Doctor Strange quite ordinary – a review (UPDATED)

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As a disclaimer, you should know that I have grown weary of comic book movies and the various universes involved. Thus, I understand if some of you stop reading here.

Are they gone? Is anyone left?

Doctor Strange is the latest entrant to the ever-expanding Marvel universe. In this origin movie, it is the story of a brilliant, ego-driven neurosurgeon (Benedict Cumberbatch) who suffers a debilitating accident that destroys his career and therefore his reason to live. In trying to regain use of his hands, he finds a mystical Eastern retreat and begins a journey into magic, multi-planed realities and lessons in humility through the guidance of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton).

The arrival of Strange might not be totally of his choosing, however, as he reaches the retreat at a time when it is facing its greatest threat, a former student (Mads Mikkelson) who has moved to the Dark Side and wants to feed the Earth to a Dark Entity (Dormammu) that swallows universes whole. And so the battle ensues, Dark vs Light (well, mostly Light), with weapons of magic, shifting realities, and literally shifting buildings that hearken back to the movie Inception.

And this is where I struggle with this movie. There is little here that is in any way original.

For me, this is The Shadow (look back in the archives for that one) meets Inception, with a soupçon of Kung Fu Panda and Harry Potter And The Who Gives A Damn, each of which I felt were better movies than Doctor Strange.

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From Inception to Strange with little improvement

On the plus side, Cumberbatch is perfectly suited to this role, his droll delivery of cornball one-liners perfectly pitched—a la Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark. And the visual paintings of colour, perspective and sound are insanely rich and dazzling, worthy of the best recreational pharmaceuticals (so I am told).

But that is really all that this movie has going for it: big-screen kaleidoscope and Tony Stark 1.1 (can’t even manage 2.0).

The story is pretty linear with zero twists or turns. And even with that, the writers felt they needed to explain the story every 30 minutes or so with long streams of exposition. Apparently, all of the budget was spent on special effects and so they were forced to break the “show, don’t tell” writers’ convention. These aren’t reveals; they’re explains.

And aside from Cumberbatch’s waltz through ego and bon mots, all of the performances by the supporting actors are largely wasted.

Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One couldn’t hold the chopsticks of Dustin Hoffman’s Master Shifu (Kung Fu Panda). Mads Mikkelson’s Kaecilius is totally silly-us and I don’t recall any explanation as to why he chose to leave the school and work for the Dark Side.

And what the hell happened to Rachel McAdams’ career? Here, she plays Strange’s estranged love interest Christine Palmer and is given nothing to do aside from roll her eyes, squeal at loud noises and apply defibrillator paddles every half-hour or so.

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Sometimes, it is just about cashing the cheques (Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams)

As my friend and Movie Review 360 partner Danny suggested (see link to his review below), origin stories are throwaways, their only job being to set up the characters for the following movies and cross-overs. I can’t disagree with him on that point…this movie should have been thrown away.

As just the latest piece in the Marvel cinematic universe, the real meat of Doctor Strange will come as he begins to interact with all of the other tight-wearing, planet-razing whackos—and stick around through the credits for the first hints of that.

So, why even bother with this movie?

Nothing in Doctor Strange was necessary for any of what follows, I am confident.

Okay…comic book fans can come back in the room!

If you’re looking for some dazzling eye candy and a few choice ripostes worthy of Tony Stark, Doctor Strange is the perfect popcorn muncher. For everyone else, check out 1994’s The Shadow…it really is better than it should be.

 

See also:

Movie Review: Doctor Strange (Danny F. Santos)

Lively Doctor Strange breathes new life into Marvel Universe (CTV News)

This is the champagne of Marvel movies (Global News)

Movie Review 360 (reviews Doctor Strange & Fury)

Ant Man (a review)

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Paul Rudd and his dimples want to don a motorcycle suit and play superhero. Yeah, that’ll work, I thought with a ready batch of vitriol sliding around my tongue-in-cheek.

Thus, I went to Ant Man last night expecting a disaster…and was surprised. Not only was Ant Man not a disaster, it was actually a delight; easily becoming my favourite Marvel movie to date.

As my friends and I discussed over beers, Paul Rudd plays Paul Rudd. It is the only character he knows. The immensely likeable fuck-up doofus who somehow manages to do the right thing in the end. As such, Paul Rudd is perfectly suited to likeable fuck-up roles in movies like Our Idiot Brother (you’ll never guess which role he plays in this movie).

But a superhero? Really? I didn’t see it.

But it is the doofus that makes Ant Man work. And it is the doofus that makes this movie so approachable to a mass audience.

Sure, these are all comic book movies. You are asked to leave your credulity at the door as you make your way to your seats. These are gods, aliens, spirits and every once in a while humans with supernatural powers or genetic mutations.

Let’s face it. Tony Stark only gets to keep company with these guys because of his smarmy wit, which is his supernatural ability, brought to life deliciously by Robert Downey, Jr. The suit is just a nice-to-have.

How the hell did Paul Rudd and Ant Man get into this picture? Even the movie makes fun of the costumed crusader’s name.

Rudd manages to make Ant Man believable and by that, I mean both the character and the entire concept. The doofus brings a heart to this character, a grounded reality to this character that no one else has ever managed. He is what Peter Parker was supposed to be, but without all the angst.

Doofus as superhero? It works!

Doofus as superhero? It works!

You could have a beer with Ant Man, and that is why this movie will do incredibly well.

Ant Man is also amazingly funny, rife with jokes and awkward moments that completely work. Even a sourpuss like me was heard to laugh out loud on more than one occasion. Some of that comes down to Rudd’s timing, but no character is left without laughs. Everyone contributes in this movie.

Another factor is that you don’t have to be immersed in the Marvel universe to get this movie. You don’t have to have seen every predecessor movie to understand what is happening—see my previous thoughts on Age of Ultron. Only in a couple of places would that knowledge have made the joke better, but even there, the jokes worked.

The story is a comic book story, and so has the depth one might expect of something aimed at 10-year-olds, but again, that’s the kind of story in which a doofus revels. And unlike the other Marvel films, this adds a touch of Wile E. Coyote, just to keep it light.

My only other notes of…well…note: Michael Douglas is amazing; Evangeline Lilly is gorgeous and fun; and I have never wanted a pet ant more in my life.

Marvel plotlines assemble – Comment on Age of Ultron

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So, you plunk down your $20 for the new IMAX 3-D Star Wars film. You saw the two previous trilogies, so you think: “This is going to be so cool.”

But then you get a glimpse of Captain Jean Luc Picard and think: “What the feck?”

And then a few minutes later, there is a reference to the smoke monster, and you scratch your head: “How did Lost get in here?”

That’s the way I felt after watching The Avengers: Age of Ultron…or perhaps, more accurately, after sitting in a bar for 4 hours after seeing Ultron with friends who are completely immersed in the Marvel universe.

In fairness, I went into this movie with the attitude that it was a comic book movie and therefore, I had low expectations other than visual stimulation. And for the most part, I was pleased with the result.

The CGI was stunning. The characters were witty in their banter. And nothing in the movie was very surprising…if you didn’t know how this movie was going to end, you really shouldn’t be watching comic book movies.

My challenge with the film—and the subject of beer-laden discussion afterward—was the sheer volume of references to and characters from previous films and television series of the Marvel pantheon.

Marvel universe study aids.

Marvel universe study aids.

For the record, I saw the first Captain America movie, all of the Iron Man franchise, two Thor movies, the first Avengers movie, all of the Spiderman movies (keep asking myself why, however), and just started watching the Daredevil television series.

And yet for all of that leg work, when the movie started, I had no idea why the Avengers were fighting who they were fighting and who the enemy were. Apparently, if you missed Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the Agents of Shield television series, you missed a lot that sets up this movie.

Now, having that background doesn’t necessarily keep you from understanding the main plot of this movie—can James Spader actually outsmarm Robert Downey Jr. (no spoilers)—but I’m the kind of person who likes to understand why things are happening.

They didn't invent smarm, but they've taken it to new heights!

They didn’t invent smarm, but they’ve taken it to new heights!

And to writer/director Josh Whedon’s credit (or condemnation), the dialogue throughout the film was one long stream of exposition—I wasn’t expecting character arcs in a comic book film.

Unfortunately, with the exception of a couple of short sequences, all of this exposition comes as things are exploding and/or in the midst of battle scenes, so your eyes and ears are being bombarded at the same time as your brain is trying to puzzle things together.

Thus, I spent a lot of time shrugging my shoulders when things happened without relatable context to me.

A guy with wings shows up…hunh, there’s a guy with wings. Thor slides into a pond in a cave…I guess this is something important.

[A couple of friends in my group were seeing the movie for the second time…apparently, this helps a lot. Nice move, Marvel marketing department!]

Now, I am not the demographic for this film series. I don’t still read the comic books and have not rushed to see ALL of the Marvel films or television series. And more importantly, I don’t want to do the Internet-searching homework necessary to fill in any blanks that arise (which was another activity in that 4-hour bar discussion).

And that’s why I have described this post as a comment rather than a review.

I cannot review this film because I don’t really know enough about the Marvel universe, other than to say “boom”, “ooooh”, “wow” and “okay, sure, whatever”.

You’ll be hard-pressed to be bored by The Avengers: Age of Ultron, but you may not be any further ahead at the end of the movie than you were at the beginning.

And when all is said and done (or blown up), that may ultimately be the reason I step away from the whole damned thing and leave the adulation to my friends.

Other reviews/thoughts on Age of Ultron:

Howard Casner – Rantings & Ravings

Ryviews

Lady Geek Girl

Wilson Reviews

22 questions about Avengers: Age of Ultron answered (Den of Geek; nothing but spoiler so only click if you must have the answers)