Sunday, March 5, 2017

Movie #393: Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange is a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Eijofor (I SPELLED THAT RIGHT ON THE FIRST TRY), Rachel McAdams (that too, but that's less impressive), Tilda Swinton, and Mads Mikkelsen.

Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) is the world's greatest neurosurgeon, but he's an arrogant douchebag and much more interested in breaking new ground (which is fine) and notoriety (less fine) than actually saving lives. His partner and former lover Christine Palmer (McAdams) serves as the foil, here, trying to remind him that what he does has consequences to people, but like, whatever, I've got a thousand watches. Then he gets in a car wreck that mangles his hands, and spends all his money trying to fix them. Eventually he winds up in Nepal and meets Mordo (Eijofor) and the Ancient One (Swinton), learns the mystic arts, and gets drafted into a war to protect humanity from extradimensional threats. Case in point: A former disciple name Kaecilius (Mikkelsen) is trying to bring the Dark Dimension to Earth, which is bad.

Let's get the bad shit out of the way first. Right out of the gate, it's basically the same plot as Iron Man. The particulars are different, but the throughline is pretty similar: arrogant, rich, amazingly talented douchebag is injured and winds up with superpowers as a consequence of trying to correct that. Sure, Tony finds his "mission" pretty early on, while a major theme of Strange's journey is learning humility, but that actually brings me to the second thing that bugs me.

There's a lot of missed potential in this movie. Like, Mordo came to Kamar Taj because he wanted the power to "destroy his enemies." We get the sense that he did that, that he maybe regrets some of what he did, but we never learn particulars. Likewise, Kaecilius "lost everyone he loved," but we don't learn a thing about him and he's just a cartoony villain, so his quest to bring immortality to the world, even in a misguided way, which should feel a little agonizing (because fuck me, is there anyone who can't relate to the feeling that "time is the enemy"?), just kinda feels like generic monologing.

The greatest example of that, though, is when Strange kills an enemy wizard and then insists to Mordo and the Ancient One that he's a doctor, and that means he took an oath to save lives, not take them. And that should have been really poignant, but then the moment kind of passed because of Mordo and Ancient One bitching at him about how it's not really about the oath, but about covering his own ass.

The other missed opportunity, of course, was the Ancient One. Look, I like Tilda Swinton as much as the next movie buff, but what exactly was the thinking here? You want to reclaim the character from the Orientalism, OK, cast an Asian actor and write it well. You want to gender-flip it, cool, cast Michelle Yeoh. You want to make it a non-Asian character, OK, if you must, but then why does the mystical place need to be in Nepal? If she's Celtic, put her base of operations in Ireland or something and remove the "Far East Exoticism". (I'm being kinda flip here, because I know that the real reason for not wanting to make the character Tibetan was to appease China, but there's still so much they could have done.)

And the other thing: Why is all the fighting punching? Where's the reality-bending magic? Kaecilius does some of it, but Strange's go-to is summon a flexible weapon, which was cool the first time, but got a little repetitive (and yes, I know he's a novice, but that's unsatisfying).

So generally, despite all of that, I like this movie. I like Cumberbatch as Strange (would've preferred Oded Fehr, but hey), I really like Eijofor as Mordo and I love his setup as a future villain. But frankly, the most satisfying moment of the movie was the post-credits scene with Thor. I did like Strange's time-loop gambit, but there was another missed opportunity there: Why not have Strange come out of that even more powerful and knowledgable and nuts than before as a kind of Groundhog Day kind of scenario?

I like the movie, but I like it because of what it sets up more than for what it is.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: The Maltese Falcon