Tuesday, November 22, 2016

OVP: Doctor Strange (2016)

Film: Doctor Strange (2016)
Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton
Director: Scott Derrickson
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Visual Effects)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

Well, I guess Marvel got another hit.  That was the first thing that crossed my mind recently as I headed into yet another installment of their expansive universe.  Honestly-it's staggering to me how blindingly successful the franchises of Disney's Marvel universe are-even the films that under-perform (think of something like Ant-Man) crossed $500 million internationally, and Doctor Strange, despite being arguably the most cerebral comic book headliner in the Marvel universe, has continued that streak.  Like most of the films, I caught this one in theaters, likely surrounded by comic book fans who have never actually, well, read a comic book, and unfortunately I stayed roughly in the center of where I am with these movies-fair, but not excellent.

(Spoilers Ahead) There's really no need for a spoiler here, as this film has been done repeatedly with the same results.  This is the introduction of yet another character, so you know that Dr. Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) will, through some act of god, be forced from his high pedestal as a world famous surgeon and instead forced to avenge those around him for the greater good.  Indeed, an accident in one of the sexiest cars I've seen in movies in a while (it's a Lamborghini, for the curious), leads him off the cliff and eventually he must head to Nepal to try and find some way to get his hands and abilities back.  While there, he meets the Ancient One (Swinton), a creature that has lived for hundreds of years and teaches him how to cross into other dimensions and fight using the mythic arts.  As is the wont of such a film, the Ancient One eventually dies, and Dr. Strange, now armed with a sense of right-and-wrong and a set of powers, sets off to make the world a safer place, and indeed, during a post-credits sequence comes across Thor himself, implying he'll be back to fight with the Avengers in the near future.

The film is fun.  Let's not mistake my antipathy to the end product with the film not being any good.  There are lovely moments of levity; Cumberbatch and McAdams have good chemistry and can land their one-liners, and Swinton is a movie acting goddess, even if there's not a lot of obvious "acting" opportunities.  Like most Marvel films, the villain is less than impressive (Mads Mikkelsen is an actor I've grown weary of after playing the same bad guy so often), but the visual effects are a kaleidoscope without ever quite hitting the ludicrous places of something like Speed Racer (what's Emile Hirsch up to these days?).  Perhaps because Captain America and X-Men have now gotten there, maybe superhero films are trying harder to get into those tech categories at the Oscars, but it shows.

My problem with the film isn't that I would recommend it, but that there's nothing special here that hasn't already been seen in Iron Man, Thor, The Avengers, etc-all of these are essentially the same movie, particularly the first installment.  All have an unlikely protagonist who is led into extraordinary circumstances, questions his abilities, and then finds a hero comes along (with the strength to carry on).  One could claim this is true of the Marvel comics, but these characters don't constantly focus on origin stories, but instead have had the same characters go through multiple iterations, breathing new life into different situations.  The comic books themselves evolve enough to be the final seasons in television series-Marvel is stuck on the same, repetitive first season.  Only Captain America has properly risen above it, particularly with the frightening and effective Winter Soldier.  Here they have a character who isn't just reestablishing what we know about him over-and-over, but dealing with an inner-struggle.  Given the box office, I suspect Dr. Strange will return.  Let's hope that he finds his own Winter Soldier so this doesn't become another stale franchise being held up by a multi-billion dollar brand.

Those are my thoughts on Dr. Strange, a fine if predictable installment in the Marvel Universe.  Are you with me that you want something different (perhaps Captain Marvel or Black Panther can get there?) or am I being too picky?  Share your thoughts below!

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