Film Review: ‘Strange’ Is Predictable Fun

review

{All images courtesy the Marvel Studios Facebook page.}

Doctor Strange, written by Jon Spaihts and Scott Derrickson & C. Robert Cargill (based on the Marvel comics written by Steve Ditko), directed by Scott Derrickson. Produced by Marvel Studios. Copyright 2016. (Seen November 4, 2016.) (This review was also published on SciFi4Me.com.)

doctor-strange-2-facebook

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable to magic.” So goes the saying by science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke. And he’s got a point: if you could somehow go back to medieval times and show them a working smart phone, you would most likely be accused of witchcraft. (And have one heck of a roaming charge to boot!) And so, in the Marvel world (and more specifically the MCU), we have Thor, but he’s less a god and more a misunderstood alien with technology far beyond what we’ve accomplished. We have a talking raccoon, but he’s been genetically modified to be that way. And you have a golem-type character who only wishes to be a real boy, but in this case it’s a Stark-created android embedded with a cosmic gem.

And that leads us to Doctor Strange.

Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a rich neurosurgeon who, through his own hubris, has a violent car crash that makes him unable to use his hands, and therefore unable to operate. In a quest for any solution, Strange hears of stories of a man who was able to walk without a wheelchair through a process he learned in the East. Strange, unable to take no for an answer, goes in search of this, and finds the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who shows him ways to bend reality.

Of course, not everything is joy and laughter in this quest. Our teacher has a former student, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), who believes that there is a greater power out there that the Ancient One knows of but will not teach. He is out to destroy the Ancient One and all her students in order to find it.

While initially only after pursuing his own interest, Strange ends up gathering his own team to fight this evil, Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong), all the while trying to explain he’s not really crazy to his ex-girlfriend Christine (Rachel McAdams).

First, the bad. And there is plenty of bad.

While Marvel may have been in a bit of a “damned if they do” situation about this property considering this is basically a white savior storyline, the casting of Swinton as the Ancient One instead of someone of Asian background is problematic at best, and plenty has already been written about that. Our hero (which I’ll also cover in the good) is basically an arrogant, egotistic jerk, prideful almost completely throughout the movie. Our villain — like most of Marvel’s villains — is a clear cut ‘baddie’ with no moral ambiguity and no redeemable character traits. We have Marvel’s (unfortunate) ‘girlfriend’ problem, where Christine is little more than moral support and so uninfluential to the plot that I had to look up her character name to write this. And the plot is as predictable as any origin story, with no major surprises at all.

doctor-strange-1-facebook
Tilda Swinton and Benedict Cumberbatch explore alternate realities.

And now the good.

For those furiously typing up a comment to blast me for my note about the Ancient One, I state that I am a firm believer that just because something is problematic doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. And Doctor Strange is highly enjoyable. Despite the casting choice, Swinton does an excellent job as the Ancient One. She treads that fine line between wise guru and snarky teacher.

The casting of Cumberbatch was sheer genius (pun intended). As much as he’s not liking the typecasting, he does a great job of playing the arrogant genius with low social skills (Sherlock, Assange, Khan, Alan Turing). He’s able to get you to like (and eventually care) about them in spite of his nature. In addition, Strange’s sentient cloak is adorable, upstaging Cumberbatch pretty much any time it shares the screen with him. (And yes, fan ficcers: there’s already jokes about pairing the cloak with Sherlock’s Belstaff — CloakStaff is the ship name.)

Cumberbatch does a great job with the accent, even if it does sound like what Hugh Laurie did for House. Considering Laurie once played Cumberbatch’s father, however, I’ll allow the homage. As for the other main characters, Benedict Wong has some great Marvel-type zingers, Ejiofor’s story leaves me wanting to know more, and Mikkelsen delightfully chews the scenery like any good villain¬†does when it’s so clear cut.

doctor-strange-3-facebook
Strange, isn’t it?

Yes, it’s predictable, but in a good way, if that makes sense. You want the hero to overcome the bad guy in a superhero adventure movie, after all. Finally, the visuals are stunning, making this one of those rare movies that make 3D technology worth it. This is one of those films that couldn’t have been made this well until the technology got us here. It’s what Inception could have been — worlds upon worlds, and layers within layers. It makes what really is a pretty cheesy hand gesture for Cumberbatch’s spells actually look like they are working. It doesn’t break the suspension of disbelief.

Marvel has said this movie is launching their next stage, and this is the start of bridging the Avenger-based movies with the Guardians of the Galaxy universe. I can only hope that Marvel is taking the social criticism to heart as they move forward and we continue getting away from origin stories.

Doctor Strange isn’t perfect, but it’s a true popcorn movie. If you are able to sit back and just enjoy it, it’s an entertainingly fun roller coaster ride. It’s not deep, but not all movies have to be, after all. It’s a decent addition to the MCU, and I can only hope that we now get a scene where Cumberbatch and Robert Downey, Jr. are talking about something, and Martin Freeman’s Everet Ross says, “No s**t, Sherlock.”

Doctor Strange opened November 4, and is still playing in most movie theatres. For more information, visit Marvel’s website.