Doctor Strange (2016) Review

I’m loving Marvel’s recent willingness to risk high budget movies on some of their obscure characters. Back in 2014 I’m sure nobody thought a Guardians of the Galaxy film would have worked because even among comic fans they weren’t very well known but it did work, gloriously.

Dr. Strange is another gamble for Marvel, if you’ve read any big event comics you’ll have probably came across the Sorcerer Supreme. He’s the guy everyone calls when they have a magical problem or when technology has failed them. He’s a good utility player to have in this wider Marvel Cinematic Universe.

This review will contain plot spoilers, including the after credits scene

We start out getting introduced to Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), he’s a rock star surgeon who seems to be more concerned with recognition for his skill rather than saving people. We see his lavish apartment, car, clothes and also the dismissive way he treats his fellow doctors. It’s a pretty similar format to the first Iron Man movie, We hate him but also kind of like him because he’s charming and good at his job. In keeping with that format Strange’s hubris is soon met with a horrible car accident in which he suffers severe nerve damage to his hands. Naturally this means he’ll never be able to work as a surgeon again and sends him into a dark spiral of blame and self loathing. I felt like during this part they maybe went a little too dark though. He routinely abuses his friendship with fellow doctor Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) and she kind of just takes it. Even going so far as to forgive him later in the movie without much push back. It’s annoying that Marvel continues to downplay the women in their stories. It just further alienates female fans and it made it hard for me to root for the character as a hero later on.

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Idle Hands are Mephisto’s Play Things

After all of his top surgeon friends abandon him because his condition is too risky to try and fix Strange starts to look for more unorthodox methods of healing. This leads him to Kuala Lumpur looking for a place called kamar-Taj. There he meets The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and as many movie characters like him before doesn’t believe in magic or anything beyond the physical realm. The Ancient One decided to open Strange’s mind and sends his soul hurtling off the earth and out of our plane of existence. I can’t talk about this movie without mentioning that the special effects are incredible. They capture the psychedelic visuals of the 60’s comics perfectly. There are some incredibly complex actions scenes later on that are a cross between an M.C. Escher painting and that folding city scene from Inception.

From this point in the film the plot moves pretty quickly. We don’t actually see too much of Strange learning magic so it comes as quite a shock when he’s thrust into some fights and seems to hold his own. They don’t really make it clear how much time passes while he’s training. They try and explain his leap in skill away with Strange’s photographic memory, which I guess makes sense since most of the magic seems to involve memorising hand movements and incantations but it’s not very satisfying for the viewer.

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Before his training is totally complete our bad guy and former student of The Ancient One Kaecillius (Mads Mikkelsen) shows up ready to destroy earth’s magical barriers and let in the dark dimension. Mads does a pretty good job with what he’s given but he’s written as a totally forgettable villain. We don’t really get to see him do anything and there is barely any depth to his character. Add in that his character’s name is hard to pronounce and nobody will ever remember this guy.

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Doctor Strange has all the potential to be a great movie but the rushed pacing really lets it down. They do set up some really cool stuff for the future including name dropping some crazy characters (like Dormammu and the Living Tribunal) and setting up that Strange will be joining Thor in his next outing with the mid credits scene. I think Doctor Strange would have worked better as a TV show, we would have had more time to get to know the magical side of the Marvel universe and we could have actually got to know the characters and learned how his powers worked. It’s also a pretty formulaic film they don’t really throw any unexpected plot points your way and you can easily predict how most scenes will play out. So not a perfect first outing for the good doctor but I’m excited for what he’ll bring to marvel movies in the future.

★★★☆☆

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Captain America: Civil War Review

Not content with cracking the superhero team-up movie formula way before DC and just over a month removed from the critical flop Batman v Superman, Marvel have also shown everyone just how a hero vs hero movie should be done.

Civil War is the latest instalment in Marvel’s cinematic universe which sees the Avengers fractured due to consequences from their previous adventures. The film takes inspiration from the 2006 comic storyline of the same name but it changes a lot of stuff so it fits better into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

*This review will contain spoilers about the plot and character moments but I’ll try to keep it vague*

Despite being a named Captain America movie, Civil War is totally the next Avengers movie. Cap is technically the main character but there’s a lot of Iron Man and the gang too. We open with big chase scene where the Avengers team as we saw them at the end of Age of Ultron is trying to stop Crossbones (the douchey Hydra agent from Winter Soldier in cool skull themed body armor) from stealing a bio weapon. We get Cap, Black Widow and Falcon running through a crowded market place where there are plenty of masked goons for them to throw around.

I really love how they handle the fight choreography in this movie. Obviously Cap can’t throw guys through buildings like Superman or Hulk but if he hits a running dropkick on a guy you better believe he’s going to fly back 30 feet into a wall. Sparing use of CG also helps everything have a real impact. They’re also not afraid to do more complicated fight scenes with huge groups of people. There’s a really impressive scene like this where Cap and Bucky are escaping from an apartment and fight their way through about 100 guys down the stairwell.


Whatever a Spider Can

The rift in the team partially comes from an accident in this first scene where Crossbones set’s off a bomb blowing up part of a government building. This combined with the Avenger’s other incidents of collateral damage spur the UN to create document which would stop the Avengers deploying unless the UN deems it necessary. A side effect of this is that any heroes operating without the government say so would become criminals. Cap doesn’t want to sign and thinks they can do more good un-regulated whereas Iron Man thinks they need to play by the rules to stop more needless deaths. I love when Marvel delves into the real world consequences of superheroes. Granted, it runs the risk of getting too serious but Civil War still keeps that trademark Whedon-esque charm that they’ve had since the first Avengers movie.

So now that Cap and Iron Man are lacking some team mates they both recruit a little extra help. Cap collect some members who aren’t too bothered by being on the wrong side of the law which turns out to be Hawkeye and Ant-Man. Paul Rudd is great in this movie, his irreverent humour in the face of being totally out of his league is hilarious. Iron Man decides to one up this by recruiting the newest member to the MCU, Spider-Man! 

Going in, I was thinking he would just have a small cameo but it was much more than that. This is the debut of their much younger Spider-Man played by Tom Holland who’s most famous for playing Billy Elliot in the stage production until now. We also get to see a strangely young Aunt May which just seems wrong to me. Aunt May is supposed to be a nice old lady, not a milf!

So once the two side are evened out they’ve got to have a big fight, naturally. This is definitely one of the best fight scenes they’ve had in any Marvel movie to date. Everyone gets a moment to shine and it’s the first time we properly see Spider-Man in action. Obviously we’ve seen his web slinging and acrobatics in other movies before but they really make a point of showing off his lesser known skills like his super strength and his wisecracking. Seeing all of these Iconic heroes battle on the big screen is truly amazing and I’m so glad we finally got to see it. 

We need you Cap

When it all comes down to it though this is really a story about Steve Rogers and Tony Stark. We’ve spent the last 2 Avengers films watching them become friends but that all comes crashing down over the course of this movie. Stark does come off looking worse overall due to some questionable choices but you can definitely see both sides of the argument. There are some surprisingly emotional scenes considering this is a movie about costumed lunatics running around punching each other. It also leaves us with plenty of questions about the future Avengers movies and how they will function after all this. 

I really enjoyed this movie from start to finish, it brought back some of the perfectly timed comedy moments that I thought Age of Ultron was missing and the action scenes are easily their best to date. The only bad point I noticed was the pacing was a bit rushed at times, they had a lot to get through in their 2hr 26 min so it moves at more of a quick comic book pace. This meant they had to put in a few convenient plot moments like Bucky miraculously getting his memories back after being knocked out for a few minutes of screen time. Other than that I really can’t fault this movie, after the disappointment of Batman v Superman I was so glad Captain America: Civil War was everything I wanted it to be and more.

★★★★★