual effects reminding me more of an “Inception, the return” than the originality we would expect from the doctor and Master “magician” that is Strange. Even Michael Giacchino’s music… I can’t, I can’t say anything, even half-bad about Michael Giacchino!
In spite of their relative lack of impression, the visual effects really more missed it with us because it was quite impossible to not relate them to another film out of the franchise and just to have felt like receiving a long awaited sequel and getting it with a totally different story and characters. The energy weapons felt a little, well beyond their golden colour, just varieties of Wonder Woman’s lasso. The buddhism-like basis felt not so new, not so different.
There was definitely humour, hesitant at times and often not taking itself too seriously which gave the film the lightness of a movie done among friends and almost introduced a very subtle fourth wall break and wink at the audience. Pop culture was mentioned from Adele (A) to Beyonce (B) and in spite of feeling unfitting, Strange’s face adapted itself to the task, just as would the great actor impersonating him.
Movie Review: Doctor Strange – Fighting Stereotypes
A number of times it was clear that the film wanted to avoid stereotypes although it probably embraced as many (holograms anyone? No? What about “you were born for this”?). The dark side seems to have given its followers transparent weapons, so good on the filmmakers to have not fallen for the black colour representing evil or threats in the way so many prefer to summarise their beliefs. What they might lack in the threatening aspect is compensated I guess by the makeup on the bad guys’ faces and the solemn acting. Another stereotype that started to be on its head, as mentioned before, is the role of the Ancient one not only played by a non Asian but also by a female. I have stated before that the role could have benefitted from going beyond the stereotype so I won’t go through it again.
I also like the fact that the medical world continues to play an important part in the way that Strange might find solutions to issues, giving him that double-edge sword against his enemies. It also goes on proving that the West-East meetings do not have to be about one philosophy taking over the other but the two excelling all the more as one, making the individual that combines their mastery all the more powerful and complete in the understanding (,responsibility anyone?) and exercice of their power.
Penultimately, the end-credits scene confirms that Chiwetel Ejiofor is much more than an underused method actor and token. Baron Mordo, the character played by Ejiofor is elevated to more than just another bad guy, being given an origin story side by side with Strange and showcasing where they parted. He is not just a villain: his belief in the strict following of rules is at the core of his rebellion. He resents that his master taught them otherwise but broke the rules for herself in hiding.
Finally, it is quite a clever mirroring and the showcase of the actor’s enthusiasm and dedication to his role, that Cumberbatch asked to co-voice the ultimate villainous entity Dormammu. Beyond the cliché of yet another devourer of worlds, that attention to detail gains the film some points.
Movie Review: Doctor Strange – Verdict
Did I enjoy myself, would I watch it again? Yes and yes again. There are so many little gems that can only be appreciated after more than one watch, one of the things I like the most about Marvel movies and Pixar cartoons. Also, it was nice to be among cinema goers who laughed at silly but heartwarming jokes all at the same time like a family: the cape with its own mind, the Batch with his own mind, the McAdams who was our voice really, the Wong and his convincing comic relief ‘its funny’, the time loop. Just like it seems friends were watching the film, it was like friends with a lot of money quickly worked together the origins of Strange to make sure that his part, powers and the Time stone in the upcoming Infinity Wars all made more sense. Maybe it is to be blamed on the availability of Cumberbatch, the timing of the other films in the franchise, or maybe that is all it was trying to be, a feel good film with someone who would be able to hold its weight among the Avengers.
More times than I would like, it does seem that the film was created with the directive: “Guys just enjoy yourself, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton and Chiwetel Ejiofor are the power acting trio so that’s covered, Inception has the effects covered, Mads Mikkelsen is the villain by excellence, Rachel McAdams has beauty covered (while Strange often plays the beast), the Eastern settings have the mystic covered, Benedict Wong has the comic relief and Benjamin Bratt the likeability factor that solidified Ejiofor as the net villain. Interestingly though, not only does the film go beyond that (maybe not as much as expected) but the combination did not completely disappoint and the film ended on quite the clever note.
Our verdict is as follows. It is important that the hero fits the suit as if it were created for them, beyond star power. It is important that the plot continues to make sense in the midst of fighting stereotypes. It is important that a hero’s weapons be unique to them rather than feeling like a borrowed gadget repurposed from another celebrated movie. For these reasons and hoping the lessons are learnt beyond the probable box office success, the movie gets a 7 out of 10 from Fussy Tongue.