Thursday, 29 March 2018

Approaching Infinity Part Fourteen: Doctor Strange (2016)

Yes, yes, I know - it's just Magic Iron Man, but you're missing the key point:

IT'S
ALL
SO
PRETTY!

The Villain
So what have we got here? He's an evil wizard with a crew of jobbing MMA wizards and they're trying to sell the world to a ripple-faced Dark Dimension entity whose main gimmick is... he hates time, I guess? Kaecilius, my minimal research appears to indicate, was some kind of Mordo henchman in the comics. The film paints him in very broad strokes as someone who lost all he ever loved, learned some magic and went evil when he didn't get everything he wanted. It's sketchy at best, but Mads Mikkelsen somehow makes it seem a lot more fleshed-out than the script should have let him. His plan is actually a pretty good one, given the information he had to work with: stop time so no one dies any more. Couldn't he have just done that with that clearly marked Infinity Stone just sitting unguarded in the sanctuary, though? Was the whole Dormammu deal actually necessary? Still, the film spends a great deal of its running time trying to convince its characters to stop asking questions and just go with it, so I'll do that too. Oh, look - they're doing the Inception scenery fold thing in 3D!

The Story
A super-surgeon who's somehow already on a Hydra watchlist texts and drives and gets his magic hands mashed. He goes to Tibet and gets some REAL magic hands from Magic David Bowie, then breaks every rule and makes every mistake he can until he saves the world in reverse. Along the way, he meets an approximately Thanos-level threat and basically annoys it into submission. Between this film and the one directly succeeding it, Thanos-level threats are becoming the new Infinity Stones of the MCU: you can generally overcome their immense, world-shattering powers by just pushing them over and running away.

The Universe
Marvel gets magic! Except, it kinda already had that from Thor. It's cool though, and feels very different from what we've seen before. Seeing Mordo as a good guy's interesting, but his arc feels like it's missing several steps. His repeated "the bill comes due" theme only kicks off two thirds of the way through the film, and there's literally no evidence that he's right. Magic David Bowie's been running up that bill for centuries without incident, and Strange himself merrily kicks off a tab of his own - which Mordo does nothing to prevent.

The Ancient One, incidentally, was a peculiar casting choice. Hiring Tilda Swinton set off a lot of angry internet fireworks for a while, but they blew themselves out pretty quickly. The performance, though, is perfectly enigmatic. Her every minute shift in expression or body language feels calculated and almost inhumanly precise. Fascinating to watch.

The Stinger
A brief clip of Thor: Ragnarok, and a weird Mordo moment. There's not much connective tissue between the Mordo we've been watching in the film and the one from the stinger. He's made a leap in logic that the number of sorcerers on Earth needs to be reduced. We're never told how he arrives at that position, and it seems like a weak launchpad if he's ever elevated to a primary villain role in the MCU. Still, considering how gleefully these films cast off plot threads, we'll probably never have to worry about any of that.

The Take-Away
Doctor Strange is a pretty bold gambit - in its own way as big as Thor or Guardians were. It's stunning to watch, particularly in 3D, and has enough action and humour to keep the inconsistent philosophy from clogging the works too much. Rachel McAdams is cast pretty much just to ask audience questions and break up the shots of Benedict Cumberbatch's oddly immobile snake-face. I don't know exactly what Cumberbatch is, though. With just the one facial expression and being permanently stuck in emotional first gear, he's clearly not an actor in any conventional sense. In fact, watching him leads me to suspect we throw about the title "human" a little too broadly at times. Either way, though, he works very well in roles like this, where the character is basically a hardened crystal of raw intellect shrink-wrapped in an overstretched layer of pale latex.

Previously: Captain America: Civil War
Next: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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