Shea Reviews – Doctor Strange

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Note: This review contains mild spoilers for Doctor Strange.

Seeing Doctor Strange was hands down one of the movie-going going experiences of my life. It wasn’t the movie’s fault, as I actually quite enjoyed Doctor Strange, but the experience confirmed my opinion that the theatre is the absolute worst place to see a movie. My wife and I don’t go see movies all that often, as we’re trying to cut back on expenses. But, we make exceptions for the heavy hitters like Star Wars and Marvel.

We sat in the center of the second row in the upper level of the theatre, which is unarguably the best place to sit. In the row in front of us to the left, there was a couple that decided it would be smart to bring their nine month old baby. Unsurprisingly, the little girl cried every five minutes and they were constantly getting up out of their seats to calm her, often opening the entry door to go out in the hall and casting a bright light into the theatre. In front of us to our right was a group of probably ten young boys, maybe age twelve. Also unsurprisingly, they talked throughout the whole thing and made little comments about whatever was happening on screen. Then there was the family in the lower section of the theatre that were all enjoying their buckets of soda, causing each them to get up out of their seats at fifteen minute intervals to go pee. No joke, I saw one of them exit and re-enter the theatre no less than six times. Besides that being extremely rude and disruptive to the other people in the theatre, how are you able to follow what’s happening in a movie when you keep missing several minutes of it?

All of this added up to me constantly being on edge, waiting for the next disruption instead of enjoying the movie.

But enough “first world problems,” let’s talk about Doctor Strange.

It’s really good! The end.

See, I tricked you. You thought this was going to be a review, but instead it’s just a whiny rant about movie goers and how other people are the absolute worst. Seriously, how can you bring a baby to a movie theatre? A plane, I understand. People need to travel, and it isn’t always convenient or possible to drive or take the bus. But when you have a child, you give up certain experiences for a few years. Things like going out to dinner every weekend or going to the theatre. Not only because the baby disrupts those things for you, but because the baby disrupts them for other people that were not complicit in you having a child and don’t worry I’m done talking about this.

Doctor Strange is one of the more visually striking films I’ve seen in quite some time. It actually reminded me a lot of Interstellar, where there are constantly things on screen that have you thinking “holy crap this looks amazing.” The movie isn’t particularly artsy looking — whatever that word means — but the ways it visually plays with alternate dimensions, time travel, and magic are fantastic. Some of the Inception inspired city bending moments were ruined by the trailers, but those are a small part of what I’m talking about. There’s a sequence where Tilda Swinton’s The Ancient One is showcasing to Strange the different forms and uses of their magical powers, and the colors are bright and really evoke some of the best stuff from the Doctor Strange comics.

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I can’t really speak to how easy the movie is to understand from a world building perspective, as I’ve been a Doctor Strange comics fan for a few years now. Magic is something that’s often hard to grasp, which I think is partially why Marvel waited so long to introduce it into their universe. Still, I think the “realism” of what’s happening on screen is easy enough to accept, considering that this is a world where aliens from another dimension attacked New York City not so long ago.

The story is also interesting enough. The motivations for our bad guy are a little shallow and unexplained, but the most compelling aspect is going on this journey with Stephen Strange, learning new things as he’s learning them. And the movie does a great job with that stuff. Tilda Swinton really sells the mysteriousness of the magic of which she’s speaking, and Benedict Cumberbatch nails the back and forth between overconfidence in his capabilities and then immediate terror when he finds out he doesn’t actually know what he’s doing. Strange is the kind of character that figures everything out as it’s happening, which makes things more fun to watch.

However, that does lead me to my first real negative of the film, and honestly it’s something where I could see most people disagreeing with me. My wife certainly did.

I didn’t love Cumberbatch in this role. *Hides behind wall as women everywhere start throwing rocks*

But in all seriousness, he’s a brilliant actor that creates complex, interesting characters, and he definitely brings that to Stephen Strange. But he unfortunately just feels a bit miscast in this. I don’t want to throw all the blame on his shoulders, though. Part of it might be this interpretation of the character, which also came from the director and writers, and part of it might be the literal dialogue. This Stephen Strange just feels like kind of an inconsistent character to me. He’s extremely headstrong and selfish at the start, even beyond a character like Tony Stark. But he’s also sarcastic and charming, in this way like a lesser Tony Stark. He has a thirst for knowledge, he questions authority, and he likes to figure things out for himself. But when all of those pieces are combined, it feels a bit uneven.

I don’t really think Cumberbatch nails most of the humor in the movie either, which certainly doesn’t help. For being such a dick of a character at the beginning, his jokes and delivery all feel too “nice guy.” And a lot of the jokes feel aimed at a millennial audience, which also feels wrong for a character so caught up in himself that he wouldn’t be so hip to the times. But, it’s worth stating, I definitely don’t think Cumberbatch is bad in this movie. He’s a great actor and I’m happy to see more from him in the inevitable sequels and cross-overs. I’d just be lying if I said that I loved his performance.

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The supporting cast is all over the map from a quality perspective. Rachel McAdams is predictably charming, and she also gets probably the biggest laugh moment of the film. On the other hand, her character is completely irrelevant to the plot and she quickly falls into the “superhero love interest” cliche. I thought we were moving past that kind of thing, and it’s really disappointing to see. Seriously, if she wasn’t in this movie, it would change almost nothing.

Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius and Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo didn’t impress — the former because he’s hardly in the movie and the latter because I just didn’t enjoy the character. I haven’t seen 12 Years a Slave, which is supposed to be Ejiofor’s best performance, but I have liked him in the smaller roles that I have seen, things like The Martian and Children of Men. On paper, I love the character of Mordo as a foil for Strange, with his more unbending nature and blind adherence to the rules. But in performance, I didn’t think he and Cumberbatch had much chemistry together, and there’s one particular moment at the end of the movie that I didn’t feel was justified. Tilda Swinton, however, is freaking brilliant as The Ancient One and she continues to be one of the most interesting, varied, and underrated actresses in Hollywood.

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As illustrated with Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius, Doctor Strange continues the unfortunate Marvel movie problem of creating villains with shallow motivations, not enough screentime, and dubious tactics. Seriously, who was the last great Marvel movie villain? Loki. Maybe Ultron. Beyond that, it’s been mostly forgettable villains like Zemo, Malekith, and Aldrich Killian. Kaecilius is actually working as a proxy for a more galactic threat, and if you know anything about the Doctor Strange comics, yes it’s exactly who you think. That didn’t have to be a bad thing, but Kaecilius’ motivations were never all that clear, nor was the reasoning for why he was doing what he was doing. It kind of boiled down to him wanting power and being misguided as to how he should get that power, and it’s about as rote as it sounds.

Even though I said the magic in the movie is really cool to watch, there’s a disappointing lack of it when it comes to the actual fighting. Most of the magic affects the world around the characters, but when they fight, they just summon magical weapons and bash each other with them. I’d have liked to see something more resembling Harry Potter, with characters slinging complex spells at one another. But maybe there just wasn’t the budget for that.

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Trying to take my negative viewing experience out of the equation, I really enjoyed Doctor Strange. There were obviously some minor quibbles, and I have to highlight them in order to stay on brand (the website is Shea Hates Everything, after all), but I definitely recommend this to anyone that enjoys the Marvel movies — even to people that are starting to feel burnt out on superheroes. Visually, it’s the most interesting Marvel movie to date, and I think things will only get cooler in the inevitable sequel. There was more humor than I expected, and the action sequences were dynamic. Despite my feelings on Cumberbatch and some of the supporting characters, it was a fun ride. This definitely ranks in the upper half of Marvel movies for me, which is impressive considering just how consistently great most of them have been. The Marvel universe now includes magic, and it’s awesome!

9.2/10

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