Monday, November 07, 2016

Stranger Things

Hello, readers! I've returned from a week-long vacation to Orlando, with some stories I hope you'll enjoy. But pop culture kept rolling along in my absence, so I'm going to squirrel those away for a bit and start by playing catch-up instead. And I'll start with the big new movie I saw upon my return, Doctor Strange.

The latest entry in Marvel's mega-franchise is not quite the departure from formula needed to be truly exceptional, but it does shake things up just enough to avoid being "more of the same." I was entertained, if not blown away.

The visuals are a real triumph. Doctor Strange picks up the baton from several other films, Inception and Dark City in particular, but blends it all into its own concoction that dazzles throughout. And for once, the 3D version of the film definitely adds to the experience (despite being a post-production conversion). It feels like the sort of movie that would reward multiple viewings, as there are so many places to look in so many scenes.

Doctor Strange is also an impeccably cast movie -- everyone is selected perfectly to do the thing they do best. Benedict Cumberbatch again demonstrates his mastery of abrasive-but-compelling. Tilda Swinton transforms, chameleon-like, into another unusual character. Chiwetel Ejiofor is another film's moral constant. Rachel McAdams is again a perfect foil by being more of everything the main character is -- more lovable, more witty, more clever. And Mads Mikkelsen oozes his blend of creepy and charming as another intriguing villain.

In many ways, the movie is a hybrid between Iron Man (the pompous and reluctant hero) and Thor (fantastical, "magical" displays). Often times, this worked, but there were a few elements of those films I do wish hadn't been repeated here. Rachel McAdams' character, like Natalie Portman's (and Gwyneth Paltrow's, before Iron Man sequels punched her up a bit), is hardly developed as her own person -- the film relies on the actress more than what's on the page to make a character. And the villain is once again rather generically ambitious without particular grievances depicted on screen.

The role of magic works for and against the story in different moments. The ability to hand-wave things that had to be explained by technobabble in previous Marvel movies is certainly a time saver, and the lack of specificity makes it harder to poke holes. Yet what few limitations the story actually puts on its magic prove to be guidelines and not rules, all violated in act three to speed (perhaps too fast?) to a conclusion.

Still, it all goes down rather easily, and very prettily. I'd give Doctor Strange a B+ overall. I guess it speaks to the current state of superhero movies that even a mark that high still puts it at only the third best superhero movie of the year.

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