Monday, June 26, 2017

Doctor Strange (2016)

Origin stories are an important part of the mythos of a character.  The Incredible Hulk is the result of exposure to gamma radiation.  Captain America was brought about by way of a serum.  These are important parts of the characters’ stories.  Even when they’re changed for the sake of a movie, they help explain why that person is the way that they are.

Doctor Strange got his own movie in 2016.  At the start of the movie, Dr. Stephen Strange is a famous neurosurgeon.  He has his pick of patients.  (These include a few throwaway references to other Marvel characters.)  All is going well for Dr. Strange until he has an accident.  He loses the use of his hands, which prevents him from being the perfect doctor that he once was.

He tries just about any experimental surgery that comes his way, selling everything he has to be able to afford them.  He eventually hears about a paraplegic named Jonathan Pangborn who managed to regain use of his legs.  Pangborn to Kamar-Taj, a place where he might be able to regain the use of his hands.  Dr. Strange has just enough money to make it there and meet The Ancient One, who demonstrates her powers.  Strange is hesitant.  He doesn’t believe in the astral plane and spiritual healing.  Even after her demonstration, it’s a bit much to accept.

Still, he stays and learns what he can.  With a photographic memory, he’s able to become a skilled sorcerer quickly.  We learn that Earth is protected by Sanctums, led by The Ancient One.  There are many sorcerers trained there with the intent of protecting the Sanctums, which are all connected to Kamar-Taj.  When Kaecilius, a former student, attacks a Sanctum, there’s a real threat.

Kaecilius is trying to make a deal with a guy from another dimension.  If successful, Kaecilius would become immortal.  As you might imagine, an immortal Kaecilius would be bad for us.  Dr. Strange knows he has to help, but is conflicted about hurting people, as he never really stopped being a doctor.  It’s up to a few other sorcerers to get him where he needs to be to save the world.

I’ve read articles that have compared the movie to Inception.  I have to say that it’s a fair comparison.  The movie seems like it’s a vehicle for the CGI, coming across as a mixture of Inception and The Matrix.  M. C. Escher would enjoy the scenery.  On a technical level, the movie is great.

What I found lacking was the story.  Dr. Strange spends a lot of time trying to get his hands back.  Then, he spends a lot of time learning how to be a sorcerer.  We do get some fighting throughout the movie, but it isn’t until the end that we get any sort of real conflict.  The movie even opens with an inception-style fight, but there’s no sense of rooting for anyone.

I felt like the story focused too much on Dr. Strange before becoming a hero.  I get that this is what an origin story is.  However, we see too much of the Doctor and not enough of the Strange.  He’s the kind of doctor that that reminds everyone that he’s a doctor.  (He didn’t work hard all of those years at Strange Medical School to be called Mr. Strange.)

I think my problem was expecting more action sequences.  We are shown a journey that Dr. Strange has to take.  He’s a man of science told to simply believe in the metaphysical.  I admit that I would have handled it the same way.  If someone told me that the power to heal myself was based in mysticism, I’d think they were trying to sell me something and with good reason.

It was a lot like a pilot episode meant to set us up for something even bigger.  The movie is equal parts mysticism and action, but it doesn’t quite work.  It alternates rather than blends.  There were scenes that were too heavy on explaining things.  It works better when we have just enough to get what‘s going on.

IMDb doesn’t list a sequel as of yet, but it would be interesting to see how they handle it.  A lot could be forgiven if they knock that one out of the park.

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