Friday, October 28, 2016

A Review of Dr. Strange

We close in on a shot of Benedict Cumberbatch's hands.

Pristine. Glowing white. An enviable ivory warmth of presence that only an exceedingly few but fortunate Hammersmith-born gentlemen can claim to possess.

Not idle or overly callused, these immaculate hands convey a message of strength and purpose. From the mundane task of washing up to the practiced act of putting on a rubber glove, these hands, twenty feet wide and luminous, are conveyed to me through my 3D glasses as a presence in and of themselves, possessing a complexity, an aura, that no other hands can or ever will possess.

These are the hands of Doctor Steven Vincent Strange, master of medical science and, as the function and crux of Marvel's newest movie in a string of blockbusters, a master of the mystic arts.

"Forget everything you think you know," Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor),The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and all the other people in the movie take turns telling our eponymous hero.  It could be said they're speaking directly to us, the viewer.  Far from the militaristic posturing of a Captain America or The Avengers, removed somewhat from the Randian corporation of an Iron Man, and a bit more grounded than the space romp Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange is a love letter to the fans of the Marvel Universe in a way that is neither pandering nor condescending.

It has one purpose, and that purpose is clear in everything that went into this film, from the casting to the acting to the fluid choreography and 3D MC Escher kaleidoscopic landscapes in the Mirror Dimension. Entertainment. Pure and simple entertainment, with as little baggage as is possible while still conveying a substantial message. That means high drama, careful pacing, a comfortable confusion of plot, and, arguably the earmark of the Marvel Cinema brand: humor.

There were enough solid laugh-out-loud moments nimbly interspersed throughout the dizzying fight scenes that it demands being seen again and again, as if in some sort of mystic time loop designed to disrupt an Elder Being from the Dank Dimension. We can call this the Mister Doctor Bargain.

But back to Dr. Stephen Strange's hands. They are the focus that carries us throughout the film, drawn back to the center of the screen again and again, these sculpted specters of nuance embodying the film's strengths and weakenesses. We watch them perform miracle surgeries. We watch them as they are swallowed by a collapsing dashboard during the catastrophic slow motion car crash. We see them strung up with metal bars, and the linear scars that criss-cross them after countless surgeries. We see them shake uncontrollably. We see one hold still bearing a magic set of tiny brass knuckles as the other forms a sparkling circle capable of transporting an individual almost anywhere.  The scars of Dr. Strange's hands stand as a reminder to him throughout the movie. He is principled insomuch that his hero's code is the Hippocratic Oath, but his real drive comes in those trembling, scarred hands. Overcoming their tremors may come second to saving the world, but every glance the camera gives them increases their aura.  All the arrogance of a photographic memory and wit of the hero are helpless before these stitched, wounded digits.

This film isn't just the hero's journey of a brilliant man overcoming egotism to undergo an apotheosis and uncovering secret truths about the Multiverse before discovering that sometimes you must fail to succeed.  Mordo and The Ancient One are members of a worldwide network of people mapped with subtle scars of their own. They've fought a hidden battle going on behind the scenes of the Marvel Universe Earth 199999 for thousands of years, an occult protection racket based in Hong Kong, New York, and London, doing what they can to undermine the cosmic villain Dorammamu, an eternal being of the Dark Dimension using the zealous Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) to overcome Earth and invade the Material Plane.  This crux plays out in a manner that proves satisfying. The film will meet critical scrutiny and the Internet Legion of Shame with light-hearted banter and a highly advanced Windows Media Player visualization setting.  This is the new world of entertainment, played out masterfully for future generations of moviegoers to envy as the Age of the Megafranchise. Note the film was released in Hong Kong and the final confrontation takes place there. Note that Benedict Wong, playing Wong, is himself a double echo and does a brilliant job as a straight man librarian guardian sorcerer. Note that Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) is Stephen's grounding throughout the film, the last tether of the life he once held. Note the alignment shift, or lack thereof, by Mordo by the end of the film. Note that Thor and Dr. Strange will be a better duo than Iron Man and Hulk.

If there is an Internet, and I believe there might be, there should be a score of memes dedicated to the Mister Doctor Bargain within a fortnight of the film's official opening.

Doctor Strange premieres stateside on November 4th.