Dr. Strange Spoiler Review
No matter who you voted or will vote for (sorry, this was written in advance) the world will continue to spin tomorrow, maybe for the better, more likely for the worse, but this isn't a political page, and we're not here to talk about that. Whether you're happy with either candidate or upset at our options, life has to move on. And with that said, on to the good stuff...
Friday November 4th Marvel unleashed their newest in an ever growing movie catalog. For a while now people have been talking about the comic movie bubble and its impending burst. The belief is that sooner or later audiences will tire of the comic book adaptations. I for one, will never get enough, but Marvel has really tested the bubble strength with Guardians of the Galaxy, and now Dr. Strange. Why do I say that? It's hard to see on paper how a movie including a talking tree and raccoon, or a movie about an arrogant magic wielding surgeon will succeed, but they proved us wrong with 'Guardians', how did the good doctor fair?
But first, a brief history of the comic book origins of the character. I'll start by saying that although I'm a fan of his, my knowledge on him isn't too extensive. Dr. Stephen Strange is a world famous surgeon, top of his field, with everything he'd ever want at his disposal. He's also a self-centered, ego, jackass, so you're not supposed to sympathize with him, when he's in a terrible car accident and damages his hands beyond repair. After hearing about a possible cure in the Himalayas, Strange comes across the Ancient One and asks him (yes the Ancient One is an old Asian man, not a bald Tilda Swinton, but we'll get to that later) to heal him. Initially the Ancient One refuses him because of his selfishness, but sees greatness within Strange and trains him in the ways of the mystic arts. Through magic, Strange is able to ease the pain in his hands, but not fully heal them. However, in the process, he becomes the most powerful mage, and earns the title of Sorcerer Supreme.
With that out of the way, the movie tells his story almost exactly as shown in the comics. The biggest change that I noticed is that the good doctor wasn't arrogant and pompous enough. This is of no fault of the writing, but rests entirely on the shoulders of Benedict Cumberbatch, who is too charismatic to really make Strange an unlikeable character for even the briefest of moments. It doesn't help that he has Rachel McAdams to play off of who is delightful in any role, and her Dr. Palmer sympathizes with Strange, so who are we to disagree with her.
By word of the director, the entire movie takes place in the span of a year. This causes a few confusing issues, most notably how quickly Strange picks up the skills needed for the climactic battle. This is explained in a throwaway line where he tells Wong (who graduated from a man-servant in the comics to a magical librarian now) that he has a photographic memory.
The conflict of the movie surrounds Mad Mikkelsen's Kaecillius, who steals pages from a sacred magical text, and kills the previous librarian. These pages will give him power to summon Dormammu, The Dread One, and Lord of Chaos, from the Dark Dimension. Kaecillius believes that Dormammu promises eternal life for all, eliminating the threat of death, but we're led to believe by the Ancient One, and Strange's mentor, Mordo, that this isn't the case.
Kaecillius is able to destroy one of the three shields that protect Dormammu from entering our dimension, and while attacking the second kills the Ancient One, who reveals that she was siphoning energy from the Dark Dimension to grant her near eternal life. This disillusions Mordo, who steadfastly believes the lessons he was taught of the evils of the Dark Dimension.
The 'good' sorcerers know that the third shield is Kaecillius' target and travel to Hong Kong to find the shield already destroyed, along with Wong who died in the fight. Dr. Strange uses a forbidden spell he learned to turn back time to rebuild the shield and save Wong. After Wong is brought back, he, Strange and Mordo fight Kaecillius and his minions as time continues to reverse slowly rebuilding the shield.
This was possibly the most amazing fight scene I've watched in recent memory. All the fighting action is moving in regular time, however all the scenery that's been destroyed is flying in reverse to rebuild itself, and it is spectacular.
During a standoff with Kaecillius, Strange figures a way to stop Dormammu, and places the two of them in a time loop where Dormammu continuously kills Strange, only for him to come back and challenge him again and again for all eternity. “Dormammu, I've come to bargain.”
Dormammu relents, promising to leave this dimension with Kaecillius and his followers, as long as Strange ends the loop.
The heroes saved the day, yay! But Mordo is further broken by Strange's use of time magic, which is explicitly prohibited for sorcerers to use and leaves to 'find himself'.
If you've heard anything about this movie, you know it is beautiful, more so than any comic movie has a right to, but holy ship-balls this was the singles most visually appealing movie I've seen. Personally, I'm not a fan of 3D movies, however it was the only showing I was able to see, and I'm glad I did. It is so stunning, I wish two things, that I had seen it in IMAX 3D, and that I did drugs, because this movie seems tailor made for that kind of viewing (not that I'm encouraging it, but you know...).
There's been a few comparison to Inception because of the city bending scenes, but after the first scene of that in Strange you know all comparisons are completely unfounded.
As far as origin movies go, I think this was successful, for one reason above all others, it's an easy one. While abbreviated, I told his entire origin in a single paragraph. The movie did the equivalent by way of minutes, giving the actual conflict of the movie enough time to develop and play out without feeling rushed.
Apparently a popular movie can't come out without a 'controversy' attached to it, and Dr. Strange is no different. The casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One was met with its fair share of backlash, and I'll say, in my opinion it's completely justified. It's another instance of Hollywood whitewashing, and the director's explanation that an “Oriental” character would have been just as controversial was ridiculous, and has an easier fix than casting a white woman as a Celtic Ancient One. With that said, Tilda Swinton absolutely killed the role, as you would expect from an actress of her caliber. It actually upsets me that 1) her performance was overshadowed by this controversy, and 2) that she as an actor was used in this supporting role and killed off in a single use. As is the nature of comic movies, death isn't always permanent, and I wouldn't be averse to her return if it means more Tilda.
Beyond the Ancient One, I believe the movie was nearly perfectly cast all around. Cumberbatch, Mikkelsen, Benidict Wong (Wong, yea that's not confusing), and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Mordo) all completely owned their characters.
I want to say that story could have been better, but I can't think of how. It has a lot of elements that have been used plenty of times before, but was put together in a way that I can only call original. And that's exceedingly rare as more and more comic movies come out.
My biggest detraction from the movie is the many similarities to Iron Man, but truthfully that isn't the movie's fault as much as the source material.
Anything else I may complain about is all nitpicking. If you haven't seen this yet, why did you read this review, and more importantly, go see it now.