This one's worth checking out.

This one’s worth checking out.

Sure, why not?

Sure, why not?

It’s easy to hypothesize that an experiment was conducted by the makers of Doctor Strange, and that the modern-day social justice police were the unwitting guinea pigs. The purpose of this experiment was to see whether they would be outraged at the blatant white-washing of an originally Tibetan character, or cry in celebration at the fact that an originally male character is now played by a woman. The former reaction was ultimately the result, which is entirely understandable.

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Cumberbatch and Swinton in ‘Doctor Strange’.

I don’t know why they would cast Tilda Swinton as a character who was originally Tibetan. One theory is that they wanted the film to perform better in China, and Chinese people apparently hate Tibetans, but if I were in such a situation I’d probably have hired a Chinese actress. The casting of Benedict Cumberbatch would probably have remained the same, however. I mean, talk about exquisite choice!

Cumberbatch is the Doctor Strange of the title; an arrogant but damaged surgeon who stumbles upon mystical forces. Therefor, this is the first film in Kevin Feige‘s Marvel universe to concern magic rather than science and technology. Can’t wait to see how the inevitable crossovers handle this clash of concepts.

The plot: the surgery-performing hands of the renowned Dr. Stephen Stranges are rendered unusable after a violent car crash that doesn’t seem entirely accidental (sequels, anyone?), putting him in a state of despair. His colleague and ex-lover Christine (Rachel MacAdams) does her best to provide medical and emotional support, but Stephen seems beyond help. In pursuit of alternative medicine, he eventually finds himself in Kathmandu, where others claim to have found solutions to equally hopeless problems.

He encounters a secret society of sorcerers and fighters, led by a woman known as The Ancient One (Swinton), who promises Stephen far more otherworldly methods of healing than he had counted for. As he devotes his life to mastering the ancient arts, he befriends other members of the society, including a scowling librarian named Wong (Benedict Wong) and Master Mordo. Traditionally Strange’s nemesis but now depicted as a noble ally, Mordo is played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, making me wonder if it’s still a form of white-washing when a black actor is chosen to play a Transylvanian white man.

Madness and illusions.

Madness and illusions.

The baddy of the story is Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), who, as with most of the Marvel villains, is the least interesting character in the film and played by a talented actor used poorly. His plan is to engulf Planet Earth in the dark dimension of his master Dormammu (voiced by Cumberbatch), a titanic demon that exists independent of time and space. Suddenly Thanos doesn’t seem like the biggest threat in these movies, not that he ever did to begin with.

Despite the lackluster antagonist, the acting in Doctor Strange is very much solid. Benedict Cumberbatch, typecast once more as an egotistical genius who becomes sad, plays his part as skillfully as ever and once his character gets his act together, grooms himself a bit and finds the enchanted cape, he is such a dead-ringer for the Doctor Strange from the original comics that it’s scary. MacAdams and Ejiofor do a great job as well; even Swinton did a good job in her role of a bald Asian man.

The movie shines brightest in its dizzying visual effects and action scenes, which many a critic have already compared to the paintings of M.C. Escher. They’re like the special effects in Inception (right down to the playing with the flow of time), only not as sophisticated.

See, the folk at Marvel Studios love their fast-paced action scenes with long shots and impossible camera angles (with all the edits removed in post, making it considerably less amazing than the shots in, say, Children of Men). It’s all fun for a while, but sometimes I wish they would cool down a bit and realize that action scenes are more pleasant to watch if the pacing lets you process what’s happening and the cinematography is more grounded in reality. It’s a lot more immersive when you feel like you’re observing the action from a realistic vantage point, and are also able to, y’know, follow what’s going on. I get that you guys have seen the sequence on storyboards and editing screens a thousand times but (quoth my father after the screening we went to) try to put yourselves in the shoes of a first-time viewer for a while, okay?

stroctor-dangeLike Captain America: Civil War, this is part of the already laid-out Third Phase of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, meaning it had a more-or-less exact date by which it needed to be out and there was little time to make it. As such, it expectedly has its flaws and hastily thought-out ideas. I personally would have loved it more if it had less of a checklist narrative, less unintentionally silly moments (the deliberate jokes are tolerable), and more original music, apart from a distinct cembalo-heavy leitmotif. Even so, it is a visually appealing change of pace for the Marvel movies and a partial diversion from the formula. Some people have called it their favorite MCU film, and while I don’t like it as much as Civil War or Guardians of the Galaxy, I can see why someone would prefer this one.

A modest recommendation of Doctor Strange from me – which, believe it or not, I am in fact allowed to say in spite of not seeing eye-to-eye with the screenwriter who supposedly sought to actively piss off “social justice warriors” with his script. It’s one statement made by one person involved in the making of an effortfully crafted film and I don’t think he succeeded in his quest either. They’re too busy being mad at whomever was in charge of casting Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One.

3.5/5 whatever

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