Thursday, November 17, 2016
I keep going into Marvel's movies fearing the worst.
Surely they're going to stumble eventually and make a movie I don't like. Right?
I thought that about Guardians of the Galaxy, I suspected it about Ant-Man - and I felt it about Doctor Strange.
Happily, in each case, my fears were groundless. Even though each of those three movies was based on characters that are (to the general public) rather obscure, the films each proved that a strong story, great acting, powerful visuals and a dash of humor can go a long way.
The story of Dr. Stephen Strange, though, is especially problematic. Most heroes are already good guys who are granted amazing abilities (Captain America, Spider-Man) or are born to it (Thor, Black Panther) or are already outstanding and their abilities spring from that (Iron Man, Hawkeye, Black Widow) or they're caught in a terrible accident (Hulk, Fantastic Four).
But Strange is, let's face it: a jerk.
As created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, Strange is a brilliant surgeon who looks down on his fellow man, until a car accident damages his hands and leaves him unable to operate. He seeks out help from the world of science, and when that fails he turns to mystic solutions - and that brings him in contact with the Ancient One, who introduces him to the world of magic - and he finds himself in the middle of a deadly war that could ultimately destroy the world.
The movie's visuals are absolutely brilliant. There are some Ditko-esque alternate dimensions on display, and some Inception-based city-bending moments, but the movie goes far beyond that and offers up some stunning vistas. As many have advised, this is definitely one to see in 3-D.
The story is strong, too, with a genuine threat, some heartfelt moments, and an actual character arc for Strange as he learns to translate his skills as a surgeon into more mystical efforts.
The cast is very good, with Benedict Cumberbatch managing to make Strange appealing even when he's at his cocky worst. Always smart, extremely capable and with a dry sense of humor, I like this portrait of the hero a lot. (Strange and Tony Stark really must meet in the movies someday.)
The lovely Rachel McAdams (Dr. Christine Palmer) injects some heart and humor at just the right moments.
The most controversial thing about the movie is Tilda Swinton's role as The Ancient One, and I understand the irritation - I was hoping to see the elderly Asian from the comic books. But Swinton is so good as the teacher - a commanding presence, sometimes gentle, sometimes terrifying - that it's easy to understand the decision.
Chiwetal Ejiofor is excellent as Mordo, and long-time fans may be surprised at his role here.
Mads Mikkelsen makes on of the best Marvel villains to date - smart, conniving, powerful - as Kaecilius, a magician lured into rebellion by dark forces.
Benedict Wong plays, of course, Wong, who is much more than a manservant here - he also gets some fine heroic and comic relief moments.
The only flaws I saw in the movie were the fact that it's darker than the usual Marvel fare - and it was slowed a bit by "origin-itis" (there was a lot to explain here). But those are minor quibbles, and the movie is way too much fun for those things to get in the way.
What can I say? It's nother terrific film for Marvel, and once again, my fears were unfounded (thank goodness)!