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Doctor Strange Film Review Oct 2016

We have been lucky enough to team up with Jim Parsons, VFX aficionado and movie reviewer extraordinaire, to bring you our monthly film review.

Jim, who writes for horror movie blog My Own Personal Hell, has a fantastically witty and irreverent writing style and due to his incredible career in Visual Effects, including The Revenant and the Harry Potter franchise, has access to many films before general release. This, coupled with his insight into the craft of film making, makes him a great reviewer who we are really happy to welcome to the Daimon Barber Journal.

Check out Jim's work here;

https://myownpersonalhellblog.wordpress.com/about/

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0961518/

Having attended a preview screening of Marvel's latest offering; Doctor Strange, Jim felt compelled to write a review for us.....we hope you enjoy.

 

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Doctor Strange 2016

Back when I was a lad there was no such thing as the superhero movie genre. There was one movie, Superman. It was a huge box office smash, but also so mind boggingly expensive that no one even tried to jump on the flying-man-in-cape bandwagon. Admittedly the cost was partly due to the phenomenal ten million dollars Marlon Brando received for ten minutes work, but whatever. It was enough to put the other studios off for many a year.

Nowadays there are on average four superhero movies every twelve months. As Doctor Strange is the sixth of 2016 that average can only go up. Have we reached a saturation point where they can give us nothing new? Certainly the DC double disaster of Batman Vs Superman and Suicide Squad would suggest so. The X-Men seem to be running out of steam and spinoff Deadpool only succeeded by mocking the genre it belongs to. Marvel Studios rarely give us anything less than slick well made entertainment but even Civil War felt just a bit too familiar even if it did have a giant Ant Man and a young Robert Downey Junior. Doctor Strange seems like the least exciting prospect in the Marvel roster and yet here it is: their best and freshest film since Guardians of the Galaxy.

 

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Benedict Cumberbatch plays Doctor Steven Strange, brilliant surgeon who loses the use of his hands and ends up learning how to become a sorcerer with some hokey all encompassing spiritual group. Their mission: to protect the Earth from evil forces. There's a bad guy, a really big bad guy and various cronies. Basically it's the same old story.

However, what keeps things interesting are multi fold. Front and centre is Cumberbatch. Sure he was the obvious choice but Strange spends a lot of the film as a mopey old git. He's negative, self centred and cynical. These characteristics aren't particularly appealing in the main character in a family friendly feature. However Cumberbatch brings a lightness of touch to the role with lots of self depreciating humour that only an English gent can. He also throws himself physically into the role: there can't be any denying that standing on set waving your hands about whilst the director shouts out "don't worry, a load of magic is going to burst out of your fingers in about ten months time after post production!" is not why most actors went to RADA. However without that commitment to the role from Cumberbatch it just wouldn't work.

And that is the key to what makes Doctor Strange click as a film. Not only is the lead giving it his all but the surrounding cast also throw themselves fully into their ludicrous characters. You've got an Oscar winner and a nominee to one side of Cumberbatch with Tilda Swinton and Chiwetel Ejiofor, spouting great streams of gobbledegook like it was second nature. On the other the great Benedict Wong, being all stoic and hilarious to at the same time. Mads Mikkelsen and Rachel McAdams also do their best with somewhat more underwritten roles but it's the sincerity and enthusiasm of all the performances that makes this Harry Potter with adults so entertaining.

 

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Plot wise that is precisely what it is. Strange ends up in a school for magicians and various weird teachers and the head teacher (or in their case Swinton's The Ancient One) teach him how to beat up some bad guys. I can't say that the magic angle was something I was looking forward to. However the original comic strip was developed in the sixties and the magic here is full of trippy reality bending visuals and other-dimension madness. There are some very complicated effects here which manage to be original, surreal and yet all make some kind of sense at the same time. Obviously the effects teams have done a masterful job but Scott Derrickson really must take a lot of credit for how the film looks and feels. Whilst Derrickson comes from a horror background, this isn't the first time he's been given the reigns of a big budget effects driven blockbuster. However Doctor Strange is much more in tune to his sensibilities than the remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still ever was. From the creepy look of the villains to the weird magical objects in Strange's new abode there is a strong horror tinge to the film, but never enough to take away from this still being a Marvel movie.

What does differentiate it from the standard Marvel fair, and what ultimately makes it better than the last few, is its willingness to try and do something different within the genre. It is still hugely entertaining like many of the Marvel movies are, but it also doesn't rely to heavily on action scenes involving superheroes punching each other until the audiences's brain seizes up. Instead the confrontations play on the "multiverse" magic elements that have already been set up in the earlier film, with landscapes folding in on themselves, crushing stooges, and people being thrown through portals into other dimensions. The most standard fight in the movie takes place between two astral spirits floating above a body on an operating table. This attempt to do something different even extends to the final showdown which barely even bothers with a fight at all. It goes for something far more abstractedly temporal instead. Even after this someone suggests that a never ending confrontation between good and evil ain't all its cracked up to be. Clearly one of the characters has been watching enough superhero movies to pick up on what the audience has been suspecting for sometime.

If the superhero genre is going to keep pumping out movies (six more next year - seven if you include the Batman Lego movie!) then the studios are going to have to try something a bit more memorable than the same old mosh pit fight. It is telling that Doctor Strange succeeds here: I watched the film several days ago now and, unlike most superhero movies nowadays, I can still remember what happened. Rather than just merging with the spandex and cape crowd, Doctor Strange left an impression.

 

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By Jim Parsons for Daimon Barber Journal