Doctor Strange (Movie) Review

Doctor Strange (Movie) Review

As the Marvel brand slides into blockbuster ubiquity, the studio needs to take care in ensuring that they aren’t just the most successful superhero factory on the block, they are also the best. Enter Dr. Strange, a movie that conforms to the usual superhero origin tale beats, yet tells them through such beautifully unhinged imagery that they feel fresh. After keeping all of the previous MCU flicks tethered to the ground through gentle sci-fi, this one dives into mysticism and magic, going full geek in ways comic book fans never dreamed was possible in a blockbuster even a decade ago. Dr. Strange proves that Kevin Feige and co. still have some tricks up their sleeve with this endless Marvel cinematic odyssey, and the future looks strange indeed.

Dr. Strange (Movie) Review 3Benedict Cumberbatch stars as the weirdo physician, Dr. Strange. He opens the movie as New York’s star brain surgeon—as arrogant and brilliant as Tony Stark but in scrubs. After an unfortunate car accident claims his amazing hands, suddenly Strange’s life seems to have no purpose. Desperate to find a cure for his damaged fingers, Strange flies across the globe and ends up in a temple run by Tilda Swinton’s The Ancient One. She’s essentially a Yoda figure, who trains Strange in inter-dimensional magic that can be used for anything from traveling through portals to beating up bad guys. At the same time one of Swinton’s former students, played by Mads Mikkelson, has gone to the dark side of these magic ways, with a plot for world domination hidden behind his dark eyes. That means that good ol’ Dr. Strange best learn his tricks quickly. there’s going to be a big ol’ battle by the end of this thing.

One of the reasons it’s taken until now for Kevin Fiege to even dare to step into Dr. Strangeland is that this world is far less user friendly than that of most Marvel characters. Conceived in the 60s primarily by Marvel artist extraordinaire Steve Ditko, Dr. Strange was rooted in the mysticism and psychedelic drugs of the era. The character is hinged on the spiritual lessons and mind-bending imagery that kept hippies glued to comics as they aged. In Sinister/The Exorcism Of Emily Rose director Scott Derrickson, Feige has found the perfect filmmaker to bring this distinct world to the big screen. Derrickson is an openly spiritual filmmaker and though he’s primarily focused on horror in the past, he’s always used a sense of the surreal and the uncanny to underline his houses of horror. Dr. Strange lets Derrickson cut loose with his wildest obsessions while still staying true to the Marvel formula and it’s pretty magical to behold (pun intended, with apologies).

The imagery in the film is absolutely astounding. Cityscapes bend and contort to suit the spells. Walls of buildings spiral out into kaleidoscopic eye candy designed to keep viewers off balance. It’s an astounding recreation of the type of psychedelic comic book imagery that Ditko made famous in these books in the 60s, only vividly made real through the kind of digital manipulation that’s only become possible on this scale in the time since the MCU was created. Throw in some gentle eastern philosophy to tickle brains and you’ve got a superhero movie that should appeal to a diverse audience looking to have their minds warped. The way the spells and rubber reality plays into the action scenes also allows Derrickson to deliver superhero beat ‘em ups the likes of which we haven’t seen on the big screen before. The filmmaker delights in toying with the expectations of superhero spectacle since he can deny them all in this world if he so chooses (and especially has fun with his twisted solution on the usual “evil falling from the skies” MCU climax).

Dr. Strange (Movie) Review 7As usual, performances are also top notch with Benedict Cumberbatch clearly relishing the mixture of sarcastic one-liners and spiritual rebirth that the film provides. He’s another new big-brained genius with superpowers and attitude to add to this sprawling cast of super folks and he should be able to bicker with them satisfyingly once the crossovers kick off. He gets just the right amount of existential angst mixed in with the heightened cartoon heroism and even his initially dodgy American accent snaps into place by the end. Tilda Swinton is amusingly odd and all knowing as The Ancient One in a brilliant bit of cross gender casting. Chiwetel Ejiofor can feel a bit wasted as her second in command, but since he’s clearly being set up for bigger things in future movies, it’s forgivable. Mads Mikkelson has a typically two-dimensional no-name Marvel villain to play, but offers such a quietly disturbing/powerful presence that he turns the lack of backstory into mysterious strength. Unfortunately Rachel McAdams is stuck with a thankless “girlfriend at home” routine, but fortunately she’s a strong enough presence to make that human and likely has more substantial work coming in future MCU efforts.

Dr. Strange (Movie) Review 6If there’s a problem with Dr. Strange it’s just down to the MCU formula becoming increasingly predictable. It’s not like there’s any suspense regarding whether or not Dr. Strange will become a hero and save the world. Likewise while the usual sardonic MCU humour is present and welcome, the story and world are so dark and serious that the comedy can occasionally feel unwelcome and inappropriate. There were clearly a few growing pains in contorting this new type of Marvel movie into the established brand, but not many. For the most part, it’s what makes Dr. Strange so different from the usual Marvel hero that makes this flick such a pleasure. You will indeed get all of that usual MCU comfort food, only wrapped within a genuine headtrip of spiritual philosophy and mind-numbing surrealist eye candy that feels unlike any blockbuster cranked out of the House of Mouse (the Inception comparisons are overstated, Strange goes further). This movie is a delight and after the victory lap all-star quality of Civil War, it’s nice to see the studio still has room for expansion and experimentation within the obscenely bankable Marvel movie formula.

The Martian (Movie) Review

The Martian (Movie) Review

The Martian might be the first major studio release of October, but it feels more like the last summer blockbuster of 2015. This is rip-roaring, crowd-pleasing entertainment filled with movie stars at their brightest, special effects at their slickest, budgets at their highest, and themes at their most optimistic. So why didn’t it come out in the summer? My best guess is because it didn’t have a superhero or sequel number in the title. Unfortunately, merely making a fun n’ crowd-pleasing blockbuster that isn’t already in some way indebted to a popular franchise qualifies as specialty filmmaking these days and relegated to a fall release. That’s strange to say the least, but don’t kid yourself, The Martian serves up delicious popcorn fluff even if it didn’t come out in summer. In fact, you might find yourself so convinced you’re watching a summer blockbuster that you’ll feel like running to the beach immediately afterwards. Please don’t make that mistake like I did. It’s definitely October and cold as hell in beach water…sigh…

themartianinsert3Ridley Scott’s flick kicks off on the red planet suggested by the title. A group of astronauts/scientists lead by Jessica Chastain are going about their business studying the dusty new landscape when an unexpected storm forces them to leave post haste. In the scramble to get out of dodge, they are forced to abandon a member of their team, presuming that he is dead. Since that astronaut is Matt Damon and he’s on the poster, obviously the guy survives. He’s trapped on Mars, but he’s a genius and a botanist, so he quickly figures out how to create a crop of potatoes to stretch his supplies. Then, to expand on his smarty-pants nature, he even digs up an old probe to let NASA know he’s still alive.

From there, a one-character film (enhanced by quipy digital diaries) expands out. NASA turns out to be run by a snarky Jeff Daniels straight out of The Newsroom who (alongside Kristen Wiig of all people) is as concerned with the media PR of the situation as he is in saving a lost astronaut’s life. Thankfully, Chiwetel Ejiofor is there to be a conscience for NASA and rather quickly, everyone starts pitching in to figure out how to get Damon’s pretty little face back on earth. A few things go wrong but thankfully, Donald Glover pops up as a quirky scientist with a plan and since Chastain’s gang of astronauts played by the likes of Michael Pena and Kate “still hasn’t seen Fantastic Four” Mara, they are far too kind and played by far too famous actors to leave a man behind. Let the death-defying life-saving in space begin!

Given that this is a Ridley Scott joint, the visuals are predictably astounding. Mixing CGI and sets and God knows what, Scott and his team create a stunning vision of Mars that is both beautifully serene and eerily terrifying. The set pieces are handled with breath-taking bravado and even though some of the science likely doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, it’s been handled with a nerd-friendly attention to detail. However, all of those qualities likely could have been assumed simply by Scott’s name being in the credits. The big surprise is that the movie is also quite funny, perhaps even reaching “romp” status. Credit for this can likely be shared between Andy Weir’s source novel and the screenplay by sardonic quipster Drew Goddard (Cabin In The Woods, Buffy The Vampire Slayer). Tension and humour are mixed masterfully in a stellar bit of entertainment that actually earns a big fluffy ending without ever feeling too manipulative.

The cast is also equally impressive and important in nailing the tone and outlandish situation. Obviously Damon stands out given that he pretty much carries the first half of the film himself. He commits to his patented body-modifying dedication to the role and sells blue screen survival desperation with ease. Yet, like the movie itself, the welcomed surprise in his performance is the humour. This is one of the most fun n’ laidback performances of Damon’s career and he’s absolute delight at the centre of a big pulse-pounding sci-fi narrative. The rest of the cast all do their stressed-out faces and tossed-off one-liners well, but it has to be said that the ensemble outside of Damon is fairly underwritten and perfunctory. There just isn’t enough screentime to go around to give the other characters much depth. Thankfully, Scott helped lesson that issue by filling pretty much every role with a recognizable actor who brings all of their baggage with them and helps fill in the gaps through their previously existing relationship with audiences. It was a wise choice that keeps viewers distracted from how underwritten all the supporting players are until the credits roll.

Matt Damon portrays an astronaut who faces seemingly insurmountable odds as he tries to find a way to subsist on a hostile planet.It would be a lie to claim that The Martian is a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a little long, features a few ridiculous moments, has an unfortunate subplot that seems to exist purely to placate the massive Chinese audience (Michael Bay style), and ultimately has little to offer beyond surface pleasures. Yet, as pure popcorn sci-fi entertainment, there’s no denying that this big, beautiful blockbuster is a hell of a lot of fun. It’s a genuine crowd-pleasing charmer that should leave audiences with big goofy grins on their faces looking up to the stars with wonder again. While it would have been nice to see this thing succeed in the summer and prove that original blockbusters can exist in that space, the timing for this movie couldn’t be more perfect after the recent Mars discoveries from the good folks at NASA. In an era when that space program is underfunded in favour of blowing stuff up in foreign countries (aka the modern American way), The Martian pops up at just the right time to encourage a little mass interest in expanding the reach of NASA and in turn, enriching imaginations everywhere. What a delightful