Friday, November 11, 2016

Doctor Strange

Hi there! Welcome to I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You, a broom closet blog in a sanctum sanctorum internet. I'm Dave-El and I may not be the Ancient One but boy I do feel like one.

So the El family went forth from the Fortress of Ineptitude to go see the latest offering from Marvel Cinematic Universe, Doctor Strange.

It’s about a brilliant person who’s at the top of his game, receiving fame and fortune but is brought low by his own hubris and in attempt to save himself discovers a calling for something above and beyond himself and if this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s basically the story structure of Iron Man, the movie that kicked off the MCU back in 2008. But if it is a criticism that Doctor Strange hews closely to the prototype of a Marvel Studios film, at least Doctor Strange does it very well and with significant differences.

Our protagonist is Doctor Stephen Strange, a super doctor curing the world’s ills if they can meet his need to be challenged but not so much a challenge to endanger his reputation as medical genius. A car accident robs Strange of the use of his hands and when medical science cannot restore them, Strange turns to magic. A journey to Nepal puts Strange in touch with an ethereal woman known only as The Ancient One. It is here that Strange begins to learn of talents and worlds beyond his reckoning. It is a process that is long, grueling and oft times humiliating. Yet Strange’s ego is still undaunted; he applies the same intensity to study that made him a world class physician to now become a master of the mystic arts. But there is much that Strange still needs to learn about his powers and the responsibility that comes with them. A former student of the Ancient One is causing trouble to bring forth the dread Dormannu to Earth and it’s up to Doctor Strange to finally understand his role and make the sacrifice to save the world and find his own true salvation in the process.

Yes, the parallels between Stephen Strange and Tony Stark are quite obvious but the difference are there. Stark is able to redeem himself by applying the gifts he already had for science and invention towards his newly discovered noble cause. Strange is forced to look far outside the comfort zone of a medical man of science to find his deliverance. The world of weapons and warfare that Stark is determined to bring down is a world he understands because he helped make it. Worlds beyond worlds rooted in magic is beyond Strange’s comprehension.

It will be very interesting to see Stephen Strange and Tony Stark finally meet up, both so alike in their respective egos yet so different in where their journeys of redemption have taken them, Stark deeper into science, Strange farther away from it.

Props to Benedict Cumberbatch for his role as Stephen Strange as an egotistical bastard who is very hard to love but gosh darn it, Benedict brings flashes of wit and charm that make you want to smile even as you want to punch the good doctor in the face. Cumberbatch as Strange is complex, driven and intense, yes, but also given to moments of humanity and humor. Chiwetel Ejiofor is a strong presence as Mordo but if you know your comics, you know things are not likely to end well between Strange and Mordo. Dr. Strange’s assistant in the comics, Wong, is portrayed by Benedict Wong (now that is an interesting coincidence!) as the stoic librarian of magic books but an impressive fighter and not totally devoid of humor. But the real breakout star of the movie is Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One. Yes, there was a lot of pre-movie controversy over casting a white English woman in the role of an elderly Chinese man. But let’s be blunt, the role of the wizened old Oriental who teaches a Westerner about the ways of mysticism is such a cliché. Swinton’s Ancient One is about as unique take on this kind of character as I have ever seen.  Tilda Swinton is an ethereal presence when she’s just being Tilda Swinton. Which makes her less a controversial choice but a rather perfect one to play the powerful and mysterious Ancient One.

If the MCU has an ongoing problem, it’s the role of the big bad. Sometimes you’re lucky and you get Tom Hiddleston stealing the show as Loki  or James Spader as Ultron. But most of the time, you get whoever that guy was playing whoever that guy was stirring up trouble in Iron Man 2 & 3, Captain America: Civil War, Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, so forth and so on. Doctor Strange falls on the “whoever that guy was” side of things with… whoever that guy was causing trouble for Doctor Strange and friends.

A few other things to note:

  • Doctor Strange’s red cloak doesn’t just look cool, it acts cool. It gets a couple of great action scenes as well as some solid laughs.
  • The visuals are very trippy with distortions of reality right out of Inception. These sweeping optical effects owe a lot to the comics; the Dark Dimension is right out of Doctor Strange comics drawn by his co-creator, Steve Dikto.
  • Doctor Strange is pretty much on its own as far as the larger MCU is concerned but there is a reference to the Avengers, we find yet another Infinity Stone and there’s a mid-credit meet up scene between Doctor Strange and the next Avenger to get a starring role in the MCU. (I would tell you who it is but I don’t want you to be Thor at me. Sore! I meant, sore at me! I said nothing!) The post credit scene is a bit of a bummer as a character moves to the dark side, setting up I presume the events of the next Doctor Strange movie. Or maybe it ties into the upcoming Infinity War in the next Avengers outing?
  • There’s a bit where Strange flips up the collar of his cloak the same way Benedict Cumberbatch does with the collar of his overcoat in his BBC series, Sherlock. The cloak has other ideas. 

Overall, a strong debut for the MCU’s latest star. I am concerned about the adherence to the Marvel movie formula; if Marvel is going to continue to be successful in this venue, they need to be able to move away from it. But then again, as the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But Marvel would be wise to keep it from breaking in the first place. The best way to keep something from breaking is to have a some flexibility. 

Thanks for popping by today. Before I wrap up this post, here's some artwork by the man himself, Doctor Strange co-creator Steve Dikto.

Until next time, remember to be good to one another. 

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