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Friday, February 17, 2017

REVIEW: Justice League vs. Teen Titans


          The Teen Titans have been a long-standing staple in the annals of DC Comics mythology.  The summer of 1980 saw creators Marv Wolfman and George Perez relaunch the team with the “New Teen Titans” which brought back fan-favorite characters Robin/Dick Grayson, Wally West/Kid Flash, Donna Troy/Wonder Girl, Garfield Logan/Beast Boy and introduced new characters Victor Stone/Cyborg, Kori’andor/Starfire, and Raven.  This re-invention of the Teen Titans ushered in a new era of comics and created one of the most beloved on-going series at the time as Wolfman and Perez injected a sense of drama and growing pains into young characters trying desperately to find their identity outside of standing in the shadows of the Justice League.

            While the characters of the Teen Titans have found great success in mass media through the 2003 Teen Titans animated series, which drew a lot of inspiration for the characters and storylines from Wolfman and Perez’s run, and in 2010’s Young Justice animated series, Justice League vs Teen Titans is the first full-length animated feature to explore these characters in such a way.  So, how good was this adaptation?  Well, considering it took the #5 spot on my Top 10 Comic Book Movies of 2016, I think that’s a good indication.

            In this review, I will break the film down into seven categories:  Story, Casting, Character Design, Animation, Score, Editing, and Action.  I have replaced the two categories of Costumes and Cinematography from my previous reviews with Character Design and Animation as I feel that these are more applicable to the animated features, but explore the same qualities of Costumes and Cinematography.  As always, everything presented in this review are my own thoughts and insights.  My goal here is not to change anyone’s mind or to say that I’m right and others are wrong.  With that, I hope no one takes offense to anything said here and gets a chance to maybe gain some insight into this film.  Without further adieu…. TITANS, GO!

STORY:  Since 2007, DC Universe Animated Original Movies has released 27 animated features.  Some have been amazing (Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Assault on Arkham) and some have been not so great (Superman: Doomsday, Justice League: Throne of Atlantis).  Fortunately, their track record has been more on the side of great than on poor and Justice League vs Teen Titans joins the greats.

            One of the things that has always made the Teen Titans a fascinating group to read about in the comics is that most of them have constantly walked in the shadows of their Justice League mentors, constantly fighting to achieve their own identities as heroes away from them.  Watching these teenaged heroes come together to support each other and help one another grow and this movie captures that beautifully.  Written by comic and television scribe Bryan Q. Miller, this story is a fantastic amalgam of the classic Raven introduction story told by Marv Wolfman and George Perez in the 1980’s with an updated roster of heroes that currently exist in the DC Universe such as Damian Wayne as Robin.

            The heart of the story rests in the two characters of Raven and Robin (Damian Wayne) as they each struggle with the darkness of their origins as they are both children of demons.  While Damian’s demonic lineage is more metaphoric as he is the grandson of Ra’s al Ghul, Raven’s origin as the daughter of the demon Trigon is quite literal and also causes the central conflict of the story.  As Trigon seeks to break the dimensional barrier and take over the Earth, Raven struggles with the knowledge that she is his doorway to achieving these nefarious goals.  While Raven and Damian share their struggles of escaping their evil fates and represent the darker elements of the film, the supporting characters of Starfire, Beast Boy, Blue Beetle, and Cyborg represent the more hopeful and cheerful side of heroism while also showcasing the positive and supportive environment that the Titans team offers each of these young heroes.

            Obviously, with a title like “Justice League vs Teen Titans”, it’s assumed that we’re going to see some epic fights between these two teams, right?  Right.  But often times, these kinds of conflicts feel forced where it’s played more as a novelty just to get more people willing to watch.  Here in lies one of the greatest elements of the movie: the reasoning and motivations behind the Justice League members fighting the Teen Titans is caused by demonic possession brought on by the arrival of Trigon.  What makes this so compelling is that while all of these young heroes struggle with the insecurities and fears of never being able to live up to the legends of the Justice League, it’s this team of Titans that are able to not only avoid being possessed, but are also able to hold their own against the League and take a stand against Trigon.  Where the League failed, the Teen Titans were able to step up and take control of the situation.  That makes for not only an inspiring story, but also an entertaining one.  Where the Justice League functions like a professional MLB team, the Teen Titans are a team in the minors.  What this does is create a sense of angst and doubt that they will succeed.

            I’m going to give Story 5/5.  While the main plot of Trigon looking to invade and take over the Earth is extremely compelling and captivating, the heart of this story lies in the characters and the private moments that they share.  In the scenes where the Titans are talking amongst themselves or at a carnival acting like adolescents, that is where we are able to identify with these characters and truly care about them and become invested in their success which I feel is always the most important in superhero stories.  I was also very impressed with how they blended the classic elements from the original New Teen Titans comics of the 1980’s with the modern look and feel of the New 52 comics without feeling forced or out of place.  It shows why the stories Wolfman and Perez created will remain constant classics that will stand the test of time.

CASTING:  DC Comics animation has an outstanding legacy of voice talent for their animated features and tv series.  Many viewers are most familiar with the Teen Titans animated series from 2003, so there were of course going to be those loyal fans who associate the voices of characters from that 2003 series with the characters being portrayed.  However, the new cast assembled for this animated feature live up to the high standards set by that show and create something that both new and old fans of the Teen Titans can enjoy.

            Returning voice talent includes Jason O’Mara as Batman, Jerry O’Connell as Superman, Rosario Dawson as Wonder Woman, Christopher Gorham as The Flash, Shemar Moore as Cyborg, Sean Maher as Nightwing, and Stuart Allen as Robin.  New additions to the DC Animated Universe includes Jon Bernthal as Trigon, Taissa Farmiga as Raven, Jake T. Austin as Blue Beetle, Brandon Soo Hoo as Beast Boy, and Kari Wahlgren as Starfire.  Each actor brings their own unique tone to their character and as many of these actors have voiced their characters before, we can start to hear that they are becoming more comfortable in their roles. 

            I’m going to give Casting 4/5 Stars.  While I think everyone cast does a great job in their roles, there’s a part of me that really feels that the movie and performances would have been stronger had they re-cast the former actors from the 2003 Teen Titans animated series.  While this current ensemble of actors captures the youth and sense of hope that this young team of heroes needs to embody, I can’t help but feel that the former actors would have really helped this feature to come alive even further.  The biggest benefit for this film is starting to recognize the voices of the Justice League members as those characters now that we’ve been exposed to them in those roles for a while now.

CHARACTER DESIGN:  DC animation has always delivered character designs loyal to the source material.  However, one of the aspects of animation that can create a divisive opinion is of the animation.  For example, while I love the storyline of Superman vs The Elite that was adapted in the animated film, I strongly dislike the chosen character designs.  They looked a bit too cartoony for my taste and took away from the serious nature of the storyline.

            Fan-favorite character designer Phil Bourassa has been the lead character designer on DC animated projects for some time now, most popularly with Young Justice, Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox, and the CW Vixen series.  Bourassa has a fantastic talent of incorporating all of the classic and important elements of the costumes and designs from the comics, but implementing them into his own style that lends a realism to the costume constructions.  He does this especially well with young characters as his style leans more towards slender, lean figures.  Again, this is perfectly evidenced in his previous work on the Young Justice series and you can see where he incorporated some of his past designs from that series into this feature.

            Some of the better designs in this film are with the characters Robin, Starfire, Blue Beetle, and Cyborg.  These characters not only retain their iconic comic book look, but their costumes also have a bit more detail and texture than other characters within the feature do, namely the armored characters like Blue Beetle and Cyborg.  I was most impressed with how they were able to incorporate the look, color, and aesthetic of the 1980’s comics with a modern touch glazed over it.

I’m going to give Character Design 5/5 Stars.  The great thing with Phil Bourassa’s work is that he knows the iconic elements of the character costumes that he has to keep that make these characters identifiable, but he also recognizes where he can make additions and improvements to put his unique signature on their design.  He also recognizes what will look good in animation vs what looks good in comics.  With animation, if you try to incorporate too much detail, it does not animate well from frame to frame, so these character designs work flawlessly in this feature. 

SCORE:  Since 1992, DC Animation has had a long-standing record of success in their animated features when they started producing content.  Shirley Walker set the standard with her scores for Batman The Animated Series and Superman The Animated Series.  As the DC Universe Animated Original Movies were introduced, the scores have all been consistently good.  Obviously some works have been better than others, such as the scores by Christopher Drake for Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Frederick Wiedmann’s score for Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox.  Wiedmann returns for Justice League vs Teen Titans and I think that his does a decent job.

            With this particular score, Wiedmann achieves a great sense of suspense, action, and emotion that befits the story elements shown in this feature.  His strongest works are shown during the action sequences during the fights between the Titans and the League and again during the Titans’ battle with Trigon.  The sound gives a great sense of suspense and danger, but also creates a feeling of youth and fun, which is important in working to separate this team-up feature apart from the other Justice League animated features since these are more youthful characters having fun doing what they’re doing.  This is what this particular score should do because the central characters of this story are the Teen Titans and there should be a different sound to one of their battles than say during one of the Justice League’s battles.

            The problem that I have with this score is that it does feel very generic at times.  There are several moments that don’t have the charge and identity of the music used during the 2003 Teen Titans animated series.  I realize that I have been making a lot of mention of the 2003 series, but I feel as though that sets a great example in certain areas for what this feature should be trying to achieve.

I’m going to give the Score 3/5 Stars.  This isn’t a bad score by any stretch of the imagination, but it does feel somewhat repetitive of past works Wiedmann has done on Flashpoint Paradox and Throne of Atlantis.  Yes, each track captures the mood and intensity required of it in each scene, but it just lacks a unique identity to set this film distinctly apart from other DC Universe Animated Original movies.

EDITING:  If you’ve read any of my past reviews, then I’m sure you’re aware of the weight and importance I put on editing.  For me, this is an area where movies are made or broken.  While I feel in some sense animation gets a bit of an unfair advantage in that everything is meticulously storyboarded and assembled before the animation process, I think it can also be even more difficult than a live-action feature due in large part to the fact that the filmmakers have 75 minutes to tell a good story that develops their characters, but also balances between action and drama to keep their audience entertained.

            With the Justice League movies, fans have come to expect bigger action and spectacle than in the solo movie films.  And they certainly should expect that.  This is something that I feel Justice League vs Teen Titans does extremely well because the film deals with two teams-worth of characters and has to address all of them during the action sequences, but never once do you feel lost.  The feature intercuts across massive landscapes to show audiences what each character is doing at the same moment.  So, you’ll see Beast Boy and Blue Beetle battling demons together, then move to see Raven and Robin combating their families and inner demons, then you jump over to see Superman, Flash, and Wonder Woman battling Trigon’s sons and never once do you feel like the movie is over-stuffed with too many characters to follow.  Tracking this many characters is a truly hard task, regardless of whether you’re doing it in animation or live-action.

            I’m going to give Editing 4/5 Stars. Arguably the most impressive aspect with these animated features is their ability to tell a well-developed story with character development, while at the same time, keeping the pace of the film moving and not lingering on scenes for too long or jumping away from scenes too quickly.  There have been past features with DC that have been guilty of both, but Justice League vs Teen Titans moves at a great pace, gives each character the necessary amount of screen time, and captures the perfect balance between action and drama.

ACTION:  With a title like “Justice League vs Teen Titans”, this film had a lot of fan expectation riding on it to deliver heavy action sequences and great fights, and the feature does not disappoint.  Sam Liu returns to masterfully direct this movie, with his previous credits including Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, episodes of Justice League the Animated Series, Young Justice, and Green Lantern: The Animated Series.  Liu’s experience with these characters and the limited time frame of a direct-to-video feature, he delivers one of the best movies in the DC Animated Universe and a large part of this is due to his use of action.

            Past DC Universe Animated Original Movies have used directors that craft complex fight sequences, most notably Jay Oliva who has directed Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox, and Batman: Bad Blood.  While it is always very impressive to see these well-choreographed fight sequences that could stand on par with a live-action movie, Sam Liu utilizes a different approach which is more representative of comic book panels.  In comics, because you’re looking at a still image, you could not interpret an overly complex fight sequence that uses 4 different forms of martial arts.  You instead see iconic poses of punches, kicks, and tackles and this is what Sam Liu’s style takes inspiration from.  Yes, the action sequences are still very busy and well developed, but they’re not as drawn out and what this does is keep the camera moving and interweaving between characters and it keeps the story progressing.

            The two strongest action sequences of the film are in the middle when the Teen Titans fight the members of the Justice League and the climax when you see the League and the Titans teamed up fighting Trigon and his forces, creating a perfect balancing act between the seriousness of the threat they’re facing while exchanging jokes and one liners to create a sense of fun and levity.  The action is clean, concise, and used as a device to show the spectacle and fun of watching all of these heroes working together.  By keeping the action more simplistic and direct, it’s easier for audiences to transition from Superman fighting a possessed Flash, to Robin Starfire, Cyborg, and Blue Beetle fighting demon creatures in Trigon’s realm, to then fire back to Superman now having to fight a possessed Wonder Woman. 
            I’m going to give the Action 5/5 Stars.  Not overly choreographed or complex, the action of this feature really captures the epic scale necessary for these powerful characters, but also creates a fun spectacle that keeps the audience absorbed in what they’re seeing on screen.  The characters aren’t looking to have a 5 minute long hand-to-hand fight using 5 different types of martial arts.  Instead, they’re using their strength, powers, and team work to inflict the damage they need to in order to end the conflict as quickly as possible.  It really is representative of how action is depicted in comics.

STORY:  5/5
SCORE: 3/5

FINAL THOUGHTS:  As DC Animation is pumping out more and more of these animated features, the quality has fluctuated from film to film.  While some are very strong, others have felt very weak and rushed.  Justice League vs Teen Titans, for me, is easily one of the Top 5 best produced DC animated films that I would stand up next to the likes of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and even Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.  Yes, those two films are completely different in tone than Justice League vs Teen Titans, but the reason I would hold this feature up next to those is because of the loyalty to the source material and the proper representation of these characters.  It honestly feels like a true adaptation of the best era of Teen Titans comics.  It incorporates the epic action and scale that general audiences crave to see with these animated features while committing to loyal interpretations and personifications of the classic Titans characters that long-time fans have always loved.  What has always made the Teen Titans such a fun and accessible group are the personalities of the characters, the youth they convey, and the growth we get to see them go through.  While the Justice League is always a great team to see, they aren’t as relatable as the Titans, in my opinion.  This is a great feature that can be enjoyed by both kids and adults and guarantees a great movie watching experience for both long time comic fans and people who have never read a comic before in their lives.

Written and Edited By, Witt Reese. Co-Edited By, Jack Flowers.

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Sunday, February 12, 2017

REVIEW: Doctor Strange (2016)


         Since the inception of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008 with “Iron Man”, we’ve seen the origins of some of the most iconic characters in their arsenal.  Marvel Studios has displayed the diversity of their characters with the technological futurism of Iron Man, the ancient Norse mythology of Thor, the more grounded Super Soldier of Captain America, going as large as the cosmic-level characters found in Guardians of the Galaxy and going as small as the Macroverse in Ant-Man.  The next pool the Marvel Cinematic Universe has jumped into is magic with Doctor Strange, but how does the Sorcerer Supreme hold up next to these other Avengers in his first solo outing on the big screen?

            In this review, I will explore the same 7 categories previously used in my other reviews.  For those of you don’t know or don’t remember:  Doctor Strange made the #4 spot on my Top 10 Comic Book Movies of 2016.  By exploring the Story, Casting, Costumes, Cinematography, Score, Editing, and Action of the film, I will explain where I feel the movie succeeded, where it lacked, and why it made the #4 spot.  As always, this is NOT an attempt for me to get people to agree with my opinion.  I’m not saying I’m right or that others are stupid for not agreeing with me.  If this movie was #1 on your list, that’s completely fine.  I just hope that my opinions and exploration of the film will help create some insight and maybe shed a light on aspects of the film that readers hadn’t really thought about.

            So, without further adieu, let’s get this party started…

STORY:  In my opinion, making an origin story movie has to be one of the hardest types of movies to make.  If you give too much information, you risk boring the long-time fans who already know this character through and through.  If you don’t give enough information, it leaves audiences who don’t know the character baffled as to what they’re seeing.  Doctor Strange happens to fall into the category of C-List heroes in the sense that he was not a well-known character by the public before this film debuted.  In this regard, writer/director Scott Derrickson and Jon Spaihts had their work cut out for them.  With so many origin stories having been told, how do they make this one fresh and unique?

            In many ways, “Doctor Strange” has a very similar feel to movies like Batman Begins, Iron Man, and Spider-Man.  The story provides the audience with who Stephen Strange is as a world renowned surgeon before he is caught in a terrible car accident that results in him losing complete mobility in his hands.  This inspires him to travel the world to look for anything and everything that will allow him to reclaim the aspect of his life that he feels defines him, and it’s in doing this that he finds his new purpose as a Sorcerer Supreme.  From a character standpoint, I feel that the story is very strong:  We see Stephen Strange as an unlikable snob, but the charm of the movie and his character is found for the audience as he goes on his journey and discovers more humility that grounds him and makes him much more likable.  Doctor Strange is definitely one of the most likable characters within the MCU.

            There are, however, some weak points to the story that I have to point out.  Unfortunately, in such a bloated genre, storylines and plot elements are going to start to overlap and feel clichéd.  “Doctor Strange” suffers from this in regards to the driving narrative and rising action.  In any story there are two types of villains:  polar opposite and dark mirror.  The central antagonist to the film is Kaecilius who represents a dark mirror antagonist in that he represents what Stephen Strange could become if he abuses his power for his own selfish needs.  While the character of Kaecilius is very well portrayed, the story feels very clichéd and predictable.  There were very few instances where I found myself surprised or shocked at what was unraveling.  The story as has a somewhat lackluster ending in that they set up a sequel that feels as though it will share the same plot of this movie only with Mordo.

I have to give the Story 3/5 Stars.   I appreciate that they are staying very loyal to the comic book source material and nailed Doctor Strange’s origins perfectly, but this movie’s story did not do anything new or unique that left me saying this was one of the best Marvel movies ever made.  Does it make the movie bad?  No, it’s a very enjoyable, fun story.  But it just feels bland and clichéd through several parts of the movie.

CASTING:  As I’ve said in some of my past reviews, the casting in comic book films today is very high-quality.  Many Oscar and Emmy award winning actors and actresses jump at the chance to be in these movies now as the exposure and potential for a franchise is highly sought after.  And Marvel Studios/Disney has yet to poorly cast any of their films, and Doctor Strange is no exception.

            Leading the pack is Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange/Doctor Strange.  Going into this film, the only thing I was familiar with him in was Star Trek: Into Darkness.  I’ve never been one for Doctor Who or Sherlock, so my exposure to him was fairly limited, which I actually think was a strength for me because I was really able to see him as Stephen Strange, not as Benedict Cumberbatch.  Benedict does a fantastic job of not only capturing the physical appearance of Stephen Strange, but he also captures the different facets of his personality.  He comes off as that snobby, egotistical jerk in Strange’s early life, he captures the vulnerable post-accident Stephen Strange, and then he captures that renewed, heroic version of Stephen Strange.  I think he also really tackled the physical language of Doctor Strange in giving his movements that very fluid look and feel, and even captures some of the most iconic poses from the comics.  Cumberbatch also achieves that level of humor and wit that both comic and movie fans find so endearing with the character and with Marvel movies in general.

            Mads Mikkelsen does a great job in bringing his character of Kaecilius to life.  As I mentioned during the Story portion of the review, Kaecilius represents the “dark mirror” of Doctor Strange in his aspirations to break the barriers between the magical realm and the real world by showing what Stephen Strange COULD become should he ever become corrupted by his power and selfish desires.  While many may find this to be cliché and not as captivating, I cannot discount Mikkelsen’s performance.  He has a formidable presence and offers some great interactions with Doctor Strange.  I think his performance is good and also provided a substantial threat while at the same time not overpowering the movie to the point where the audience is more focused on the threat instead of being invested in the character of Stephen Strange.

            Rounding out the cast is Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo, Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer, Benedict Wong as Wong, and Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One.  Each of these names are A-list actors in Hollywood right now who we’ve seen in very serious dramas that have been award worthy.  What’s fun is to see them all have fun in the world of the Marvel movies.  Each of them has great chemistry with Benedict Cumberbatch and fills out Doctor Strange’s world.  As many fans have come to love, the interaction and dry sarcastic humor between characters is what adds such a level of charm and likability to their characters, and this film is no exception.  While I cannot fault anyone’s performance, I do feel that some of the comedic beats were a bit too frequent, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t experience a few chuckles.  Everyone was clearly having fun which is obviously very good.  I would have liked to have seen a bit more chemistry between Cumberbatch and McAdams, but perhaps they will be able to elaborate on that in future installments.  However, I don’t think that movies should have to employ the “wait until the sequel” technique just to sell another movie.  My biggest gripe is actually with how they set up the character of Mordo to be the villain in the next film.  I understand wanting to set up for your sequel, but there are several moments in this film where it just feels like they’re more focused on the next movie instead of the one they’re currently making.

I’m going to give Casting 4/5 Stars.  Everyone is very well cast and fulfills their roles, but I would have liked to see just a little more chemistry between some of these characters.  I think as they get further down the line in future installments, that chemistry will come naturally, but I just would’ve liked to have seen it in this one.

COSTUMES:  2016 has been an amazing year for comic book movie costumes.  I have yet to see a movie in recent years where I’ve absolutely hated the costumes.  With Doctor Strange, most of the costumes are seen in the magic-based characters such as Doctor Strange, Mordo, Wong, Kaecilius, and The Ancient One.  The thing that I found most appealing was that they maintained the aesthetic and look of the comics, but infused a middle eastern reality to them.  They sort of remind me of the costumes worn during the League of Shadows scenes in Batman Begins.

            Doctor Strange’s costume is fairly simplistic and adheres to the source material very loyally.  With the iconic cape, amulet, color scheme, and goatee, Benedict Cumberbatch embodies the character to the letter.  I like that the characters of Doctor Strange have a more unique look apart from the other characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  One of my core issues with the MCU costumes up to this point is that they all have a very similar look to the point where you wonder if they all go to the same tailor (I know they hire the same costume designer for each movie, but still).  With these costumes, the characters have a unique look to the rest of the universe and really help the film stand out within these expansive franchise

I’m going to give the Costumes 5/5 Stars.  The costumes utilized a very unique design that was not only faithful to the original source material, but they differentiate from the “Marvel look” that has been established in past Marvel movies which have always been very based in reality and have a much more militaristic look to them.  The costume design of this film breaks away from that and shows that while Doctor Strange exists in this same universe with these other heroes, he is noticeably unique from anything we’ve seen previously and he operates in a different capacity than heroes like Captain America or Iron Man could inhabit.

CINEMATOGRAPHY:  If you have been reading my reviews, then you’re probably aware that I have not been very impressed the cinematography of Marvel lately.  Many of their films of late have been very flat and gray looking.  Doctor Strange falls victim to this at times, as well, but also breaks from it at certain points throughout the film.  I think this may have been intentional to show the aesthetic difference between our dimension and the magical dimension.  When magical elements or environments are used, there is a bit more use of color that helps the images pop off the screen and give us that very graphic novel look. 

            The movie is chock full of stand-out visual pieces that are very eye catching, but those moments are eye catching due to the impressive and unique special effects.  With the film earning an Oscar nomination for its special effects, there’s no question that the film succeeds on that front, however, the issue that I have is that I wish they’d used a bit more color.  And I don’t want it to sound as though I have a bias against Marvel, but this is a problem that I have with many modern blockbusters of today since many of them are shot on digital. 

            One of the big saving graces for this film was the special effects.  Because many sequences in the film required full CGI environments and utilized smaller special effects such as the illumination of magical incantations, weapons, and other uses, the light used for those effects and the ability to manipulate those images created some very interesting visuals that popped off the screen.  I would certainly say that Doctor Strange was best experienced in IMAX 3D for precisely that reason.  While I was very blown away by the effects used in the film, I would say that there are also times where they become a little bit too dependent on them.  Unfortunately, that is the nature of the beast when dealing with characters such as these.  We as a cinema culture have grown and matured past being wowed purely by special effects and have become more demanding in the look, dialogue, and story of a film. 

I’m going to give the Cinematography 3/5 Stars.  It is certainly an improvement over what we saw in Captain America: Civil War previously, but still, leaves something to be desired.  The cinematographer, Ben Davis, was also the cinematographer on Avengers: Age of Ultron & Guardians of the Galaxy.  I can appreciate Marvel/Disney’s desire to create a sense of continuity and franchise by having their films all retain a certain look, but I feel that that is a poor decision because then you’re characters lack a unique identity and then each of your films feel more like the next episode of a tv series instead of looking like a cinematic adventure worthy of being really hyped for.  If you’re constantly getting chocolate ice cream, eventually it’s going to start feeling very vanilla.

SCORE:  Michael Giacchino joins the Marvel Universe to score Doctor Strange.  His previous credits include The Incredibles, Sky High, Mission Impossible III, Lost, Star Trek: Into Darkness, Jurassic World, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and Star Wars: Rogue One.  I think that Giacchino does a good job in capturing that “mystical journey” element needed for Doctor Strange.  He doesn’t do the overly obvious by trying to copy past films that deal in the same genre like Harry Potter, but instead finds a sound that taps into both the discovery that Stephen Strange and the audience will be going on, while also being able to ramp it up for the action beats.

            I think what gives Giacchino the edge here for this film and any future films (he’s confirmed to score Spider-Man Homecoming) is that his career is very diverse.  He hasn’t been confined to simply sci-fi or action epics or animation or drama.  He’s touched into all these realms, so he has experience finding those particular sounds that are important to the story and not necessarily to the genre.  Giacchino employs a full orchestra and pulls heavily from the strings and trumpets to give a unique sound to Doctor Strange that makes it easily identifiable from any previous Marvel movies.

I’m going to give the Score 3/5 Stars.  While I think many of the tracks are very well suited to the character and play very well in the film, I do not see it as a score that I personally need to own and listen to by itself.  Again, it’s not a bad score, but it didn’t do anything special for me in the way of me walking out of the theater humming any of its tracks or catching myself singing them to myself in the shower weeks later.

EDITING:  Once again, Marvel/Disney have demonstrated they are the masters of pacing.  This is something the WB/DC very much needs to work on in their films.  While there were a few moments in the film that I feel dragged on a little bit longer than they needed to, I still feel that the movie moves at a very comfortable pace.

            I was further impressed with the film’s editing during the action sequences due to the reality-bending nature of the special effects.  It would have been very easy to make audiences feel extremely disoriented (in a bad way) during moments of this film with how the movie chooses to portray the movement between realities/dimensions.  Because the laws of physics are suspended in this film, things are meant to get very topsy-turvy, but had the editing not been as sharp as it was, audiences would’ve felt lost and disoriented to the point of getting frustrated trying to understand what it was they were looking at.

            Some of the scenes that I felt went on a little bit longer than they needed to were some of the more emotional scenes.  Now, I get that with these kinds of movies, the director’s job is to make you care about the protagonist and you do that by spending time with him in emotionally vulnerable moments.  But I really feel like there were some bits that played just a little bit too long, whether it was Stephen’s moments with Christine or even his moments with himself drowning in self-pity.  I’m not saying they scenes aren’t well acted or make us not identify with the character or root for him, but I just feel like some of these bits could have been lessened or edited out completely.

I’m going to give Editing 4/5 Stars.  Aside from a couple of slow scenes that made me lose my interest for bits of the movie, overall I think the editing was extremely strong.  As I said before, Marvel has proven time and again that they know how to edit their films to have a great pacing and contributes to help making their stories great stories. 

ACTION:  This was something that I was struggling with in my mind after I saw the movie.  This was a movie where, when I read the comics as a kid, I loved seeing these fantastical panels from Doctor Strange comics fighting epic battles in other dimensions against massive monsters.  And part of me loves that in this film, but then there are parts of my adult self that would have liked to see a little less of it.  I think a big reason why I say that is because all of us as movie goers have educated and trained our eyes to spot special effects and something in our brains clicks saying, “That’s not real.” 

            Now, I’m not stupid.  I completely understand that anything Doctor Strange does is going to end up being a visual effect.  I think what I would say is that the action in this film is extremely entertaining.  Especially if you’re watching it in 3D.  I think I would have preferred if the physicality had been less exaggerated, such as the jumping and punching.  Again, I get that these characters are magically based, but they’re also humans.  So while the film does accurately reflect what we’ve seen in the comics, it feels a bit weird at times to see things get a bit overexaggerated.

            With all of that said, I do very much enjoy the action in this film.  It’s very entertaining and catches your eye with breathtaking visuals.  I can say that this film has action sequences in it that we haven’t seen the likes of since The Matrix Trilogy and will certainly leave an impression in your mind.

I’m going to give the Action 3/5 Stars.  Very entertaining and helps bring the iconic comic book character to life, but felt like it was lacking some of the gravitas that I was familiar with from the books.  Definitely worthy of the Marvel franchise and makes me excited to see what Doctor Strange will bring to the table in Avengers: Infinity War. 



            Doctor Strange does what I think any new entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe needs to do:  It introduces a new character, properly explaining their origins, flexing how they are different from characters previously introduced into the franchise, and create a compelling enough story to get us invested in the character succeeding in the third act of the film.  I would not say that Doctor is a fantastic film, but I also wouldn’t say that it isn’t a boring film.  I think that this film shows that Marvel has further perfected their ability in introducing new characters, as we saw last year with Ant-Man.

            While I was extremely entertained and very impressed with this latest installment, and I’m very much aware that my underwhelmed response to this film could be due in part to the fact that I’m not a large fan of Doctor Strange or magic in general, I feel that the problem for both Marvel and any comic book movie franchise going forward is the serialized nature to these films.  Instead of feeling like a large, grandiose blockbuster movie event, this film instead felt like the next episode in an on-going television series.  Again, I don’t mean to sound as though I am demeaning the efforts of the cast and crew involved or the quality of the film, but I just didn’t feel the same level of impact that I felt when I saw Captain America: The First Avenger or Thor.  I walked out feeling very much the same way I did after seeing Ant-Man which was that it was fun and enjoyable, but that I was more interested now to see what comes next as opposed to seeing this as a movie that would be cemented in my mind and I will be rewatching countless times in the future like Superman: The Movie or Iron Man.  I think this will be a movie that I will rewatch when it’s released on blu ray and perhaps whenever I choose to do a Marvel movie marathon.  Again, it’s NOT a bad movie.  It just didn’t do anything extremely new or exciting that struck me personally as one of the best comic book movies ever made.  If others did feel that the movie was one of the best they’ve seen, then I hold absolutely nothing against them and I’m glad that they were able to find far more enjoyment through the picture than I did.

Written and Edited by: Witt Reese. Co-Edited by: Jack Flowers. Published by: The Nerd Hub

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