In a new, perhaps, recurring segment I am going to do, not a movie review, but a movie opinion.
It will contain just my opinion and not a lot of plot points, unless i deem it necessary.
There will surely be spoilers so take appropriate caution.
First up, Marvel’s Doctor Strange.
I just watched the newest Marvel feature Doctor Strange starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role with Mads Mikkelsen as the villainous Kaecilius, Tilda Swenton as the Ancient One and Chiwetel Ejiofor as ally cum arch nemesis Mordo.
I saw at the Imax 3D theatre at Kips Bay. Overall the movie was very OK.
I had problems with it.
I am second to no one in my love for the old Ditko, Dr. Strange comic. When I was younger while people my age loved the ultra violent wolverine and X-Men, I read comics like Thor and Doctor Strange.
I love the fantastical.
One of my favorite graphic novels is Triumph and Torment and Dr. Strange/Dr. Doom team up (I think Mads Mikkelsen would have made a perfect Dr. Doom, but is wasted here).
First, what works:
Doctor Strange -Benedict Cumberbatch.
He is pitch perfect as the arrogant turned heroic doctor.
He looks like Strange, he acts like Strange, he is dressed like Strange. He is Doctor Strange.
One of the great things about the character is he is an all too mortal hero. No proportional strength of a spider, no gamma radiation no healing factor. Outside of spells, he can be shot, stabbed or beat up in any number of ways (he is supposed to have martial arts skills, but rarely makes use of it).
I only wish Strange’s arc was a little clearer and sharper. I still don’t see why a man who could go back to an extraordinary life as a brain surgeon would want to sacrifice himself and become a hero.
The movie shows Strange wanted to be a doctor for the fame, money and accolade not to “help people” as the Ancient One states. There is nothing “selfless” about the guy.
In a sequel they have to delve into this. Strange must have started out a good guy who became corrupted by money and power. Wouldn’t it be great if The Ancient One had been observing the good doctor all her life and knew he was “the one” before he even arrived at her doorstep (it would make sense given her sweeping statements about his character having just met him for a short period of time).
Mordo – A “baron” he is not, but Chiwetel Ejiofor is brilliant as Mordo
His arc is fantastic as well and unexpected given who he is in the comics. The idea that the bad guy turns bad because of the misuse of magic by his mentor and his student is a nice switch from the stale motivations of greed and jealousy as expressed in the comics.
Wong – Benedict Wong
An improvement over the character in the comics.
One must watch this in 3D, I’m not sure how important “Imax” is to the experience, but the movie really wows.
In here I am also going to include the costumes, props and set dressing, cinematography . All fantastic.
My issue is not with the acting or the actors. It’s only with the characters. Even with the controversy over the Ancient One, I knew Tilda Swinton would kill it.
What doesn’t work
Rachel McAdams – wasted
As Strange’s love interest (in this case – girl friend) she saves the hero repeatedly. But her purpose in this movie, while necessary to ground Strange as a normal man in an abnormal world is forced.
She has no backstory, no distinct personality, she repeatedly shows up only to single handedly try to save the hero or his mentor. She is a bit character in the comics made big for this movie (as is our villain).
The magic – bizarre
There are no rules. The “mirror dimension” pops up whenever the director wants something visually cool to happen.
We learn, late into the show, in the mirror dimension the enemies are more powerful (uh, why??). The flashy energy whips and shields are also odd, used for hand to hand combat.
But why would a spell caster even need hand to hand combat? He could in theory just transport them to the other side of the world or use the eye to turn back him and make them a child.
The Ancient One – a disappointment
Why in the world would she use power from the dark dimension just to stay eternally young? She comes off as wise and smart, but that seems neither.
Nor is there a punishment for using such dark magic. This goes against the lore around using black magic – there is always a price. Her soul should become Dormammu’s (with whom The Ancient One would have had to struck some kind of bargain to use this evil power).
And why would eternal youth not include immortality? I would think they’d go hand in hand. And why does the Ancient One not use the Eye of Agamotto? Strange uses it and just starts wearing it – like it’s his. Surely the sorcerer supreme has knowledge to use it? And since it controls time, why not harness that power to stay young?
And why didn’t Strange simply use the amulet to heal the Ancient One and reverse her wound? And, in all those magic books are there no spells of healing that could save the Ancient One? Perhaps if she appears in a sequel this will be further explained, but as a self-contained movie there are huge holes that need to be filled.
Sorcerer Supreme – unclear
We are given next to no information about the so called defender of the dimensions – the sorcerer supreme.
How is he/she chosen? Are there good entities that make the decision on who is worthy? Are there others in the queue so that when one dies another is chosen (ala Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Avatar)?
If you read the comics (specifically the above references graphic novel) its clear how Strange became sorcerer supreme and it wasn’t automatically after the death of the Ancient One.
Kaecilius – a wasted villain
Mordo is a much better villain than Kaecilius and his henchmen. This is another minor character in the Marvel U who is given a bigger role than he deserves.
This bad guy, the servant of Dormammu, severs the head of the librarian just to subdue him. Again these are spell casters. There is no other way to knock out a librarian who does not lift a finger to stop them.
The humor – groan-worthy
From the lame Beyonce jokes (Dr. Strange really listens to Beyonce??) to the cloak of levitation that has a mind of its own, the movie struggles to be funny when it is not. I think levity is good but only when it’s not forced on the audience.
The story – tiresome
One doesn’t expect big complex stories out of Marvel movies. But the Captain America series of movies (surprisingly) has set the bar pretty high as far as Marvel movies go.
Doctor Strange could have done the same. The movie gives the producers a chance to get on the ground floor and set the rules for how magic works in the Marvel universe.
There is the “multi-verse” (I hate that term when used in Marvel movies. It’s much more of a DC concept I think) a term which has no real meaning. Is the multiverse where Asgardians like Thor and Loki live? How about the chitauri from the first Avengers movie?
And where do the people who train to be sorcerers come from? When they get what they came for why don’t they just leave like Jonathan Pangborn?
The movie seems to be setting up the Avengers Infinity War as we now (I think) have found the location of all the infinity gems (stones), but who cares. It serves no purpose for this movie.
Rachel McAdam’s character was needed only in Act One as part of the set up. There really is no time to do her character and her relationship to Strange justice.
Perhaps you come back to her in Act Three — Strange can some how explain what has happened to him and even save her as Manhattan as she about to be eaten by Dormammu (instead of the scene between he and the Ancient One that has no real weight to it).
I think it would be funny for Strange to discover she’s already seeing someone else, she he both wants to save her and take out the guy she’s dating. He should even end the the movie with her, perhaps the sanctum is their new home and life together.
The Ancient One needs to be long lived due to magic. Period. Not dark magic, just magic. It makes sense that until a chosen one is found, the sorcerer supreme is given extended life as long as they stay in the sanctum.
Perhaps even give her immortality via the Eye of Agamotto. What if being ancient is not what she desires and longs to return to the world? Or even would love to see an end to her long journey as protector of the Earth?
Also, no way Kacellius and his men should be able to get away from her with the scroll in the first Act. It makes this all powerful Ancient One seem not so powerful after all. Perhaps he escapes to Manhattan cause he knows she cannot follow. The longer she is away from the sanctum, the older she gets (see above).
The mirror dimension I think was simply a tool for really cool special effects. If not used more sparingly – allow it to serve a better purpose.
Explain magic and its uses better. Explain there are entities like Dormammu that are good and evil that Strange will need to get to know in order to use the power.
Give a better passing of the torch from Ancient One to Strange and explain what it means to be sorcerer supreme and how one goes about becoming one better.
11/12 – The mirror dimension. I don’t understand why the writers/directors created this new dimension. In the comics Strange did a lot of battle on the astral plane (we have a forced battle that looks like two ghosts fighting in hospital).
Instead of a mirror dimension, it would be simple matter to have the astral plane be the place to have these fights and manipulate the environment to the will of the strongest spell caster. It’s consistent with the comics and doesn’t force the viewer to accept this dimension that serves no other purpose than wow factor.