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Awesome: 8.33%
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1 review, 6 user ratings

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Doctor Strange
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by Jay Seaver

"Sometimes familiar, but at its best when it is Strange."
4 stars

Doctor Strange is not exactly one of Marvel's more obscure characters, but he is one that, for one reason or another, would often go a long time without having a book of his own. He's a way to draw trippy visuals that few other superheroes offer but sometimes a hard guy to connect with readers for an extended period. It's an impressive feat, then, that the guys charged with making a movie capture most of the good stuff without twisting things too terribly hard to make it work.

In this case, they start with the villain, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), busting into a strange library and stealing the pages from an ancient tome, escaping through a strange portal to New York City, followed by a martial artist with supernatural abilities. Elsewhere in the city, top neurosurgeon Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) completes two cranial operations in rapid succession, one at the behest of ex-girlfriend Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). They may be his last, though, as a horrific auto accident damages his hands beyond repair - at least, until he's pointed at a strange monastery in Kathmandu, where he discovers a strange new world of magic, taught by a sorceress known as The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and her lieutenants Modo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong), though it's only a matter of time before Kaecilius figures out how to perform the ritual whose instructions he stole.

Mavel has received a certain amount of criticism in recent years for their movies having something of a house style - quippy and upbeat, though sometimes with an uneven balance between telling the story at hand and creating ties that will pay off down the road. Strange doesn't necessarily lend himself to that - when he gets laughs, it's often because the writers and artists exaggerate how he seems aloof and otherworldly next to Marvel's more grounded heroes - and even for those not familiar with that characterization, it's hard not to see how hard the filmmakers are trying to recapture the success of Iron Man, with the sarcastic hero who needs humbling and gains his powers as a side effect of combating a serious injury. It's almost desperate at moments, as Strange outright tells other characters that people find him funny.

If it's not a traditional version of the character, though, it's a frequently-enjoyable one, in large part because Benedict Cumberbatch embraces the snootiness behind that characterization. Early on, when he tells jokes, the audience can hear how he thinks the other person is lucky to hear it, and he doesn't soften the arrogance and self-pity before he needs to. Even as he embraces his heroic side, there's a sense that the words don't come naturally. The attitude also makes some CGI-enhanced physical comedy even funnier.

It doesn't hurt to be playing against a heck of a good cast, though it's a pity that Rachel McAdams is stuck giving life to a role that is something like sixty percent bearing the brunt of Strange's crappy attitude and thirty percent forgiving him, the sort of barely-necessary character that needs someone that good to work but can't help underscore how she's underused. Mads Mikkelsen is not quite in the same boat, if only because being the bad guy gives him a lot more opportunities to turn let something drip off a phrase or try to whither somebody - he makes Kaecilius a lot more fun to watch than the average Marvel villain even if he doesn't quite have the hook or outsize personality that makes one want to see him and Strange clash again. The allies, on the other hand, are a blast: Benedict Wong gives his namesake character great deadpan reactions while still coming off as formidable, while Chiwetel Ejiofor gives Mordo great personal charisma despite being more harsh than Strange just as often as he's more friendly. And while a lot of words have been written about the politics and optics of casting Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One - a character that has been a Tibetan man since the first Doctor Strange story - she owns the part of this Master of the Mystic Arts, making The Ancient One feel like she's detached from any specific time but having both a lack of ego and an iron will. She's terrific no matter who she's paired with, be it Cumberbatch, Mikkelsen, or Eiofor, bringing a spark to moments that could easily be ridiculous.

A huge part of the appeal of Doctor Strange has always been the psychedelic images of inventions in other dimensions and mind-bending spells in this one, and director Scott Derrickson doesn't exactly keep it in reserve - the opening sequence quickly becomes an action sequence that is like a chase through a particularly strange trip as buildings morph and gravity redirects, an effect that has been a big part of the advertising for the film and a strong argument in favor of catching it on the premium 3D screens (although, fair warning, other parts of the film are dark enough that it's worth knowing which places aren't stingy with the lumens). The great surprise on first watch is that Marvel and Disney actually held some things back, and there's even more far-out images, more directly influenced by artist Steve Ditko, on tap, and enough budget that Derrickson an company seldom have to just settle for guys in robes posing at each other to throw CGI objects around for an action scene. There's some of that, but the film seldom resorts to feeling entirely conventional, and there's a lot of sheer delight to be had as the filmmakers not only make twisted backgrounds and incredible power feel like something other than randomness - in the middle of all the effects, this feels well-choreographed - and but they create more than a few moments where, after nearly a decade of superhero movies coming out at a very quick pace, the audience might just feel like it's seeing something new.

"Doctor Strange" isn't entirely new things, of course - I strongly suspect that it won't just be movie critics force-fed this material when they'd rather see something less loud who will grumble that Marvel is starting to repeat itself. But there's also little denying that not only does what they're doing appeal on a basic level, but that they're having exceptional success in pairing characters and concepts with the right people (Derrickson and co-writer C. Robert Cargill have a great track record of making the supernatural something people can get hold of). And while there may be a little origin fatigue, the now-tradition two credit stingers - one for next year, one for the sequel - remind the audience that this movie doing some basic work lays the groundwork for sequels and crossovers that can be grander-scale and more strange. And, with this being as entertaining as it is, "more 'Strange'" sounds pretty appealing.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=28087&reviewer=371
originally posted: 11/08/16 18:42:59
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User Comments

2/05/18 Dr. Lao The lead actor really captures the role 4 stars
7/16/17 Charles Tatum Good, nonchalant entry in the Marvel Universe 4 stars
2/12/17 morris campbell awesome movie great effects 5 stars
12/11/16 The Big D I wish they had Nightmare as the villain. He was always cooler (and scarier) that Dormammu! 3 stars
11/10/16 Angel Baby Araiza Good movie 3 stars
11/09/16 Chris Another example of Jay Seaver sucking ass 2 stars
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  04-Nov-2016 (PG-13)
  DVD: 28-Feb-2017

  25-Oct-2016 (12A)

  27-Oct-2016 (M)
  DVD: 28-Feb-2017

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