I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Doctor Strange (2016)

tn_doctorstrangeIn his latest vehicle, the King of DTV Action Scott Adkins plays “Lucian / Strong Zealot,” the right (or possibly left) hand man to a dark master of mystical world-bending sorcery magic spell power beams named Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen, VALHALLA RISING). Kaecilius was once a student of The Ancient One (international martial arts superstar Tilda Swinton, CONSTANTINE) but now suspects she is siphoning dark magic to extend her life and therefore steals a magic ritual from a special book of ancient something something, etc. So Lucian / Strong Zealot and another person are sent after The Ancient One’s new student Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, WAR HORSE) to try to destroy his magic apartment in New York and they have a fight in a hospital where they’re both ghosts but it’s kind of weird because (SPOILER IN FIRST PARAGRAPH OF REVIEW) Benedict Cumberbatch defeats Scott Adkins.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-8-35-50-pm
And Scott Adkins as “the ghost of one of the minions.”

Okay, the truth is this is not a Scott Adkins movie. His character is small enough that when his big scene is described in an Entertainment Weekly article they don’t bother to credit him. It’s weird that as Marvel Studios continue to build this vast universe of re-usable characters they chose to use

1) Idris fucking Elba as “magic bridge operator”

2) Ray god damn Stevenson as “one of Thor’s friends that he has back home”

and now

3) Scott mother fuckin Adkins as “henchman who gets beat up by magic cape”

(honorable mention: Michael Stuhlbarg as “other surgeon at hospital who Dr. Strange doesn’t like.” But at least it’s hard to picture super hero.)

(Actually, come to think of it, they gave Chris Pratt muscles, they could give ’em to Michael Stuhlbarg.)

Doctor Strange is not even much of a fighting character, but the badass star of UNDISPUTED 2-4, NINJA 1-2 and UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING is (SPOILER) the one guy he kills in the movie! I guess it’s kind of in the tradition of Bruce Lee being defeated by James Garner in MARLOWE.

Like Bruce in that movie, Adkins does at least elevate what could be a complete nothing character in someone else’s hands. It’s a better role than he had in CRIMINAL. And probly THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY. And it’s way better than what the THE RAID guys got in THE FORCE AWAKENS. But it’s another sad sign that the people with the big money may never understand the great talent that exists in the action realm.

mp_doctorstrangeAnyway, DOCTOR STRANGE is the latest Marvel movie, the first one besides THOR and THOR: THE DARK WORLD to use magic and the first besides IRON MAN, IRON MAN 2, IRON MAN THREE, THE AVENGERS, THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON and CAPTAIN AMERICA CIVIL WAR to have a hero who is a rich sports-car-driving goatee-sporting arrogant smartass supergenius who’s bad in relationships and gets horribly injured and has to find his true purpose and seek redemption. But like pretty much all of the Marvel movies it’s a good crowd-pleasing blockbuster movie.

Strange is a brilliant neurosurgeon, but not brilliant enough not to be looking on his fucking phone while driving on a winding mountain road. So he crashes and completely fucks up his hands. It’s after years of exhausting every unorthodox medical procedure he can think of that he ends up in Tibet tracking The Ancient One for a possible spiritual cure to his shaky hands. Of course he’s very skeptical, but The Ancient One and her disciples, including Mordo (Chiwetel Eijiofor, REDBELT) and Wong (Benedict Wong, REDEMPTION), show him incredible magical sights, then reject him, and he has to convince them to train him.

Obviously there’s a Shaolin Temple type of vibe to this, which I like, and the magical techniques are cool and original enough to make it stand out from other stories of this type. They move their hands like martial arts moves, but draw magical glowing mandalas in the air to use as shields. When they wizard-battle Kaecilius in the middle of the city they sort of fold the reality around them (the INCEPTION type thing you see in the trailer) so that they are running sideways and upside down across shifting skyscrapers. They do things like project their souls out of their bodies and enter weird dimensions that look like a cool black light poster. There is some straight up psychedelic shit, tiny hands sprouting out of his fingers and tiny hands sprouting out of their fingers. I don’t normally watch the Marvel movies in 3D but I took people’s recommendations to do it for this one and it was definitely the right decision. Being more immersed in these crazy visuals has a disorienting quality that feels extra-hallucinatory.

As is the Marvel way, there are some laughs peppered throughout, and the day-after-Thanksgiving crowd loved that. But to me some of the comedics felt a little more self conscious than in the other ones. Or maybe they’ve just worn out these joke formulas. I remember thinking in AGE OF ULTRON that Joss Whedon has now done the joke where they start to do something super heroic but then they deflate it by screwing up or saying something awkward way more than he’s done real ones. So at this point it’s not deconstruction anymore, because there’s nothing to deconstruct when all the characters are like that. I felt that way here when Doctor Strange folds up the collar of his cape to get some wizard swagger but then instead of just letting him be cool it turns out to be a joke where the collars move on their own to make him look silly.

That type of joke is one way they’ve made the super heroes relatable, but I think they should have at least one of these characters who’s like Blade, he’s just actually for real straight up awesome. Blade doesn’t catch the sunglasses and spin around and then put them on upside down and make a self deprecating comment. He just does something awesome. You’re allowed to have characters like that, guys. Maybe Black Panther?

In full disclosure, co-writer C. Robert Cargill wrote at Ain’t It Cool at the same time I did, but I’ve never met him and I sort of violated protocol by publicly criticizing one of his reviews back in the day. So I was the Baron Mordo of Ain’t It Cool. Cargill rewrote a Jon Spaihts (PROMETHEUS) script with the director Scott Derrickson (HELLRAISER: INFERNO), his writing partner since SINISTER. This is by far the best movie I’ve seen by Derrickson, and while it’s tempting to give some of the credit to Marvel’s production team, that wouldn’t be fair. I’ve read some articles that make it clear some of the best ideas came from him, specifically that (SPOILER) instead of the climax causing a bunch of destruction it takes place while Doctor Strange has caused time to go backwards to undo a bunch of damage that had already been done to Hong Kong before they got there. And apparently he got the job by pitching the big Adkins scene, where astral projections of the two characters fight inside the hospital room while Strange’s body is undergoing life-or-death surgery. Definitely a cool scene that’s unlike anything in other comic book movies.

So, although mostly he does it while see-through, Adkins does get to do a few flying kicks. I think I’d say fight coordinator Jonathan Eusebio (NEVER BACK DOWN, STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI, THE EXPENDABLES, JOHN WICK) manages to get in a little bit more martial arts than in most other special effects extravaganzas? I’m not sure.

But you’d be foolish to go to these mainly for the fighting. In this one, go mainly for the trippy magic shit. But that wouldn’t be enough if the basic character drama didn’t work. I think this one is more repetitive of IRON MAN than previous non-IRON-MAN standalones, but it’s compelling enough that I will be happy to see Dr. Strange and His Magic Pals again. Also, it has a solid gimmick for how he defeats the bad guy. That’s important in a comic book story, I imagine. Also it goes light on the connections to other Marvel movies, for those of you who prefer that. And I had heard that one of the characters later becomes a villain in the comics, but I think the way they set this up is impressive, because he has a more interesting motive than I expected.

I also gotta give them credit for the end credits. Not because of the standard Marvel “tag” scenes, but because Michael Giacchino’s a-little-too-close-to-Harry-Potter theme has a pretty cool stone-henged-out version with harpsichord, sitar, wailing guitar solos and then, right on cue, an organ solo. And the song is called “The Master of the Mystic End Credits”! I give the whole movie an extra wizard-point for that song, for a total of 12 wizard points.

In conclusion, I enjoyed this DOCTOR STRANGE more than the original version.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 29th, 2016 at 11:10 am and is filed under Comic strips/Super heroes, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

26 Responses to “Doctor Strange (2016)”

  1. Haven’t seen this movie yet, but I wanna make a shout out for the wonderful names that Giacchino gives his music.

  2. Crushinator Jones

    November 29th, 2016 at 1:04 pm

    Funny, the beginning of “The Master of the Mystic End Credits” made me think of the beginning of the Diablo town theme. But only the beginning.

    AOGM - Diablo - Town Theme

    Awesome Old Game Music

    Liked the movie a lot, btw. Good review, Vern. And the climax isn’t a stupid piece of shit like most of these. It’s well-paced and clever.

  3. I think you are right about black panther Vern. I rewatched civil war and Everything black panther does is either serious and or badass. maybe he will be the Blade for a new generation.

  4. Sounds like another Marvel movie for me to skip. When does Spider-Man come out again?

  5. Crushinator Jones

    November 29th, 2016 at 4:08 pm

    Actually, Broddie, it’s genuinely got some cool visual sequences. If you like seeing inventive special effect sequences zamming around the screen, you can do a lot worse.

  6. Just read the old linked AICN review and some of the talkback with Vern’s contribution. One of the talkbackers went by the name BurgerTime, which as an 80s kid I had to admit made me smile.

  7. man just gotta say the gimmick of constantly crediting people with their least respected role never fails to make me smile.

  8. The Undefeated Gaul

    November 30th, 2016 at 12:45 am

    I enjoyed the hell out of this one, but after all the promises in interviews with the director that the movie would contain a shitload of martial arts, I did have to swallow some disappointment after realizing there wasn’t going to be a single proper martial arts fight in the whole film. It’s all about the magic in this one, which is cool (especially the way it’s executed here), but they shouldn’t have promised me martial arts if they had no intention to actually deliver that. Admittedly, I only expected to see one good fight or so, namely something with Adkins involved (the one guy in the cast who can do that stuff for real) but I didn’t even get that. At least he was on screen for far longer than I was expecting based on his parts in THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY and CRIMINAL.

  9. The DOCTOR STRANGE end credits music is indeed awesome:

    The Master of the Mystic End Credits (Audio Only) from Doctor Strange

    The Doctor Strange (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) is available October 21! Download: http://hollywoodrecs.co/DrStrangeSndtk Streaming: http://hollywood...

  10. One of my favorite forums, DanCarlin.com, is closing and I am sad. I’ve been reading Vern’s site for about as long (since 2007 or so), so I just want to post that I read the link to the aintitcool review (another site I’ve gone to for a long time), and I’m really glad that the talkbacks here are so much better than that. I don’t post a lot here but I enjoy Vern’s reviews as the best reviews of cinema out there and I’m glad he has a good group of people reading and responding. Thanks for being you.

  11. Vern, did you notice that Scott Adkins shared your review on Facebook?

  12. I’m mostly not a fan of most of the Marvel movies, but I adored this one. Right up there with Iron Man 3 and Guardians of the Galaxy. Some random gushing:

    The visuals are great across the board, and it’s got good action. And I’m not saying that they’re good in comparison to other Marvel movies, that’s a ridiculously low bar to clear – it’s just really good, with some of the most imaginative scenes I’ve seen this year.

    The story, as Vern mentions, is a bit meh, but the script is great. The pacing is excellent, offering up some mindblowing visuals and setpieces at a clip. I particularly loved how they made each major action sequence be inventive, feel unique within the movie, and have a pretty cool gimmick. You could feel the crew’s excitement to do this thing, and that’s something I value a lot.

    Scott Derrickson has a sense of humor! That was probably the biggest surprise for me. Also, I expected this to be an Ant-Man situation where I’d be thinking about what a great director could have done with it instead of what we ended up getting (Guillermo del Toro was once attached to direct this), but, well. Derrickson knocked this one out of the park.

    Tilda Swinton, having loads of fun. That’s as good a reason you need to watch anything.

    My only nitpicks come at the very end (minor spoilers):
    – After showing a pretty credible reaction to killing a bad guy earlier in the movie, the doctor’s pretty fucking blase about condemning someone to eternal torture, don’t you think? He even quips while doing it.
    – The payoff to that whole “do you ever laugh?” deal was forced as hell, and not even particularly funny.

    Excellent, excellent stuff – loved it without reservations. This movie, and the fact that Taika Waititi is making it as a “mystical road trip” have actually got me really excited about Thor 3.

  13. Shoot – No, I didn’t. That’s cool!

  14. The linked review of Sex and the City by Massawyrm 1 and it’s “talkback” is definitely a fun show if you’re looking for a laugh. As a fan of the first few seasons of the show I probably went in expecting to hate it as I did the latter seasons as the same creative team that took the snarky and silly setup “with a heart” that was quite funny and poured a bag of melodrama on it was running it. Sadly it was worse than expected. But I laughed when Vern brought up, very politely, the possibility that Massa only attended to write the snarky article he had already preformulated. Not that this was the first time any reviewer was challenged on that possibility, but on not-usual-AICN-fare it was perfect timing.

    Plus I never tire of laughing at every reference to Sarah Jessica Parker as “horseface”.

    Oh, Dr. Strange. Yeah, I wanna see it, but as is my wont, I’ll be holding out for the 4K UHD release.

    In the meantime I can’t wait for my copy of the new Shout Factory! release of THE THING. Did you guys see the list of new Special Features? Just a little bummed reading some of the review comments where the movie is back in “hasn’t aged well” headed to “was never good, no character development blah blah blah” status amongst those that seem to dwell on Blu-ray review forums/sites. Wish it was a 4K release but at least it’s a new 2K scan that’s supposedly a big step up from the HD-DVD (and subsequent Blu-ray clone).

    Anyone up on the “Return of the Living Dead” original audio debacle? Only stumbled on it because I was browsing the Shout Factory! site and it mentioned one song not being cleared for the release. It wasn’t far to the rabbit-hole of releases, regions, dubs and more. Don’t know why such things fascinate me more than the actual movie which I like but hey, why couldn’t that song be cleared three decades on. I GOTTA KNOW!

    Dr. Strange was of course one of the founders of THE DEFENDERS which the MCU will reimagine on NetFlix with their roster of characters, none of which was ever more than a “guest star” in the greatest non-team comic of all time. Oh well.

  15. The Shout Factory THING special edition is indeed very good, which is no surprise, since Shout Factory is fuckin’ killin’ it these days. (I particularly recommend the INVASION USA Blu-ray. Great stories from Savini and the KNB boys, and you really respect the action more when you hear how it was done.) I especially like that they try to maintain as much of the previous versions’ special features as possible, and not just because I can then get rid of my old DVD without losing anything. In THE THING’s case, since it’s already had a few really solid releases, you get this cornucopia of interviews with a lot of the same subjects spanning decades. Which is kind of cool, seeing how the people and their feelings about the movie evolve through the years.

  16. Errrrrrr Tilda Swinton is not a international martial arts superstar.

  17. Re: The linked AICN TalkBack. The continued relevance of the conflicts in those comments now, 8 1/2 years later, makes me sad, but not as sad as the feeling that the side content not to rise above being shitty and callous seems to have won on a national scale for the time being. Is the ideological divide really ‘You’re an asshole’ vs. ‘You’re an asshole for trying to not be an asshole’?

  18. Ancient Romans, I think the answer to your question is: Yes. You nailed it.

  19. Not to mention Bradley Cooper and Vin fucking Diesel as cartoons. Cooper’s got the look, star power and talent to be a Cap or Sentry or Hawkeye or whoever, and Vin could probably pull off a good Namor, Black Bolt, Thanos or Thing. I mean, they were both good in Guardians, but I think there are better uses for them within that universe.

  20. Dinit/Vern – I think you two are forgetting about Captain America. And if he’s involved with humor, its not part of that specific approach that Vern mentioned and more jokes at his situation/personality. “I actually got that reference!” “Language!”

  21. “But to me some of the comedics felt a little more self conscious than in the other ones. Or maybe they’ve just worn out these joke formulas.”

    Vern – I think it’s more about execution, since that new GOTG v2 trailer was hilarious. With DR STRANGE, I thought the 1st act the humor felt forced and didn’t work. Reminded me of the GHOSTBUSTERS reboot where it’s supposed to be funny, but my screening crowd wasn’t reacting like the filmmakers figured/expected them.

    But it picked up in the 2nd act and onwards, and that goddamn Cloak helped. I like how Marvel can make people care about a talking tree or a sentient Cloak or DUM-E (which was just a random prop Jon Favreau was stuck with until he thought of a gag involving it) or that giant ant pet now living in Ant-Man’s ex-wife’s home.*

    *=I liked that story Peyton Reed told that he got complaints from parents who said their kids got upset when the hero’s pet ant died.

  22. These Marvel films fall into five categories for me:
    1) Think they’re genuinely not very good (IRON MAN 2, THOR: THE DARK WORLD, and to be perfectly honest THE WINTER SOLDIER)
    2) Think they’re just OK and don’t really or fully get the fuss (AVENGERS, IRON MAN)
    3) Enjoy them at the time but they leave very little lasting impression (ANT-MAN, CIVIL WAR)
    4) Really like them but can see how they will appeal to me more than the average filmgoer (IRON MAN 3, CAPTAIN AMERICA, THOR)
    5) Really enjoy them at the time but get sick of hearing about how “remarkable” they are (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY)

    It doesn’t look like this one is destined to become a 5, so I would put this somewhere between a 3 and a 4. While it was playing I did find some of the humour a little grating but I found Strange much easier to empathise with than Stark; the fall from glory, the frustration and tragedy of unrealised potential. As the story progressed I enjoyed the visuals (usually a weak point for Marvel films), the setting, the philosophy, the and the refreshing independence from the rest of the cannon. In the weeks since I haven’t thought about it that much, but I remember its charms as unique enough that I feel I’m more likely to revisit it than CIVIL WAR, even though the latter is in many ways a better movie.

  23. Agree with RRA’s comment that it’s all about the execution that makes or breaks those self-deprecating moments. Context, too. I thought LUKE CAGE had the best recent “poke fun at the superhero’s iconography” joke when he comments on the stolen clothes he’s wearing post-jailbreak (which happen to be his exact comic book costume) and says he looks like “a damn fool”. But it works because Mike Colter’s delivery is impeccable, and because it’s playing against Luke’s usual all-business sincerity/seriousness.

  24. Pacman 2.0 – I find weird people obsessing over the Dr. Strange/Stark parallels if only because they tend to forget ONE very important difference that surprisingly isn’t mentioned that much in reviews: Even in his “evil” days, Stark seems like a fun guy you wanted to party with and at least see why people hovered around him. Strange is just a dick, and I give the movie points for not cowering back on that. I mean lecturing to his surgeons that *he* would’ve saved his hands? Then instructing later surgeons precisely how he wants a surgery done (like a football coach having to draw the game-winning play in the huddle)? It’s nice touches. Then again other than Obligatory Marvel Love Interest, I don’t remember Strange having anybody else in his inner-circle pre-Marvel Redemption arc.

    As for how you describe the movies, I chalk them up to being like the 007 films albeit with more plot/genre flexibility. They can be great, they can suck, but mostly they’re decent programmers that you have a pretty decent idea of what to expect and you pretty much get what you paid to see.

    renfield – hell that scene even plays in the very first Luke Cage comic issue where he admits his costume looks “corny.”

  25. Re: Strange being a dick pre-accident, I actually was shocked and delightfully surprised they doubled down on his dickishness by having him callously reject that phone call in the car to help a man “paralyzed in a military accident in prototype armor”. He could have possibly saved Rodey from paralysis and didn’t, which hopefully they keep as a character-building easter egg and not a plot point later on when he joins the Avengers.

    Also surprised nobody here’s brought up the similarities to Green Lantern – *SPOILERS*- 1) magic powers that materialize things out of thin air, sometimes with the help of a ring, 2) cocky American guy joins secret society of warriors, acts like a bratty student and impatient pain-in-the-ass, somehow saves the world by himself on his first day on the job while everyone else is AWOL. 3) Human subvillain working for the main villain who’s a giant intergalactic world-eating cloud with a face on it. Hero defeats the cloud, cloud kills the subvillain. 4) Mentor and friend who’s apparently the big nemesis in the comics but acts like a good guy the entire time until he turns bad in a credit cookie. Granted, Doctor Strange is more exciting and more involving than GL, and runs about 20 minutes shorter, but I think the sense of deja vu knocks it down a few notches. (Also, Peter Sarsgaard and Clancy Brown were the better villains in GL by far)

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