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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

REVIEW: "Doctor Strange" ~ Bringing Magic to the MCU


My dad and uncle's interest in Doctor Strange surfaced, probably unsurprisingly, because of Pink Floyd. My father sought out the comic containing the page above after seeing it included in the cover of 'A Saucerful of Secrets.' Appropriate, as many have written, since the two creative endeavours do share themes and elements of surrealism.

Doctor Strange has been one of those Marvel characters that I'm aware of, intrigued by, but not deeply knowledgeable about. I knew he represented the magic side of the Marvel Universe, which (in my mind) meant we'd never see him in the MCU, which is heavily focused on the science and tech hero side of things.

Whoops, I was wrong.


Now, as much as I enjoy Benedict Cumberbatch as an actor and appreciate his range, I've felt he's been a bit 'over-cast' lately. He's a great Sherlock, he was a great Smaug, but he was everywhere... even in roles that didn't necessarily seem right for him. Which is not me knocking his acting. He's great. But there's a reason there are lots of actors out there. Not everyone is right for everything. I could appreciate the physical similarities, but I was concerned that this might be a case of over-casting again.

Well, dude. See, the thing I forget about the MCU is that their casting tends to be insanely spot-on at the end of the day. Cumberbatch turned out to be a great Dr. Strange -- a bit House-y, although that could be me reading into things because it was an English actor playing a logical, handicapped doctor with an American accent. (Plus the Sherlock Holmes connection.)

I knew this was going to be a tough movie to endear audiences to going in. There was already the backlash to casting the very white Tilda Swinton as the traditionally Asian Ancient One. (I'm not going to dip into that -- I don't play in those areas. Other people cover those elements more than adequately.) You then had the issue of introducing magic and spirituality into a cinematic universe heavy on science and logic, especially during a time when debunking of gift shop reiki is the order of the day. (The lampshading of that was a nice touch.)

It was a journey of discovery for Strange and the audience together: how well could this world that made us believe so strongly in scientific geniuses and super-soldier serums now make us believe that the exact same universe could have straight-up genuine Magic? Well, for me, yes. (I'll admit to being a slut for suspension of disbelief, though -- I'm so into escapism in film that I'll believe pretty much anything you want provided it means I can escape deadlines for a few hours -- but truly, they did well here.)

The thing that impressed me most, though? The visuals. And I don't mean just the eye-candy, though that was great. What impressed me was that we had Inception-level bending of time and space, transdimensional non-Euclidian madness, and I didn't get motion sickness. That's an art these days. I'm speaking of the 2D normal-vision screen, of course, as I can't watch IMAX 3D, but even then I'm fairly sensitive to camera motions -- enough that I can't play certain video games because of them. Doctor Strange managed to get kaleidoscopic effects in play without Blair Witching me all over the place.

One final thing that's regularly true of the MCU but that I didn't really ponder hard until now: Marvel isn't afraid to let its heroes look like dweebs. Especially in their origin stories. I mean yeah, we're here to see heroes be heroes, but in the MCU, we're watching the team being built from the ground up. We aren't watching perfect people. We're watching people who may have been flawless before finding themselves thrown into the deep end of an entire new world: Tony Stark rebuilding his life, Thor on Earth, and now Dr. Strange leaving behind hard science for magic. The willingness of the movies to both let them be funny and to let them fail -- sometimes in the same moment -- is what keeps bringing me back where other superhero retellings don't. We see fallible people becoming something greater. We see people struggling with the strings attached to super powers, the moral quandaries, the things they don't quite understand, and then we see them growing.

The fact that Doctor Strange had moments of genuine comedy on par with Guardians of the Galaxy was a pleasant surprise for me. In a time of gritty remakes, it was somehow pleasing to see a man who can magically manipulate time and space have a fight with his cape.

I liked it. I truly did. Others won't. I can guarantee. Some don't like to see their heroes engaged in accidental slapstick of their own making. Some want something closer to the original. Some will find the casting choices a deal-breaker, and that's fine. For me, and for my engagement in the MCU, this was a wonderful addition, and a reminder of why I come back to these repeatedly.