November 13, 2016

Movie Review: Doctor Strange (2016)

I have to admit to feeling a little burned out on superhero films over the past year or two. There are just so many out there that they are hard to escape. Besides that, Marvel has planned so far ahead that it seems to sap a lot of the potential drama surrounding the heroes being defeated or perhaps dying. Then there is the problem that as impressive as the Marvel cinematic universe is, it has become studio driven more than creator driven giving everything a sense of sameness. This is why I like it when characters a little out of the mainstream arrive, like Antman last year. The fact we have a Doctor Strange movie adds some knew elements to the mix, shakes things up somewhat.

The directorial reins were handled by Scott Derrickson, who has delivered solid supernatural/horror outings in recent years with The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister, and Deliver Us from Evil. This background made him a pretty good choice to deliver Marvel’s most supernaturally tinged film to date. Derrickson co-wrote the film with Jon Spaihts (Prometheus, upcoming Passengers) and C. Robert Cargill (Sinister, Sinister 2). Together they have crafted an entertaining film that explores a more spiritual based superhero film than what we have previously been given.

The film introduces us to Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a brilliant neurosurgeon, who also happens to be a little egomaniacal and self involved (isn’t that how all the brilliant minds work?). Well, one day he makes the mistake of texting and driving (drivers take note) and has a horrible car accident, which results in his hands being mangled. Refusing to give up, he exhausts all of modern medicine in an attempt to fix his hands and motor skills, and turns toward Eastern medicine. It is in this journey East that his entire life is thrown upside down.

Strange meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and his life completely changes. His eyes are opened to the power of spirituality and the reality of magic. He is also caught in the middle of a battle for control of the planet and the universe as one of the Ancient One’s former students (Mads Mikkelson) has stolen a dangerous ritual from an ancient book and is intent on bringing an evil interdimensional entity to earth.

The movie has a little bit of a Batman Begins meets Inception feel to it. No, it is not exactly like either one, but there are some comparisons to be made. Specifically, the flow reminds me of Bruce Wayne’s journey to learn to fight and his tutelage under Ra’s al’Gul and the convergence and manipulation of matter and universes is reminiscent of the different layers of Inception. Still, the movie does manage to stand on its own and still feel like a part of something bigger.

These are the movies in the Marvel universe that have come to interest me more than the latest Captain America or Iron Man outing. While those films are entertaining, they are starting to feel interchangeable and forced into the bigger universe by bringing in an ever expanding roster of characters. With Doctor Strange it is stripped down to one, and the nature of the character allows the creative team to explore a more non-traditional superhero.

Doctor Strange is an entertaining film that adds a new wrinkle to the Marvel universe. The story nicely shifts between the serious and the comedic, and delivers a story that is bigger than itself but does allow for more introspective moments as Strange struggles with the swerve placed on his arrogance in the face of this new, unbelievable information.

The performances are all pretty solid, led by Cumberbatch, who looks completely comfortable in role. The villain does come across as a little underwhelming, but still works as he was an existing character that our hero is forced to deal with after, essentially, falling into the altercation. In the end this is a worthy addition to the Marvel universe and I am curious to see how he fits into the bigger picture. At the same time, I also thirst for more Marvel features in this vein, stripped down and a bit more focused.


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