Commentaries

Saturday, November 5, 2016

DOCTOR STRANGE

SFX OUTSHINE CUMBERBATCH

Film Review by Fiore 


I’m fine with superhero movies.  Unlike my colleague and friend Ed Blank, I don’t mind knowing the superhero will always win and never really face a disastrous death.  That said, the current cinema craze for superheroes is bringing many to the big screen who should truly stay on the inked page.  This is the situation with DOCTOR STRANGE.  It is a film totally dependent on its own special effects, wasting the talents of top cast and crew members.  Director Scott Derrickson pilots a venture into mysticism and magic with convoluted visual effects and a mere mundane plot.  With a budget of over $165 million, this film is nothing more than a group orgy by computer geeks.

Dr. Stephen Strange is a brilliant surgeon.  Like most brilliant surgeons, he is arrogant, egotistical and self-centered.  A car accident deprives him of the use of his hands.  Numerous operations fail and in an act of total desperation, he seeks to return to his previous glory through magic and mysticism.  His quest brings him into a totally new world.  Like MEN IN BLACK, he is made aware of alternate universes and the malevolent creatures who abide there, intent on destroying worlds, all occurring under the unwitting eyes of the public.   DOCTOR STRANGE goes from surgeon to a Guardian of Galaxies in the span of a montage.

This template is standard fare in the world of superheroes.  Yet, while watching DOCTOR STRANGE, I had a strange (pardon the word usage) deja-vu experience.  Then it occurred to me this script, penned by Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill is basically the same story in Ryan Reynold’s GREEN LANTERN; a film many comic fanboys despised, but I enjoyed.  I immediately thought of Mr. Big’s son coughing: “Rip-off, rip-off”.  Even the evil presence from the Dark World (no relation to the one Thor visited) bears a striking resemblance to Parallax. 


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:

1.      STRANGE’S BATTLE WITH LUCIAN
2.      THE ASTERAL BODY OPERATING SCENE
3.      THE FOLDING CITY IN THE ROOM OF MIRRORS

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Dr. Stephen Strange. It is not his best performance, with the script partially to blame.  I’ve never seen Cumberbatch in a poor performance, but this may set a new low for him.  He even delivers his lines in a higher registry than normal, and I’m not sure why.  It is distracting. One can easily see he is trying his best in key scenes, but the transition from ego-centered surgeon to alternate universe warrior is haphazard and the script requires him to bounce up and down, much like a child playing with a yo-yo.

Tilda Swinton is the Ancient One, an all-powerful mystic who recruits Strange.  Swinton is a chameleon actress, changing her look into bizarre caricatures with every outing.  Here, she does her best impression of Master Po.  While she attempts to bring gravitas to the endeavor, she is stilted by The Ancient One’s insistence of repeating the same mantras, as if somehow, they will gain more meaning.  Even Master Po knew to say it once, and let Grasshopper comprehend the message.

Much more comfortable in their roles are Benedict Wong, as Wong (really, I couldn’t make that up), Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo and Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecillius. They have embraced the absurdity of this superhero tale and seem to be reveling in its milieu.  To be fair to Cumberbatch, there are two extra scenes during the end credits.  In the first, he seems more comfortable in the role as he has a discussion with Thor (Chris Hemsworth), but arriving at that point is painful.  

Rachel McAdams appears in an extended cameo as Dr. Christine Palmer.  She serves merely as comic relief and a lame romantic side.  And, you can look for stuntman turned martial arts action star Scott Adkins as Lucian in a small but enjoyable segment.

Behind the camera, kudos abound for Production Designer Charles Wood.  Folding realities upon one another is no easy feat, and in 3D IMAX it does look spectacular.  Of course, Director of Photography Ben Davis is complacent in this look.  It is his use of cant camera angles and arc camera movements that allow worlds to collapse on one another.

There is a rousing score from Michael Giacchino that occasionally toys with older pop tunes, like Chuck Mangione’s “Feels So Good”.  And, DOCTOR STRANGE utilizes two editors.  I’m not a fan of this practice.  When you add more than one editor, the film’s visage is generally disjointed.  Wyatt Smith and Sabrina Plisco, in tandem, do not have a clear concept for the story’s timeline.  Often, topics resolved in earlier reels keep surfacing in latter ones.

The folks at MovieGuide, headed by Dr. Ted Baehr, issued a release claiming DOCTOR STRANGE is nothing more than an indoctrination to the occult and Satanism for young people.  I wouldn’t go that far.  Part of the appeal to some themes is the play off traditional religious themes.  This is what made the SyFy Network’s DOMINION and FX Network’s LUCIFER interesting.  They toy with established norms, though solely for entertainment purposes, and not to honor or praise those alternatives.  The alternate universe theory is one prevalent in many superhero tales.  LEGENDS OF TOMORROW, FLASH, ARROW and even STAR TREK have all dealt with the topic without leading anyone to Satanism.

DOCTOR STRANGE is not a bad movie, but like its main character, it suffers from an identity complex. There is not enough seriousness to make it stand with CAPTAIN AMERICA; and not enough comedy to parallel GUARIANS OF THE GALAXY.  With Cumberbatch in the lead, this film should be most noble, but one of the stage’s best actors is beat back for the sake of over the top SFX.  The computer geeks rule this film, and it didn’t have to be so.  There is enough talent here that story and character development would have succeeded far more nicely.



THE GRADE FOR DOCTOR STRANGE = C

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