Movie Review: Doctor Strange

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Doctor Strange (2016)

Rated PG-13: For Violence and Minimal Language

Running Time: 115 minutes (1 hour and 55 minutes)

Genre/s: Action, Adaptation, Adventure, Fantasy, Superhero, Magic

Released on October 26, 2016 (PH Release Date, Available For Worldwide Viewing)

Presented by Marvel Studios

Writers: C. Robert Cargill, Scott Derrickson and Jon Spaihts

Director: Scott Derrickson

Starring:
  • Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Stephen Strange
  • Chiwetal Ejiofor as Karl Mordo
  • Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer
  • Benedict Wong as Wong
  • Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius
  • Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One
Suicide Squad-mates - Gabe Cruz, Reuben Pio Martinez, Von Castillejos, Terel Crisostomo

Strange times are upon us, and with the year coming to an end, I believe now is the best time to review the last superhero movie of the year. Once again, I was able to hang-out with three of my "Suicide Squad-mates" (It is just how I call our little gang of friends, and definitely not the other way around) last October 28, 2016, and aside from the particularly good nachos and popcorn, the movie was a visual thrill ride, but there are still some flaws to its design. What are these "flaws", you ask? I think that is not the right question, but rather it is, "Is this a worthy addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise?" Let us find out in Dateline Movies' review of Doctor Strange! Also, since this movie was screened earlier than other countries, spoilers ahead, so don't say I didn't warn you!




What is the movie about?

The brilliant but arrogant neurosurgeon Doctor Stephen Strange, played by Cumberbatch, had everything, from riches that are far beyond his imagination, that he was able to purchase a nice apartment, and a Lamborghini, to a beautiful on-again-off-again love interest in the form of Doctor Christine Palmer, played by McAdams (Spotlight). He did have all of those things, until a fatal car accident renders his hands unable to function properly. Desperate, he loses his fortune in search of a cure for his condition, and even Christine from his life, which then forces him to seek a former patient of his, who then pointed him to the direction of The Ancient One, played by Swinton (We Need To Talk About Kevin).

On a trip to Nepal, Strange is greeted to a brave new world when The Ancient One gives him a glimpse of the magical side of the universe. Discovering that he can be more than what just an average doctor, Strange decides to train with The Ancient One's other colleagues in the Masters of the Mystic Arts. These colleagues are Karl Mordo, played by Ejiofor (Cumberbatch and Ejiofor both appeared in 12 Years a Slave), a veteran student of The Ancient One, and Wong, played by (What a funny coincidence this is) Wong (The Martian), Strange's mystical drill sergeant.

But when a powerful sorcerer named Kaecilius, played by Mikkelsen (Hannibal) sets out to rule the world with the power of the Dark Dimension, Mister Strange... I mean... Mister Doctor... Oh sorry... Doctor Strange must team-up with Wong and Mordo and must save the world before time runs out for both the world, and the rest of the universe!


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What we think of the movie?

Acting = (4/5)

From the moment Benedict Cumberbatch was confirmed to star as the one and only Sorcerer Supreme, I knew immediately that the movie would be lead by a fairly charismatic performance, and I was not disappointed. Combining the same energy that he displayed in all of his on-screen portrayals of self-destructive gifted individuals, including Sherlock Holmes in BBC's hit crime procedural Sherlock, Julian Assange in the autobiographical flick The Fifth Estate, and Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, with the latter now one of my favorite films yet, which I also just added to my Magnificent Ten list. His trademark suave nature, added with a dash of an American accent, is easily amplified here. While his role is just as arrogant as any other superhero in the making before the titular protagonist's big screen debut, Cumberbatch's performance as Doctor Strange adds a tint of desperation to the character, as well as a little gravitas and humanity. Here, we do not see an average overconfident fellow who suddenly had a reality check, we see a man who lost purpose, and is now clawing his way back to his own paradise. I really do wish I could see more of his portrayal of Doctor Strange in upcoming releases, because his performance here is unbelievably awesome!


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Is it not weird that both Benedict Cumberbatch and Chiwetal Ejiofor appeared in the autobiopic 12 Years a Slave, wherein Ejiofor's character, Solomon Northup, was the slave of Cumberbatch's persona, William Ford, and now they are partners-in-magic here? What a coincidence? Anyway, with regards to Ejiofor's portrayal of Baron Karl Mordo, it was a very decent performance, despite the character being reduced to the same old villain in the making role. Aside from being just a mentor to a still-training Strange, Ejiofor's Mordo, complete with a personality shaped in mystery, is seen here as a morally conflicted human, who abides strictly to the teachings that were taught to him by The Ancient One, but is oftentimes unsure if he is doing the right thing. He delivers a really good job at upgrading a cliched sorcerer gone mad in the comics, to a three-dimensional human being with actual real life motivations and at some points, ambivalence, which really makes you ponder what does he really want. I am pretty sure he is going to take Tom Hiddleston's Loki's place as a morally ambigiuous antagonist. But the difference from Loki is that Mordo would follow a more anti-heroic light.

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Another coincidence! Man, I am starting to think that Marvel is putting all of these in-jokes on purpose. Indeed, Benedict Wong's portrayal of Wong (See? I told you that this may be intentional) is limited in terms of screen time, and is also reduced to another cliched no-nonsense mentor trope, but his engaging appearances, especially with Strange on their first encounter, which we would be talking about later, is just as colorful and lively as the film's superb and innovative visuals. Here, we see an updated version of Wong, who is now Strange's co-teacher with a slight funny bone, which is admittedly better than just being Strange's chaufeur as in the comics, although I would want to see some parts of that just for the sake of comic-accuracy. While we do not see him experiencing some form of inner conflict, Wong's (The actor, not the character) performance is just enough to leave an impression.


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Oh, where would our heroes be without their significant others? In one of the more serious parts of a very lighthearted flick, Rachel McAdams adds some emotional resonance to the film as Chrsitine Palmer, the loving confidant of Stephen Strange, and also his love interest, but that is mostly just how she is portrayed here, unfortunately. However, despite her lack of character development and limited screen time, McAdams' portrayal of a person who loves someone who cannot love easily is every bit heart-wrenching, and her on-screen chemistry with Benedict Cumberbatch's Doctor Strange is really believable and very effective. Also, very funny Marvel! Casting Rachel McAdams, who played Sherlock Holmes' love interest Irene Adler in the aforementioned detective's film that starred Robert Downey Jr., who plays Iron Man, to be the love interest of Doctor Strange, who also plays Sherlock Holmes in another adaptation, would seem like a subtle enough in-joke, but it did not pass me.


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In the modern world of cinema, no one is safe from both reasonable and unreasonable criticism, and casting Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One, who is an Asian male character in the comics, attracted judgments of both kinds. But put the controversy aside, Swinton's portrayal of Doctor Strange's wise mystical teacher is still particularly intriguing, and the plot twist, which I did not entirely anticipate and will again be tackled later on, made her a character with priorities and layers of morality, despite being again undeniably cliched. Overall, Swinton delivers a performance that is memorable at the very least, and one that is also sadly underused.


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And finally, for our main villain, I can agree with a lot of other fans out there that Mads Mikkelsen is unbelievably underused here too. From playing the titular psychologist and cannibalistic serial killer in Hannibal, you can immediately conclude that Mikkelsen has the capability to deliver a breathtaking sinister performance. But here, almost nothing is given to further expand Mikkelsen's character, except that he dislikes The Ancient One, and is hellbent on "saving" the world in the most twisted sense as possible, and that is by bringing forth an ancient evil in the form of the dreadful Dormammu into our world! Despite Kaecilius' lackluster two-dimensional characterization in the flick, at least Mikkelsen did the best that he can to make a worthwhile villain, especially in the part wherein Kaecilius explains to Strange his motivations. He managed to deliver some emotional raw power that is really needed for a villain to make a mark, even if it is unfortunately overshadowed by the film's formulaic nature.

Also, it was somewhat of a waste for Michael Stuhlbarg's, Benjamin Bratt's and Scott Adkins' talents, given that Stuhlbarg's Nicodemus West is just an extra, Bratt's Jonathan Pangborn just had one scene, and Adkins' Lucian is killed without a single dialogue. Oh well, I hope their characters can develop as the franchise' progresses, and by them, I meant only Stuhlbarg, because Lucian is dead, while Pangborn has been stripped of his powers (Oops, spoiler alert).


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Production Value and Cinematography = (5/5)

Raise your hand if you are a huge fan of the movies The Matrix, Inception and the anime flick Paprika? If so, then you are in for one heck of a ride, as Doctor Strange makes use of the most psychedelic imagery possible, and it is not only brilliantly crafted, but you could also see that it is quite a breath of fresh air from the nowadays grounded realism of most superhero tales. Although to be fair, Doctor Strange debuted many years prior to the release of the aforementioned flicks. So basically, the visuals are mostly straight out of the comics.

One of my most favorite sequences in the flick, which I also call as the highlight scene of the entire movie, is Strange's first experience crossing dimensions after The Ancient One gave him a glimpse of the world beyond. Mixing bright and dark colors with tons of flashing, eye-popping lights, the result was a very, very polished and bizarre concoction of sugar-coated beauty and delirium that is all and more, but terrible. It is slightly dizzying, however, as the wonderful and artistic graphics could make a few heads ache. In just mere minutes of viewing the sequence, one can immediately feel as if they are in a dream-like realm because of just how imaginative the visuals are.


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Another very well done scene would have to be the fight scene between Strange and Mordo, and Kaecilius with his Zealots in the mind-numbling ecstatic Mirror Dimension. The idea of the New York cityscapes formed into cube-like structures as our heroes and their adversaries hop around the alternate reality as they chant various incantations is just as weird as how you understood what I just typed, but in execution, it is admittedly really great, and fairly entertaining. These two main scenes really did deliver the promise of a much more bizarre superhero adventure, despite again being filled with many areas of familiarity.

In addition, the fight that took place before the Mirror Dimension throw-down, which is Lucian and Strange's fight in the astral plane, was expertly shot and choreographed. Some funny moments are present, especially with Strange's rival Nicodemus West taking advantage of the extra chips dropped from a vending machine that was hit by Strange and Lucian in the astral plane.

While this one is my least favored part in the flick, given that it is more of a form of anticlimax, the CGI and special effects used for these sequences are undeniably superb. In Strange and Mordo's final battle against Kaecilius and his sect in Hong Kong, Strange makes use of the Eye of Agamotto to reverse time and undo the damage done by Kaecilius after he has unleashed the wrath of Dormammu, and what we see next is a series of the usual time-warping effects that we see from other movies. However, we do get to feast our eyes on a trippy sequence that is just pleasing to our visions.


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Realizing that Kaecilius is too powerful to defeat, Strange takes a trip to the Dark Dimension to confront Kaecilius' master, Dormammu. I cannot spoil it here, because that part is going to be tackled in the next section. But I can say that the designs for the Dark Dimension, even Dormammu, as well as the effects used to detail Dormammu and Strange's "battle", is indeed very well done. Although I would say that Dormammu's look here is a tad disappointing, because he is transformed into yet another colored cloud formation, similar to Parallax in Green Lantern, and Galactus in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, unlike the fire-based look that I am more familiar with. Only this time, this one looks actually okay, and unlike the previously mentioned villains, it is properly rendered.

In all honesty, the visuals are the best parts about this movie, aside from the acting performance, of course. It is innovative. It is eye-catching, a feast for the senses. It is phenomenal. The costume designs are perfectly made, just look how the outfits are similarly done in DC's Suicide Squad (I forgot to mention that one last time), and how Strange's Cloak of Levitation behaved like the Magic Carpet from the Aladdin animated movie was indeed Strange (That was intentional), but it was all around entertaining from a visual point, and it was humorous from a story's concept point of view.

Also, Michael Giacchino's is more or less passable, and fitting enough for a flick such as this one. It is not the most memorable, similar to the other soundtracks of previous Marvel movies, but it is pretty decent enough to amplify the distinct weirdness of Doctor Strange.

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Story, Dialogue and Flow = (3/5)

The following section, as well as the next one, contains a lot of major spoilers! You have been warned!

If you might have noticed from some previous posts, I am really excited to see Doctor Strange. Not because I am a huge fan of the character, but rather I expected something new from Marvel Studios, especially since they are finally taking a few steps away from the usual scientific realm of the superhero genre, and instead embracing the weird world of magic. While the visuals are indeed spectacles to behold, overly familiar tropes plague the story, which I will explain detail per detail. The script does a good job, though, at grasping my attention until the end, especially since the dialogues are quirky and full of heart, even if the movie just becomes more and more predictable as the run time passes by.


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The characters, as I have mentioned before, are reduced to mere stereotypes, and while it would not normally be a bothersome element, the lack of character development for the supporting cast mates can turn you off at some points. And once more, the villain is once again full of potential, but is ultimately underdeveloped, just like all of the other villains, outside Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston (Kong: Skull Island) and Zemo, played by Daniel Brühl (Captain America: Civil War) Marvel has used. I did have some high hopes that Kaecilius would be a remarkable adversary, mainly because I have read about his origin story in a canon tie-in comicbook titled "The Zealot", wherein it is explained that Kaecilius wanted to put an end to sickness and death after experiencing the passing of his only son, then later his wife, who succumbed to a terminal ailment. This was the kind of antagonist that I have always been wanting to see, a man reborn from tragedy. Unfortunately, the movie did not bother to expand his backstory, aside from a well-acted conversation with Strange that vaguely explained what he really desires.

His plan is also every bit cliched, as we are, for the third flipping consecutive movie review in a row, introduced to yet another swirling vortex of doom in the sky, although in this movie, this one is multicolored, and is not technically "in the sky", in a sense. Unlike most devious plans that are not clearly defined, which if you want to know about them, you can refer to our two previous movie reviews, Kaecilius' master plan is too simple, it does not even require any form of explanation. His grand scheme involves him stealing a couple of pages from something known as the Book of Cogiostro to gain some powers, destroy all the other three Sanctums so that Dormammu can break into Earth, and... That is it, really. No unique twists, or anything that could add some intrigue to a usual world-dominating evil plan. On the bright side, it is not obscurely expounded like some certain movie supervillains.


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However, like I said earlier, underneath the banality of it all, the script's comedic dialogue, complete with modern pop-culture references most youngsters would understand, and a side of slightly familiar jokes that never seem to age, and various shades of emotions, is one of the other aspects made the movie worth watching.

Some of the funniest scenes in the movie, even if at times feels shoehorned to the point that it seems like a priority for Marvel to insert them, include the following. When Strange is brought to his room, Mordo offers him a card with the word "Shamballa", which Strange asked if it was his mantra. Laughter ensues when Mordo replies with a calm smirk, and a snarky "The wifi password. We're not savages". In an interesting note, the word "Shamballa" is a reference to a graphic novel called "Doctor Strange: Into Shamballa", written by J.M. DeMatteis and Dan Green, exploring Strange's adventure to The Ancient One's homeland. What this means is currently a mystery, but I am willing to bet that this could be a teaser for upcoming events.

Another humorous gem would have to be Strange's first meeting with Wong, wherein Strange wonders if Wong has only a single name, similar to famous musicians like Adele, Drake, Bono, Eminem, and even Beyoncé, with the latter being listened to by Wong in his past time.

The last one is something that felt really underwhelming once I started to think about it, but I believe it is best saved for the last section, and I guarantee that you might feel the same way as much as I did when I first saw it.


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Also, as I said earlier, I personally find various ideas included in the story really interesting, and while not much detail is given, especially since it would butcher the plot, these concepts made the movie all the more interesting.

For starters, the debut of multiple dimensions here is excellent, and it open up many new possibilities that the Marvel Cinematic Universe could take in the near future. The Mirror and Dark Dimensions could just be the stepping stones for other potential alternate realities, including parallel Earths such as the Ultimate Universe, or the Marvel Zombies Universe, and other currently unexplored realms such as the Dream Dimension. To quote The Ancient One in a way, what I see in their future, a possibility to tackle much more complex and enigmatic elements of the Marvel Universe, and create much more spectacular movies in dear time.

The introduction of the Masters of the Mystical Arts as a secret alliance protecting Earth from the shadows is kind of done-to-death, but here, it is done smoothly. The idea that various magical individuals, with three Sanctums, are guarding us from mystical threats is not only a fairly interesting concept, but it also perfectly explains why none of The Avengers have encountered the much darker aspects of their realities, aside from aliens and a few Asgardian adversaries.


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Ending, Originality and Story Fulfillment = (2/5)

By now, you might be wondering about what are these familiar tropes that are cluttered all throughout, which makes the overall plot somewhat dull and wasted of potential?

First, we have Strange, who like every character, only cares about fame and success, and not about responsibility, despite his many gifts. After a certain tragic event in his life drove him to the point of desperation and pain, which cost not only his career, but also some of his friends and loved ones (Christine Palmer). From the pain, similar to every other superhero out there, they discover a new leash on life when they receive their new abilities, which they will now use to save the world from all forms of evil. Because he is still not used to his newfound powers, he is being mentored by a wise old mentor with a dark secret (The Ancient One), aided by a strict drill instructor (Wong), and is partnered with a boy scout (Mordo) who tries his best to impress his teacher. Along the way, he must come face-to-face with a turncoat associate, who despises the protagonist's mentor after some misunderstandings before (Kaecilius). Inevitably, the mentor is killed by the traitor, and the protagonist must then take over her mantle, and by the end, someone decides to be a lone wolf after the events of the movie.

All of these cliches managed to make the movie fun, and at some points predictably weak, which is very unfortunate since this really had a lot of interesting story concepts that would really have been particularly amazing had the mythology been expanded further in a balanced way. But then again, I believe that it would have been for the better if it was never expanded further as the focus on Strange himself would be lost amidst the magical details.


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Now that we have discussed the cliches, which we regularly talked about in the second to the last chapter, but is now, from here on tackled in this section, we get to the ending.

After engaging in a duel with Kaecilius and his remaining Zealots in the Mirror Dimension, The Ancient One offers her aid, only to reveal that she indeed harnesses the power of the Dark Dimension to retain her immortality. While she is able to put up a fight, The Ancient One was no match for Kaecilius' might, and is killed by the mad man, despite the several attempts to be revived by Strange, West and Christine, with Strange even journeying to the astral plane to convince her to return to the mortal realm. It is revealed prior to her death that while she is immortal, she only retains her youth, and she can still die at any moment.

The tension builds-up when Mordo is disillusioned by the revelation, and he now believes that he may be siding with the wrong kinds of people. With the Hong Kong Sanctum Sanctorum, which with the one in New York City and the other in London create a shield that prevents Dormammu and other magical fiends from entering Earth, is under attack, Strange and Mordo swing into action. Things do not turn out as planned as once they arrived, they discovered that the Sanctum Sanctorum has been destroyed, and now Dormammu is making his way to our world with the previously mentioned swirling vortex of doom in the sky.

Fortunately, they have time on their side, and with the Eye of Agamotto, Strange turns back time and undoes Kaecilius' actions, but Kaecilius regains control, and Mordo, a revived Wong and Strange try to fight him. But because of his power, they were no match against him, but there is still a chance, and that is to fight Dormammu in the Dark Dimension.

This is it. An epic duel between Doctor Strange and the dread Dormammu. Just imagine, a visually stunning battle against a giant demon and a mortal sorcerer. It would have been epic, but instead, we get Doctor Strange trying to strike a deal with Dormammu so as to spare Earth in exchange for Kaecilius and the gang's lives, by annoying him endlessly with a time loop. Well, that was really, really anticlimactic.

Okay, I might be nitpicking here, but here me out. This part is undoubtedly funny in an Edge of Tomorrow kind of way, and it is an admittedly cool sequence which reminded me a lot about the video game re-spawning function, but the final battle is ultimately disappointing once you realize that the only way to outsmart an all-powerful ancient hellish force is by pushing all of his buttons by cheating death over, and over, and over again. Seriously, did Dormammu even try to break the time loop?

With Kaecilius and his cohorts dead after being absorbed into the Dark Dimension, Mordo becomes disillusioned, and decides to work alone, and save the world the only way he knows how, and that is to solve the world's problem. That problem is none other than "too many sorcerers", which is revealed in the post-credits scene of the movie, when he steals Jonathan Pangborn's powers.

In the mid-credits scene, but not before revealing that the Eye of Agamotto has been an Infinity Stone all along, specifically the Time Stone (Man, I should really thank a friend of mine for that speculation, because when I posted about it, it turned out to be right), Strange gets an unexpected visit from the God of Thunder Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth (Vacation), who seeks Strange's assistance to find his father Odin, played by Anthony Hopkins (Westworld).

Overall, there is not much tint of originality to be found here, and the ending is pretty much anticlimactic for the sake of laughs, but the movie is just as entertaining as your average Marvel movie outing.  I got to agree with Gabe, Von and Terel though, it was still pretty entertaining, despite the cliches.


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Overall Evaluation = (4/5)

Despite being a clear example of potential superhero fatigue, storywise, notably because of its overabundance of the usual origin story cliches, this film manages to overcome its formulaic nature with highly stylized CGI and great performances from its cast mates.

TOTAL = 18/25 (Pleasant Entertainment)

If you are looking for a superhero movie that takes a new and fresher spin on the genre, you might want to sit this one out. But if you love stunning, psychedelic visuals, and fine acting, courtesy of Benedict Cumberbatch and company, then Doctor Strange is the flick for you!

And that concludes our movie review of Doctor Strange. Be sure to catch the movie in theaters near you, while you still can. And what do you know? It is only ten posts left, and we would finally hit the two hundred posts mark! Wow, I never really thought we would make it this far. The two-hundredth post is nothing special or anything, but hey, it is our two-hundredth blog article. So while you wait for our upcoming remaining ten posts, take a look at Jimmy Kimmel's latest sketch, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch reprising his role as Doctor Strange, to attend a birthday party for kids. Good thing they did not hire Sherlock for the job. And speaking of Sherlock, who else is excited for their fourth season? Stay tuned for more Dateline Movies! 

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