Doctor Strange

Rating:

STRANGER THAN FICTION

Main Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor

Director: Scott Derrickson

Creepy Clown by JC 2218

Didn’t I look adorable for my trek to the gas station?

Shooting continues on Capitol Picture’s new movie musical version of Stephen King’s It, starring yours truly in the title role.  It’s been a bit of a slow week for me as they’re working mainly on scenes with the children.  I went down to the studio to watch one of their numbers, a sort of rabble rousing tap number set on the streets of a small Maine town where the townspeople join in with them, dancing through their everyday lives and setting an idyllic scene before malevolent forces start tearing things apart.  The overhead crane shots of the dancers making Busby Berkleyesque patterns in the town square were taking an interminable amount of time so I decided to make use of the down time to head over to wardrobe to try on one of my adorable form fitting clown outfits that I will be wearing for the number I’m lensing next week, a little ditty entitled It Came From Outer Space, which has a lovely little oom-pah-pah accompaniment.

I had just managed to get the thing on and the corset laced when the end of the day bell rang and the crew was packing up so I decided I would wear the outfit home so that Lulu Pigg, Miss Laurie, Madam Mimi and I could get creative in the studio with some new and vibrant ideas prior to the actual filming.  I was in such a flutter that I leapt into my Daewoo Mu-Tang and headed down the road without checking the gas gauge.  Of course, someplace around Pacoima, the car ran out of gas and I had to get out and walk to the gas station.  I took a nice little shortcut through some woods and bought my three gallons.  Once I got it going again, I headed home but there was quite a crowd of screaming children and adults with shotguns hanging around the area.  I can’t imagine why.

Back at the home studio, I checked on Normy, who was busy supervising the finishing touches on the new West Wing.  He was going to begin shelving his extensive sheet music collection but I suggested instead that we go to a matinee as we had not been out together in ages.  He agreed if I wore something other than my glamorous clown costume so I quickly slipped into a little Ungaro frock I keep for such occasions and off we went to the local Cineplex where we opted for the umpteenth film from the Marvel universe, Doctor Strange with Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role.  As I am not a comic book fan, the character was new to me, but fortunately, as this is the first film in which he makes an appearance, we get a fleshed-out origin story.

We first meet Dr. Stephen Strange at work and soon learn he is a talented neurosurgeon, able to do things others cannot due to his fabulous hands and his sang-froid arrogance.  This leads to tensions with his on again off again girlfriend, Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) and his hapless comic relief colleague Nick (Michael Stuhlbarg).  One night, Dr. Strange decides to demonstrate the dangers of distracted driving and shatters his hands.  He feels his life is over and holes up in his gorgeous lower Manhattan loft apartment until he hears tell of a miraculous cure where a man with a transected spinal cord (Benjamin Bratt) has learned to walk again.  Strange tracks him down, learns that he found his cure in Nepal and spends his last few dollars on a one-way ticket to Kathmandu.  Once there, he is set upon by street thugs and his last valuable possession, an expensive wash, is symbolically smashed.  He is rescued by Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who takes him to a sort of oriental Hogwarts inhabited by an order of mystics led by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and soon he’s learning to make holes in the space-time continuum, reading books written in ancient tongues about the secrets of the universe and ultimately battling Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), another graduate of the school for sorcery who seems to have taken a page out of Lord Voldemort’s book.  There are a bunch of battles, something about an amulet that allows time to shift and a rather dapper red cloak with a mind of its own and everyone ends up in Hong Kong for a final showdown.

Needless to say, plot is not the film’s strong point.  It rarely is in a Marvel movie.  They live and die upon the ability of the actors to make us care about the comic book heroes and villains in their comic book world.  The good ones (Iron Man) give us top talent in well suited roles and create stories that illuminate ourselves in the same way that the Greek myths speak to us.  The bad ones (Avengers: Age of Ultron) are a waste of celluloid. Fortunately, this one, due to the strength of the performances, ends up in the good category.  Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Tilda Swinton all transcend the genre to give us glimpses of complex human beings.  None of them is afraid to show us the unlikable sides of their characters and the screenplay (John Spaihts, Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill) gives them conflicting emotions and loyalties.   The tensions and challenges do not always occur when and where you might think in this usual paint by numbers world.

The film is well paced (direction by Derrickson) and never flags.  There’s a good balance between intimate scenes involving characters we come to care something about, and action set pieces.  Many of these latter are the standard stuff we see in superhero films:  bodies flying, shattered crockery, a few well-placed explosions.  There are, however, a number involving entering an alternate dimension in which the buildings bend and fold themselves in improbable ways that would have delighted M. C. Escher.  I applaud the unsung CGI heroes that managed to turn a London street into a torrent of deadly mechanical cogs and back again.

There are weaknesses.  Ms. McAdams barely registers as love interest, but then romance is not what the film is about.  The orientalism of the school for sorcery owes more to old Charlie Chan movies than to anything actually resembling Asian culture.  The motivations behind some of the actions of Mordo and Kaecilius are unclear.  The existential big bad is defeated by one of the least clever plot devices ever put on film.  These, however, do not deflate the film and the good performances patch over the saggy moments without too much difficulty.

This is a definite must see if you are a fan of the Marvel universe of caped crusaders.  Others will enjoy it as well, even if they haven’t seen the twenty or so films that precede it in the series.

Lamborghini.  Circles of sparks.  Ex-paraplegic.  Decapitated librarian.  Gratuitous inscrutable oriental archetype.  Fall from height.  Astral projection.  Too many sorcerers

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction, visit her entire back catalog and follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/missvickilester

photo by JC 2218

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