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Doctor Strange - Spoiler-free movie review

Posted by Nathan Strum, 09 November 2016 · 579 views

Movies

I needed some escapism the other night. I had already voted, so I was pretty-much done with the whole election thing at that point, and really didn't want to sit around and watch the returns on TV for the next several hours.
 
So I decided to go out and see Doctor Strange.
 
Even though I never followed the character back when I read comics, and really didn't care about the more mystical/fantastical aspects of the Marvel Universe, the trailers looked kind of cool. And Benedict Cumberbatch was quite good in The Imitation Game (not so much though in Star Trek Into Darkness).
 
Plus, I thought it was really nice to see Gillian Anderson finding work again, and...
 
What?
 
Rachel McWho?
 
Okay. Huh. Could've sworn they were the same person.
 
Anyway...
 
There weren't a whole lot of people at the theater. I should've expected that, really. So the audience reaction was more subdued than you get with a big crowd. I went to see it in a large Dolby Atmos equipped room, but in hindsight, I think I should've gone to see it in 3D. Generally, I don't like seeing 3D films (they're rarely worth the extra trouble of wearing another pair of glasses over my own), but some of the effects in this movie really cry out to be seen in 3D. And I think being in a smaller theater, sitting closer to the screen, would have made it a more immersive experience, which is what this film really needs. As it was, I often felt disconnected from the film, looking at it, thinking, "Hey... those effects look pretty cool!" rather than, "Wow! Take a look at the world we're in!"
 
The film follows a brilliant surgeon - Stephen Strange - who loses his ability to operate, and goes on a quest to get his hands fixed. As he exhausts all possibilities, out of desperation, he finds himself in Kathmandu seeking the help of a mystic known only as The Ancient One. From there, he begins to discover how to tap into the energies of the multiverse to manipulate reality, cross into other dimensions, fight bad guys, and make tea.
 
He also discovers that the Earth is under constant threat from other dimensions, and there's this secret group of protectors "The Sorcerer Superemes" who... no wait... I think that was the group Diana Ross was in. Maybe that should be "The Sorcerers Supreme"? Whatever. Anyway, they protect the Earth somehow from these cosmic baddies out there who want to steal our stuff and break our toys.
 
So the film is about an arrogant, brilliant rich guy, who learns a valuable life lesson through a personal tragedy, gains fantastical new abilities, and becomes a selfless defender of those in need. And he has a goatee.
 
Basically, Iron Man, with magic. Magic Man.
 
But hey - if a formula works - why mess with success?
 
Doctor Strange is an entertaining enough film. I went to escape for two hours, and for two hours I didn't think about the election once. So from that standpoint, it was a success. I enjoyed watching it - the acting performances were fine, and the special effects were really impressive... but I wouldn't call it a great film. For one thing, I never really empathized with the main character. In Iron Man, even though Tony Stark was a jerk, he was a charismatic, likable, entertaining jerk. And when he went through his tragedy - you were right there with him, and felt the loss and why it changed him. But Stephen Strange is just a little too... dull. And even his arrogance lacks substance, if that makes any sense. Yes, he's arrogant, but for the most part he seems like a nice guy, who is justifiably arrogant once in awhile because he's incredibly brilliant. You don't see a huge shift with him from being selfish to being selfless, because he's never really portrayed as all that selfish to begin with. Also, it's never really shown why he's so motivated to do what he does. Either as a surgeon, or afterwards. Yes, he wants to get his hands fixed - but his downfall and obsession with that was glossed over too quickly. There was some considerable amount of time that must have passed, but it all went by in a couple of quick scenes, and didn't have the sort of impact that it should have. We should have witnessed more of that part of the story, so we could empathize with him as his life was spiraling out of control, and journeyed with him, to see what he really lost. In one scene he was a wealthy, but broken surgeon still living in an upscale penthouse apartment, then a few scenes later he was walking the streets of Kathmandu looking like a homeless person. It all felt too rushed.
 
Also, when he did begin learning magic, it was difficult to get a sense of how long he was actually at it. Weeks? Months? It didn't seem that long in the film, considering how fast he progressed. Again, a big chunk of his journey seemed to have been skipped over. His motivation for getting involved beyond his initial self-centered goals are never made clear either. Some of this is due to the time constraints of telling the obligatory "bad guys are coming to do bad things" story, but I think they could've made the film a bit longer to accommodate making his origin story more compelling. Or at least better understood.
 
Speaking of bad guys, this is yet another Marvel film (to be fair though - it's not just Marvel) where the main bad guy (played by Mads Mikkelsen) is just there to forward the story, and isn't all that interesting. He's there, he does bad things, his motivation isn't all that clear, but they have to stop him, because someone has to be the bad guy this week, and it was his turn. Now, there's more to it than that, and there is a better payoff near the end of the film, but even then, we're really not told a whole lot about why this threat is, well... threatening us. Why Earth? Do we have a big target painted on us? It's pizza, right? We're the only planet in the universe to have created pizza, and now everyone wants some, but they don't want to have to tip the delivery guy to bring it all the way to another dimension.
 
The rest of the supporting cast was pretty good - but not spectacular. Rachel McAdams was fine, but her character just seemed all-too ready to accept these bizarre things happening around her. Maybe after all of the other Marvel movie events (aliens attacking New York, etc), she's become a bit jaded to it all, but that's never alluded to in the movie. Tilda Swinton was okay as The Ancient One, but I felt her performance was a bit too flat at times, and that they probably could've gotten just about any other decent actor to play that role. Benedict Wong (as Wong, oddly enough) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (as Mordo) fared much better. Of the core characters, they were by far the most interesting.
 
The real stars of this film though are the special effects. They're pretty impressive, and at times very unique. Unfortunately, most of the best ones were already spoiled in the trailers. But I guess that worked as intended, since that's why I went to see the movie. The problem with that though, was there really wasn't anything left to see. I was expecting more. I was expecting it to be a lot weirder than the trailers let on. And while there was a little more to discover in the movie, it was still a bit of a letdown. If you haven't seen many (or any) trailers for Doctor Strange - don't. Leave the good stuff for the theater.
 
There are a couple of obligatory credits/post-credits scenes, so stick around for those. Plus, they get bonus points for using a harpsichord during the end credits music. Seemed appropriate.
 
Overall, Doctor Strange isn't a bad film. It's a pretty-good one. It's certainly uneven in terms of the story and some of the characterizations, but there are some fun moments, some humor, and some pretty cool visual effects. It's also very clear this is opening up the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe to be much, much larger, and potentially much, much weirder. It's worth seeing, but I'd suggest seeing it in 3D.
 
Doctor Who er... Strange gets a 7/10.






Correction, the Sorcerers Supreme it's not the group Diana Ross was in.  It's kind of like the same group, but with sour cream.

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By the way, why is a harpsichord appropriate?  I would imagine that with a name like "Dr. Strange," a good, old-fashioned 1950s Sci-Fi-style Theremin. ;)

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By the way, why is a harpsichord appropriate?  I would imagine that with a name like "Dr. Strange," a good, old-fashioned 1950s Sci-Fi-style Theremin. ;)

 

Harpsichords are awesome. Termen is for the Doctor, what! Err, who!

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I just saw the movie and I see why the harpsichord works. :)   :thumbsup:

 

I agree with your review.  I also think the movie is too much spectacle.  I personally have a problem with movies that have characters gain unlimited and awesome cosmic powers (Lucy, I'm looking at you!).

 

Once you reach that level, why are you wasting your time twisting buildings and walking on walls?  It seems too convoluted and gives the bad guy too many chances to get away.  It just seems like a lack of imagination from someone who supposedly got the cosmic powers of a god.

 

Also with time travel.  If you can bend time back and forth... why not trap the bad guy cronies in a time loop too?  Or rewind until you find a way to stop them from coming?  Or, you know, back to the point where you lost your hands?  There's no penalty for manipulating time flows, so why not solve every single problem in the universe by rewinding the clock?  Meh.

 

It did look really cool.

 

     -dZ.

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Agreed - the ending especially seemed like a solution they would've lifted right out of Doctor Who.

 

There are probably rules as to how much he can manipulate time, which they only glossed over. I'm sure we'll see more of that explained in whatever movie he appears in next.

 

As long as they keep within the established rules of a movie, plot devices like that don't bother me too much. I just try to shut off my brain and enjoy. But if they start breaking their own rules, then I have problems with it ("red matter" or intergalactic transporter backpacks in the rebooted Star Trek films, for example). Doctor Strange had trouble establishing its rules clearly enough in the first place.

 

I still maintain the best time travel movie ever is Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. All of the fun of time travel, with none of the consequences. And they did some brilliantly funny stuff with it too (like stealing his dad's keys). Back to the Future is a close second, but it would have been better off without the sequels.

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I still maintain the best time travel movie ever is Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. All of the fun of time travel, with none of the consequences. 

 

What do you mean without consequences?  They almost missed their school project presentation, which would have ruined the beautiful and perfect future that Wyld Stallyn would create for us.  :P

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Without consequences in that they could pull historical figures (like Lincoln, Socrates, etc.) out of time and return them without any ramifications.

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Without consequences in that they could pull historical figures (like Lincoln, Socrates, etc.) out of time and return them without any ramifications.

 

Ah, yes, of course.  Well, I think they explained all that away in some convenient way.  I agree, I think that's the best way to time-travel. :)

 

   -dZ.

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