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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Doctor Strange (2016): A Breakdown & Analysis

           

         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. 

STORY 3/5
CASTING 4/5
COSTUMES 5/5
CINEMATOGRAPHY 3/5
SCORE 3/5
EDITING 4/5
ACTION 3/5

AVERAGE= 3.6/5 STARS



            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.

Top 10 Comic Book Movies Here



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

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