‘he folds matter outside the mirror dimension, in the real world‘
I’m sorry what?
Welcome to the cinematic kaleidoscope that is the world of Marvels Doctor Strange. A world of sanctums and sorcerers that protect the Earth from other dimensional beings and powers, or something like that. Doctor Stephen Strange is world-renowned neurosurgeon who, in a rather contrived manner, loses the use of his skilled hands in a car accident (how did he survive that crash??!!). He doesn’t lose a leg or suffer brain damage or whatever, oh no, he just fucks up his hands. Anyway Strange is unable to fix his hands through traditional methods, so eventually he goes off to Nepal in search of a mysterious place called Kamar-Taj. There he discovers the Ancient One who starts Strange off on his quest to learn the secret powers of sorcery.
The challenge? Strange, the Ancient One and fellow sorcerer Mordo must stop another rogue sorcerer called Kaecilius. What is Kaecilius’s goal? he wants to summon Dormammu from the dark dimension in order to gain eternal life. At the same time Dormammu wants the Earth dimension for himself.
Much like his comicbook counterpart, Strange is an arrogant asshole in this movie. The man clearly has skills but he thinks he’s God-like, he treats people like garbage, he ignores advice, he’s reckless and lacks tact. So it is in fact very hard to like our main protagonist because he’s such a blowhard. Strange is also very very rich due to his profession which makes it hard to relate to Strange (much like Stark), his arrogance only makes matters worse. The sequence where he chooses a watch from a draw of rotating highly expensive looking timepieces, then leaves his highly expensive city pad in his highly expensive Lamborghini, is this really any different from reality for Cumberbatch? Just another day for a Hollywood movie star.
The fact that Strange is an asshole doesn’t really go away either. He continues his snarky comments (along with lame pop culture gags) for much of the run time which only left a bad taste in my mouth truth be told. Yes I know this is the character and it would be wrong to change it, but it just felt shitty to me, I just didn’t like the guy. The other fact that Cumberbatch was cast made it worse for me, did he do a good job in the role? I guess, nothing special, I wasn’t blown away lets just say that. I had reservations when he was cast and I still don’t really agree with it, personally I would have gone with Ewan McGregor after Joaquin Phoenix turned it down. I don’t think Cumberbatch looks the part, he’s too skinny, his hair is wrong and his face has the wrong structure, he isn’t good or suave looking enough. Was it too hard to get his famous white hair streaks right?
So lets look at the Ancient One played by Tilda Swinton, was this good casting? Again I’m somewhat split on this, should they have race swapped the character? No I think they should have gone by the source material, so no gender swap either. It would have upset China you say, tough! Stand by your work, show a little backbone. As for Swinton I really didn’t see anything uniquely special in her performance, in fact I think it was weak, anyone could have taken the role and done a better job. Mordo, again, why the race swap? People complained about the Ancient One yet didn’t mention this? Equality? hypocrisy? political agendas? You moan about one, you moan about the other, or don’t moan. Anyway both looked completely out of place in this movie, especially in the Nepal locations. The white bald Ancient One looked like an extra from ‘The Matrix’. Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius? totally forgettable much like his faceless henchmen. So yeah overall I wasn’t wowed by any casting in this movie, very bland, usual box ticked diversity, generally all very safe and boring.
So did the movie offer anything that differs from what we have seen before in the Marvel cinematic universe? Well yes, of course it did, this movie is based on the magical side of the Marvel comicbook universe. You want lots of mind-bending visuals that cast doubt on what your actually looking at? Say no more, its all here. I mentioned at the start the word kaleidoscope, well that’s pretty much the key word here, its literally the word of the day, the word of the movie because there is no other way in describing what you see. There are numerous sequences of astral planes, other dimensions, mirror dimensions and reality being twisted and contorted. Of course its all CGI but its bursting with colour, shapes and dream-like imagery that certainly keeps you engaged…if your eyes can stand it. The broken/shattered/cracked-esque glass visual effect for the mirror dimension was particularly impressive, very striking, very imaginative.
On the other hand we of course have lots of kung fu and hocus pocus nonsense. The hocus pocus nonsense is obviously to be expected and it generally looks pretty good. I did like all the colourful magical shields. weapons and visual spells that the protagonists use. They all look like colour coded HUD’s from a jet fighter (or inside Tony Stark’s Iron Man helmet) that are projected around a persons limbs. The obligatory martial arts jiggery-pokery I felt was..um…obligatory. Its like you can’t have a comicbook flick (or any flick) without needless martial arts. When Strange takes on his astral form in the astral plane, yep you guessed it, he ends up getting involved in an astral plane martial arts fight (with Scott Adkins). In general I liked the fighting because it involved lots of magical trickery but they still can’t get away from martial bloody arts, so tiresome.
I find myself in the middle ground with this Marvel entry, in limbo if you will. Whilst I did enjoy the effects to a degree, I found myself straining to look at some of it, or it just seemed to go a bit too far with the bizarre, although the colour palette was nice. What we see of the dark dimension was nicely done, it kinda looked like what you might see under a microscope, but in vivid colours. The magic and sorcery was definitely intriguing and I found myself wanting to see more ancient mystical things instead of the more present day set events. A period set Doctor Strange flick could be pretty sweet methinks. Period though, not alien fantasy because period would offer some grounded limitations. But it says a lot when one of the best parts of the movie involved a simple cloak, the cloak of levitation. I really wanted to see more of that and its backstory. On the flip side I found the characters weak and casting all wrong, not even Strange himself was overly engaging (Tony Stark with magic). The appearance of Dormammu in the finale was also a big let down as yet again we get a big purple-ish looking face…and that’s it, CGI wasn’t much either.
The main issue I have with all these movies now is they don’t really feel like stand alone movies. They merely feel like filler movies, padding, basically set-ups for another even bigger movie that usually involves a team up or an entire cinematic universe. The stories don’t really have any meaning or risk involved, they feel minor and throwaway because at the end of the day all they’re doing is setting up something else. The real killer is then when you get the next bigger movie, that too is just another set-up for something else, and on we go. The plot for ‘Doctor Strange’ was mediocre, it barely did the job. I was relatively engaged merely down to the fact that we were seeing something a bit new in sorcery, but beyond that it was bland business as usual. So overall I would give this a pass in the same vein as ‘Ant-Man’, but the initial intrigue is now gone, any sequels (for me) will just feel meh (although a period setting could be cool).