Doctor Strange (Scott Derrickson, 2016)

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I’ve Seen Stranger Things

Like Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, Stephen Strange went to Asia looking for the cure (unbeknownst to the former doctor, the band resides in England—y’know, Three Imaginary Boys, 1979). Unlike Christian Bale’s Wayne, Benedict Cumberbach’s Dr. Strange has a slick sense of humor (“Just Wong?… Like Adele… Or Aristotle? Drake? Bono? Eminem…”) He didn’t find the cure (but later encountered their black-eyed goth followers). Instead, he got into the world of sorcery, or in his ex-girlfriend’s words, he joined a cult. Just like this movie joining the cult of fairly entertaining but underwhelmingly average MCU movies.

At the outset, the movie looks impressive (i.e., architectural wonders folding and unfolding like clockworks). Marvel definitely put their money where their mouth is—that is, on SFX, bold and capital. Still, Doctor Strange isn’t the Ditko/Kubrick/Miyazaki/The Matrix mind-trip Kevin Feige said it needed to be.  Ditko, sure, a li’l bit from The Matrix and a lot from Inception, minus the well established logic of the latter and the Wachowskis’ stylish kung fu mix. In short, it looks different from all other MCU movies. Yet, for some reasons, it also feels and looks the same—it’s lightweight, jokey, and heavy on CGI.

Doctor Strange isn’t as mind-bending as Kevin Feige thought it should be. Why? Because it takes more than fancy 3D eye candy to be truly mind-bending. It never quite absorbs you into its world in the same way The Matrix and Inception do. In comparison, Thor’s rough sketch of the Tree of Nine Realms was more interesting—yes, it sounds BS—but at least that movie understands no one’s supposed to take it seriously.

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But they got Doctor Strange’s character right. Tilda Swinton, who anchors the movie’s more serious moments, disappears into her character as expected. Rachel McAdams, who plays Strange’s ex-lover, is just lovely and fun to watch—too bad she’s underused in the movie.

Nevermind that the villains fell into the typical MCU hole. I liked that Strange made great effort to master sorcery solely for his personal gains—that he studied it the way he did to get his M.D. and Ph.D., only this time learning at a much faster rate since he could pull-off all-nighters while he sleeps. That he learned an important lesson that Tony Stark probably hasn’t learned yet even after Civil War. That he trained in mystical kung fu all the while wondering what the heck was it for. That he was unwilling to fight. And that when the big fight comes, he was barely prepared for it.

Actually, just the first few minutes of it. I mean, come on, this is Marvel, the guys who made averting world-ending scenarios look so cool and easy. Nothing’s going to be really that hard for our hero. And no villain would be so threatening who can’t be easily defeated in the end. The villain’s threat was hardly even felt in the first place. The scenes showing those people in Hong Kong in grave danger gave a hint of that threat, but too little too late. Then we got a third act battle that’s quite clever—but is also kind of weightless. (There’s more weight and fun in seeing Tom Cruise try, fail and die in Edge of Tomorrow—a much better movie.) And after Thor showed up in the mid-credits, the said final confrontation felt more like: “Dormammu, just give it up already! So we can get rid of these stingers, move onto the sequels and make more money!”

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Scott Adkins was in this movie?! That guy could kick some serious ass. With him, Marvel could have mixed the sorcery elements with some real martial a… Wait, he’s the guy who died fighting that sentient cloak? Aargh! They just wasted him in this movie.

 

Rants/Raves: Christopher Nolan’s Films

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Batman’s upside-down smooch.

Batman Begins (2005). Details, lots of details. As if Nolan has written a book, a manual on how to be Batman. It’s a good comic book origin story, but still, it’s got nothing on my favorite origin movies—Spider-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy.

irreversibleIrreversible (2002). A friend once told me of a movie about an amnesiac, in which the story was told in reverse—or something like that. I forgot what the title was and so when I saw this movie with the woman from Malena standing nude on the cover, I thought this was the movie he was referring to. I was wrong. He was talking about Christopher Nolan’s Memento; and this is by Gaspar Noe, a guy who surely knows how to shock.

Memento (2000). Not sure whether this or Batman Begins was first Nolan movie I saw. Here, Nolan cuts his story in the middle, then cut it further into pieces and spliced them like a puzzle. Only that, after all the pieces were in place, it kinda feels pointless. That’s it? It didn’t blew me away.

If you want something that’s really hard to follow, try Shane Carruth’s Primer—now that is one mindfuck movie!

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The Prestige (2006). Based on Christopher Priest’s novel about two magicians engaged in a stiff one-upmanship. Some critics bemoaned the lack of showy flourish, but I like it nonetheless, it’s my favorite among Nolan’s films. The story employs multiple flashbacks, shuffling the sequence of events. Yet, unlike in his other films, the non-linear storytelling is fluid and doesn’t feel like a gimmick. Also, it’s got David Bowie as the great Nikola Tesla and that Thom Yorke song at the end credits is just perfect. While the secret to Angier’s final magic act was pretty much given, I didn’t realize Borden’s trick until it was revealed. It was also quite obvious though, if one carefully pays attention. But maybe Cutter (Michael Caine) was right, I wanted to be fooled.

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The Dark Knight (2008). A friend once defended this film by saying that critics nitpick on things Nolan wasn’t particularly good at—like staging good fight scenes—that it wasn’t his forte, and that the movie was great nonetheless. Well, I don’t know. Aren’t well staged fight scenes of primary importance in movies like this? Hellboy 2, Spider-Man, Kick-Ass, and Blade 2 all have memorable fight scenes. Heck, even the third X-Men movie has at least one memorable action sequence. And despite all the detailed upgrades on the Batsuit, both looks and functionality, Christian Bale doesn’t improve much on Michael Keaton’s Bat-Stiff.

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Inception (2010). Despite its multilayered narrative, some people find Nolan’s dream within a dream movie, linear and literal. And I tend to agree with them. Aside from the arresting visuals and one inspired sequence, this was just as problematic as Memento. Unlike Satoshi Kon’s Paprika, Inception is hardly “dream-like”. Near the end of this quite long movie, when it looks like Dom Cobb will succeed anyway, no matter what the odds are, I thought that it was probably more meaningful to snuggle, take a nap and dream for real; instead of the two plus hours I just spent, inside Nolan’s shared world of daydreaming.

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