Kurt Loder Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Doctor Strange

Benedict Cumberbatch pumps new life into the ever-expanding Marvel universe.

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Doctor Strange
Marvel

Doctor Strange signals the launch of what could be a very fun franchise. The movie isn't perfect—it's the origin story of a character from the Marvel JV universe, so there's setup involved; and it's a little light in the villain department; and the rampant computer imagery—some of it pretty spectacular—is maybe a little too rampant. But the occult flourishes beamed in from Steve Ditko's 50-year-old comic-book series—the "Cloak of Levitation," the "Eye of Agamotto," the trippy "Mirror Dimension"—give the story a rich, pulpy, Indiana Jones-like charge that's highly enjoyable.

It helps that the cast is so heavily over-qualified. Benedict Cumberbatch, slightly strange himself, plays Dr. Stephen Strange, a celebrated New York neurosurgeon who worships at the altar of his own genius. When a car crash crushes his gifted hands (no texting in the Lamborghini, Steve!), his search for restorative therapy leads him to a man named Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt), whose own broken spine has somehow been healed. Pangborne tells Strange about a mysterious compound in the world wind-chime capital of Kathmandu, and Strange quickly books a flight to Nepal.

Arriving at his exotic destination, Strange is saved from a multi-thug welcoming committee by a hooded character called Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who leads the way to the picturesque headquarters of his master, an ancient sorceress called—what else?—The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). But no sooner has she agreed to tutor Strange in a course of rather Matrix-y mixed magical arts than a party pooper named Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) arrives on the scene to bust stuff up. Kaecilius, a former acolyte of The Ancient One, has gone over to the dark side, and dreams about "a world beyond time, beyond death." Although this actually sounds kind of cool, his former mentor disapproves, and Strange—soon equipped with the aforementioned levitating crimson cape and the time-bending Amagotto amulet—undertakes to scotch Kaecilius's plan.

Director and cowriter Scott Derrickson, rising up from the basement of low-budget horror films (Sinister, Deliver Us from Evil), has spared not a penny in CGI-ing this movie, and some of the digital effects are so impressive they for once justify seeing the movie in IMAX 3D. True, the usual action imagery—the leaping and hurling and running around on walls—although well-done, isn't new; and one recurring effect—a series of flaming circle thingies of varying sizes—looks as if it might have been whipped up with party sparklers. But Derrickson and his digital team also create a terrific Dark Dimension that looks like a vast psychedelic traffic jam of extra-dimensional smoke and hovering spheres; and he appropriates the bendy buildings and fold-up streets of Christopher Nolan's Inception and pushes that computer technology to the wall—especially in a fantastical battle sequence set in a collapsing metropolis.

Unfortunately, there's so much world-building going on that some of the characters are shortchanged. Cumberbatch, with his resonant baritone and tidy Vandyke beard, is a sturdy incarnation of the dashing hero; and Benedict Wong, as the curator of the Ancient One's mystical library, is deadpan funny in several scenes with the good Doctor. (It must also be noted that Strange's intricately animated cloak has a feisty personality all its own.)

But Swinton's Ancient One, with her bald head and linen guru suits, suffers from a lack of backstory—it'd be helpful to know more about her. And Mikkelsen is too charming an actor to provide much real menace. (He's also been spackled with crusty eye makeup that's so weird it's distracting.) It's also too bad that Rachel McAdams, playing Strange's sympathetic ex-girlfriend, has been given little to do beyond acting worried, and even that not very often. (To switch gears for a moment, I'd also like to say it could be time for a moratorium on Stan Lee cameo appearances, but let's not go there, I suppose.)

The movie does its job with considerable flair, stirring anticipation for future adventures. With the Doctor's origins now checked off, the filmmakers should be able to really cut loose. Strange will be turning up in the next Thor and Avengers films, and on the basis of this picture, the probability of him also returning in a sequel of his own seems like the surest of sure things.

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  1. I would like to pre-emptively propose a comment thread injunction against the use of the term “cumberbitches”

    1. Benedicks?

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    2. You just went there first so the rest of us don’t have to.

      1. “Snatch” rhymes with “Batch”.

        Evidently, that’s approximately as potty-keyboarded that I can get.

  2. Eduardo SalcedaNot a m?ster piece for me, Bad jokes, great fx and Beneddict acting as Sherlock just with s?per powers… Oh and The typic story about saving The world again and again and again and again and again…
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    1. Annie, so close to topical, yet so far.

      1. It’s pretty impressive what a people are doing with simple HMM generators these days.

  3. I keep assuming Stan Lee will have to quit his cameos by virtue of dying, but he just keeps on going.

    1. Apparently they have pre-filmed his cameos for several years of movies, so he will be around for a while yet.

      1. I heard there are dozens that can be fitted in as Easter Eggs, generic and bland. When an actual film is shot, they tailor the bit to fit and shoot several variants. Seeing as he is the founding genius behind the whole franchise, he deserves the homage.

        Stan/Lee 2016

        1. genius? maybe in the way a normal person would appear like a genius to microencephalics (Marvel readers). Stan Lee projects arent just subliterate – theyre subliterate *within the medium of comic books* compared with the output of publishers like fantagraphics in the US or Soleil from overseas. Seeing adults or even teenagers reading the dreck produced by Lee is like watching an adult or teenager mystified by reading other picture books for infants like See Spot Run or Jack & Jill. in the immortal words of the boondocks: READ, N*****, READ!!!

    2. They’ll animate him thru CGI, because Stan is the Man.

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    3. What makes you think Stan Lee can die?

    4. My family got a picture with him this summer at the local convention. He was a wax dummy. I know there is footage of him actually moving around, but the Stan that was at the convention was well past his expiration date.

      1. It seems to me that he’s been really old for a really long time.

        1. With great longevity comes great age?

    5. His last movie will have a flood, and a coffin will float up, and pop open, and…

      The Cameo To End Cameos!

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  5. And Mikkelsen is too charming an actor to provide much real menace.

    Whu…!!!!

    He was quite charming, but extremely menacing in the Hannibal series that you apparently missed.

    And as the bad guy in Casino Royalle…

    And just about anything I’ve ever seen him in.

    1. Seriously has he ever played a good guy?

      1. He was one of Arthur’s ‘Knights’ in “King Arthur”?

        And the protagonist in “The Salvation”

      2. Not sure if he has in any English movies. He’s a good guy in A Royal Affair, and a super good guy punished by a false pedo allegation in The Hunt.

    2. I find him off putting, and I’m not really sure why.

      1. That is why he gets the parts that he does.

      2. He’s got the Innsmouth look.

      3. You’re biased against the Canadians of Europe.

    3. I know, I know. See him in this, though….

  6. Rachel McAdams

    Well now I’m interested.

  7. I can’t wait to read John Wright’s review.

  8. I am pretty much over Marvel. I have always liked the Avengers (especially Cap), but I have always been more of a DC guy. And I don’t care what the fucking critics say, I am liking what DC is doing in their cinematic universe. I liked MoS and I loved BvS. I can’t wait for WW and Justice League.

    1. GTFO!

      DC guy. *spit*

    2. I loved BvS.

      That’s an interesting worldview.

    3. “I loved BvS”

      Oh you’re the one.

      1. Apparently.

        Look I was as angry at the casting of Ben Affleck has all good non-proggies (and anyone who ever saw his Daredevil). But he fucking nailed it. Don’t get me wrong, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Chris Nolan’s trilogy. But I thought Affleck played the older, darker Batman very well.

        And I do wish Gal Gadot had a larger, more muscular frame (boobs too, but that isn’t really what I mean).

        But I seriously don’t see why some people had such a big issue with it. I think DC had to go in a direction in which they did some serious revision to some of the heroes and villains. Marvel has played it pretty straight with the Avengers (other than basic updating for the correct time periods). And since DC fucked around so long, they had to do something different.

        1. Marvel did do an interesting twist on Mandarin in IM3, but compared to the overall Avengers arc, that was pretty small potatoes.

        2. He did indeed fucking nail it. Affleck and Gadot were the only things about that movie I liked without qualifications.

          1. I thought Jeremy Irons did very well. the Lex actor I’m still on the fence about, if they keep him scrawny and whining it’ll bother me. Otherwise, they really need to get away from the constant depression. I realize it’s a big part of DC, the dark do gooders. Where Marvel is the happy serial killers. DC is far too black and white. I don’t know how they’re going to fix it, but I hope they try to.

    4. Bold strategy.

      DC would win my full, unflinching support if they made a Question movie and it ended up being good. Otherwise, I’ll remain skeptical given their track record.

      1. Better be the Ditko Question, not that…..thing….O’Neill and Cowan perpetrated. They would have been good stories, if told under another name. They weren’t The Question.

        1. If you are going to insist on a Ditko version, why not go all the way and insist on Mr. A? Ditko’s Question is fun, don’t get me wrong, as a comic book. But he has no personality to speak of. In fact the last Ditko creation I can think of that was a character instead of a poemic was The Creeper.

          1. Poemic? What the “l?” 🙂

            DC owns The Question, and has used him in its animated versions, such as JLU. Again, not strictly Ditko, but there were some Randian nods. Ditko owns Mr A, and I suppose if he optioned that for a film he would get a nice payday. I don’t see him doing that withou keeping creative control, which is a likely dealbreaker. Rorschach in Watchmen is a Question/Mr A pastiche.

            1. And, truth be told, not a very accurate one.

    5. Curious as to your thoughts on Suicide Squad… I didn’t really care for Man of Steel, but I’ve also never been a big fan of the invulnerable boy scout, and didn’t see Batman Vs. Superman (although I’ve heard the extended edition cleans up a lot of the complaints about the cinematic release).

    6. Like you don’t have Thor 2 on a continuous loop at home. Sure.

      1. Thor has the same issues as Supe, he’s a godlike boy scout. It’s pretty boring after you get past the ‘strangeland’ gags. It sucks that they haven’t taken advantage of his galactic empire. It seems it’d be a lot mroe interesting than what they’ve been doing.

        Civil war was terrible. can we please never do that again. What a waste of talent, time, opportunity and money. That movie could/should’ve been SO much better.

  9. I thought this was a movie about a guy that got laid a lot.

    1. Dr. Strange Tamer, in theaters next summer.

  10. I used to think I hated Comic Book movies because I hated Comic Books. I’m beginning to think that I just hate fiction in general. Strange…

    1. Well, for comic books I would recommend moving away from Superheros. Against fiction in general? Read the Art of Computer Programming by Donald Knuth.

  11. Steve Ditko, Dr Strange’s creator and artist on the early stories, was a huge Objectivist, if’n you don’t know. After he quit Marvel, where he was the heart and soul of The Amazing Spider-Man, he tended to shy away from mystical heroes. OK, Shade, The Changing Man, a short-lived 1970s series he did for DC was weird, but it was based on “extra-dimensional” scientifictional beings, not magic. {Same, same, per Clarke’s 3rd law, I suppose.} His Mr A. in witzend and his later, self-published comics were a Randian trip. The Question, for low-rent (and low-paying) Charlton Comics was Mr. A dialed down for the mass market. Mysterious Suspense #1 was a heck of a story, though.

    Steve’s still out there. Too bad Marvel didn’t have him do a cameo, but they may not be on good enough terms for that. Ditko always liked the work to speak for itself, and famously avoide having his image published, even in caricature. Oh, and the Ancient One? He’s a dude.

    Here’s a Reason Review of Blake Bell’s Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko from the Feb, 2009 issue.

    1. Additional: To think when i was about 8 years old, I thought Ditko’s work too odd, and avoided it! Being mostly a DC fan, I had to train my palate to appreciate Kirby and Ditko. I was stuck on Swan/Klein/Anderson formalism, but I loved the stylization of Infantino and Kane. I caught up, later, and became a Ditko Devotee.

    2. …so we know without reading the article that the contributor is fondling himself while he’s writing the review.

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  15. Where’s Eggs Benedict Cumberbund when you need him?

  16. “Kaecilius, a former acolyte of The Ancient One, has gone over to the dark side, and now seeks to create “a world beyond time, beyond death.” Although this actually sounds kind of cool, …”

    It’s getting harder and harder to cast people who don’t want people to die as the great villains. Turns out, most people don’t want to be dead.

    1. It’s getting harder and harder to cast people who don’t want people to die as the great villains. Turns out, most people don’t want to be dead.

      That much I can dig. I keep hoping for someone to create the first Transhumanist superhero.

      People who worship the unchanging now and try to bring about stasis, though, usually wind up spouting off about climate change.

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  18. a celebrated New York politician who worships at the altar of her own genius.

    Hillary Clinton?

    1. HRC is a New Yorker like I’m a Martian.

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