Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Doctor Strange

Year 9, Day 95 - 4/5/17 - Movie #2,589

BEFORE: Well, I couldn't use Tom Hanks as a link out of "Bonfire of the Vanities" because I don't have copies of "Sully" or "Inferno" yet, and similarly I couldn't use Johnny Depp as a link out of "Black Mass" because no channel has run "Alice Through the Looking Glass" yet.  These are the things I have to consider, keeping an eye on the list of films that I WANT to add to the watchlist.

But it's all going to work out, because this is all part of my plan - Benedict Cumberbatch carries over from playing Billy Bulger in "Black Mass", and I get to catch up on the Marvel movie that I missed last year.  I didn't think there was a way to link to it, so I didn't catch this one in the theater, but then of course Cumberbatch turned up unexpectedly in "Zoolander 2" and I was so busy around the holidays that I couldn't adjust in time.  It's OK, I really needed the link here, so everything happens for a reason, I guess.

THE PLOT: While on a journey of physical and spiritual healing, a brilliant neurosurgeon is drawn into the world of the mystic arts.

AFTER: Every time I watch a Marvel or DC movie, I'm reminded that it's such a great time to be alive - because it turns out that if you live long enough, you get to see every book and comic book that you read as a kid turned into movies. Just over the last few years, I've been able to see the entire "Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" series as films, plus some of the "Chronicles of Narnia" books, and just about every comic I read growing up, from the Avengers, Fantastic Four and the X-Men to Batman, Superman and soon the whole Justice League, not to mention "Watchmen", "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" and soon even "A Wrinkle in Time" will join that list.  The fact that Marvel's made it down to Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy and now Doctor Strange gives me hope that someday they'll make it to She-Hulk, Moon Knight, Cloak & Dagger and maybe Alpha Flight.

Any true comic book fan already knows the origin of Doctor Strange, so the first half-hour of this film should come with no suprises - Stephen Strange was a talented surgeon who was in a car accident, and lost the use of his hands.  This led him to Nepal to seek out alternatives to medical healing, and put him on a path of mystical discovery.  But before the accident, he was an arrogant asshole, so really this is like the "Regarding Henry" of superhero stories.  He eventually learns that it's NOT all about him, and that magic, like superheroism, is all about sacrifice.  (It's like an adult "Harry Potter" story, just one where the trainee goes to a much tougher school, then learns to fight "Matrix"-style in the world of "Inception".)

The most recent writers of the "Doctor Strange" comic book have taken this theme to heart, really diving into the cost of Strange defeating one mystical "evil" entity after another over the years, and finally showing the bill for that cost coming due.  They revealed that his manservant, Wong, and several of the Tibetan monks have been powering his spells, at the cost of their own souls, bit by bit, and in the last few issues, Strange has been battling a creature that's a manifestation of his own misery, which has built up over the years.  Sounds a bit like my job.

The film sort of touches on things like that too, when it's revealed that the Ancient One only got to be so ancient by tapping into power from the Dark Dimension, which doesn't sound good.  But if she's been able to stay alive longer and battle evil more by using dark power for good causes, who's to say what's right and what's wrong?

That's right, the Ancient One is a "she" here, which did cause some controversy since the Ancient One in the comic books was an old Asian man, not a (relatively) young British woman.  There's blind casting, and then there's inappropriate blind casting, it's not really up to me to decide which is which, but why go on record taking a job away from minority actors, just to cast a woman?  But really I just found this confusing, because I wasn't sure if she was supposed to be a woman, or a woman playing a man.  The latter might have been a bit more interesting, but I guess gender-bending is likely to blow the minds of little kids who are comic-book fans.  It turns out the filmmakers were trying to avoid using racial stereotypes, but in doing so, just managed to piss off more people for "white-washing" the character.

Now, there's the matter of where this fits into the Marvel Universe, because otherwise I'd have a NITPICK POINT about the Eye of Agamotto, which is generally used in the comic book to reveal the true nature of things, not to rewind and control time, as seen here.  But they do mention that it contains an Infinity Stone, most likely the Time Gem, and this is what we've been seeing in all of the Marvel movies so far - and this linked storyline should come to fruition in the upcoming "Avengers: Infinity War".  The tesseract in "Captain America" was really the space gem, the Aether in "Thor: the Dark World" came from the reality gem, the orb in "Guardians of the Galaxy" was the power gem, and Loki's scepter in "The Avengers" housed the mind gem (currently worn on the forehead of the Vision in "Age of Ultron").  If this film shows us the time gem, then only one is still missing - the soul gem.  Gee, I hope Thanos doesn't somehow get his hands on all 6 of them and put them together, that would probably be bad.

It's possible that the upcoming "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" will deal with this, if not then we'll have to wait for November's "Thor: Ragnarok".  Since that may deal with the fall of Asgard, and Hela (goddess of Death) is going to appear in that one, we may see the Soul Gem make its appearance there.  The post-credits sequence in "Doctor Strange" leads into that third Thor film, so it all starts to make sense, at least comic-book sense.

Anyway, back to the "Doctor Strange" movie.  It's visually stunning, but I admit that the plot got away from me at some point, specifically when the action left Tibet, and they started talking about the three "sanctums" run by the monks, which are in London, New York and Hong Kong.  (So, just curious, why live in Tibet when you can bounce between those other cities?)  Since I missed them talking about the sanctums somehow, it seemed to me like the villain zapped Doctor Strange, and suddenly he had his house on Bleecker Street and all the magical relics he needed, and I wasn't sure how he got there.

Also starring Chiwetel Ejiofor (last seen in "The Martian"), Rachel McAdams (last seen in "Southpaw"), Mads Mikkelsen (last seen in "Rogue One"), Tilda Swinton (last seen in "Snowpiercer"), Benedict Wong (also last seen in "The Martian"), Michael Stuhlbarg (last seen in "Seven Psychopaths"), Benjamin Bratt (last seen in "The Great Raid"), Scott Adkins (last seen in "The Pink Panther"), Mark Anthony Brighton, with cameos from Stan Lee (last seen in "X-Men: Apocalypse"), Chris Hemsworth (last seen in "Ghostbusters" (2016)).

RATING: 7 out of 10 MRI scans

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