Did I mention that there would be spoilers?
Number 1. BBC called. They want Sherlock back.
It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing Dr. Strange, despite Benedict Cumberbatch not being quite as tall as the comic character is supposed to be. More than anything, it’s the subtlety and effectiveness of Cumberbatch’s facial expressions that sells the illusion. Sadly, however, it seems the writers of this movie have too much Sherlock on the brain and are not afraid to show it – first, in how he dropped the bombshell about the not-yet-dead patient about to carted off for organ harvesting; and second, during that bit where he puts his collar up. You could almost hear Watson grumbling about Sherlock wanting to look cool.
Number 2. Super Watches and Supercars
Early on in the movie, while he’s getting ready to go out, Dr. Strange pulls open a drawer and reveals a good number of wristwatches that are spinning around in their individual holders. He selects one and puts it on. Somethings you might know. First, that spinning thing is what is known as a watch winder. It’s sole purpose is so that those fancy automatic watches don’t stop ticking when you’re not actually wearing them. It’s almost de rigueur for any serious watch collector, and with his penchant for pretty shiny things, you can bet the Eye of Agamotto that Strange is one; second, the watch he picked? A JLC. More specifically, a Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Perpetual Stainless Steel.
This fellow costs close to a million pesos in real life. The movie version, with it’s “unique” qualities would probably cost more. You see, Strange’s watch was apparently super, in itself. Lemme explain.
Going to some big formal event, the supposedly super intelligent Dr. Strange stupidly tries to analyse an MRI scan off of his tablet while driving a Lamborghini Huracan Coupé, with predictable results. I mean, you’re going flat-out in a car that has a maximum speed of upwards of 320kph and you’re basically texting, for crying out loud!
So the Huracan sideswipes another car (or it could have been vice-versa) and promptly flies off the road. As the car tumbles down the hill, Strange’s hands – still resting on the wheel – are crushed by the collapsing dashboard. If it weren’t for an eleven hour surgery, several stainless steel pins in his palms, and what I can only assume was an ungodly number of nerve and tendon re-connections, Strange would have probably been better off with two prosthetic hands instead of the two floppy flesh-mittens he would have been left with. As it was, the extensive damage to his hands ended his career as a showboating neurosurgeon and pushed him into going on the quest that would eventually lead him into becoming the Sorcerer Supreme. But guess what: His JLC survives in perfect condition. Yeah, I would understand why someone with a million pesos to burn would go for a watch like that.
Number 3. Strange Comedy
This is the sort of thing that DC movies don’t seem to get: no matter how potentially universe-shattering the problems of the hero, there’s always going to be room for a bit of comedy. Dr. Strange is no exception and every major character gets to deliver some punchline.
Christine Palmer gets to do the I’m-a-frazzled-but-still-competent-cute-girl bit perfected by Rachel McAdams in the movie Morning Glory. It’s not exactly her delivering jokes per se, but her reactions are pretty precious, as are Wong the Librarian’s deadpan reactions. Even Mordo and Kaecilius, the movie’s minor good and bad respectively, get their own perfectly timed one-liners.
The main comedians are, of course, the Ancient One with all the goofiness when she first appears, puttering about with tea like a dotty English housewife; and Strange himself. He teases Wong about not having a last name (or maybe a first name) by naming all the one-name celebrities he can think of, but strangely omitting Madonna; he does a bit of slapstick with the Cloak of Levitation, which a lot of people have likened to Aladdin’s flying carpet; and, like the Ancient One, gets goofy on occasion as well.
See, DC? It can be done. Although, as a matter of full disclosure, I do prefer DC characters and stories to Marvel.
Number 4. Psychedelia
Nearly all of the early reviews of this movie mentioned how visually stunning it was. Well, some of it was. The folding cityscapes you see in the trailer have sort of gotten old for me. They were mind-blowing when I first saw them in Inception, but the effect has been used so many times that they’ve gotten … meh. The movies vision of the Dark Dimension, on the other hand, well that’s a completely different story altogether.
To put it very simply, the movie’s Dark Dimension was nothing short of an LSD fuelled trip down a Steve Ditko gallery AND a really smart inside joke.
The inspiration for the look of the Dark Dimension was very clearly Ditko’s artwork for the Dr. Strange comics. It had fractals, spirals, and broken mirror effects up the wazoo – all hewing closely to what Ditko imagined and committed to paper.
And see that globe Strange is standing on? Those globes were in the movie too, either glimpsed from a distance, or zoomed in on up close where they looked like plant spores or algae blooms.
And as an added treat, Stan Lee’s cameo – of course there was one – had the old geezer reading from a book entitled “The Doors of Perception.” Written by Aldous Huxley, the Doors of Perception dwelt on – you guessed it – the hallucinogenic visions brought on by LSD use.
Number 5. A Deal With the Devil
This might be the most controversial part of the movie, especially among those who are meeting Dormammu for the first time. As it turns out, the big boss fight in Dr. Strange wasn’t the massive no-holds-barred duel we’ve all come to expect from superhero movies, but a surprisingly cerebral face-off that ends with the hell lord promising to leave Earth alone.
Well, it would be surprising if you didn’t already know that that was how the comics Dr. Strange dealt with the comics Dormammu in the source material. Yep. Sure, the details of the encounter vary significantly, but even in the comics, it wasn’t a brawl that saved the day, but the intelligent use of power.
I especially liked this ending for the movie – not just because it was remarkably faithful to the original – but because it is thematically consistent with the character of Doctor Stephen Strange.
Oh, and in keeping with the movie’s overall faithfulness to the look of the comic book, the movie Dormammu looks exactly how you would imagine Ditko would have rendered him if he had a gazillion-dollar CGI budget.
Number 6. But was it good?
By superhero movie standards, yes, Dr. Strange was a good movie. It had a fairly coherent plot, a relatively small number of deus ex machine moments (such as when a guy who found the out about the Ancient One the hard way pretty much just rolled over for the asshat doctor who once refused to help him), and the characterisations didn’t fall flat, even if they didn’t exactly soar either.
Obviously, the movie’s strongest suit was its CGI, which was also ironically it’s weakest. I understand that a movie which deals with Marvel-style magic must necessarily have a shit-load of CGI, some of the set-pieces just went on too long achieving too little. The city-folding scenes, for instance, were boring in that they were done primarily for the visual impact. There was so much that could have been done with Escher-like quality of the effect – the movie Labyrinth comes to mind – that could have made the city-folding feel more necessary and organic. But that’s a very minor quibble, I think, and perhaps simply a matter of taste.
Number 7. Re-watchability
In terms of re-watchability, I’d say watch it twice. The first time to be awed, and the second time, to pick out the finer plot points and nuances. Watching it a third time might send you to sleep unless you’re a fan of Benedict “can’t say penguin to save his life” Cumberbatch or a bald Tilda Swinton who actually smiles in this one.