Monday January 02, 2017
Movie Review: Doctor Strange (2016)
Am I the only one who sees a metaphor for the 2016 election in this movie? Hear me out.
Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, doomed to play brilliant but pompous) plays a brilliant but pompous neurosurgeon who gets into a car accident and damages the nerves of his steady hands, rendering him useless and purposeless. But after hearing of a paraplegic who learned to walk again, he travels to Katmandu and trains at Kamar-Taj under the Ancient One (a bald Tilda Swinton), with the idea of eventually curing himself and returning to practice. Instead, he becomes “Master of the Mystic Arts”; and instead of saving one person, or several people, he saves the whole damn universe.
But he makes an enemy in the process: his friend, and one-time mentor, Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Why?
OK, back up a bit, because it’s actually fairly clever what Strange does.
The movie opens with Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) and his team of bad guys/one hot girl stealing pages from an ancient book that allow them to tap into the power of Dormammu, the dark dimension. For some reason, these guys also invite Dormammu into our universe, and that’s destroying everything, particularly Hong Kong. So Strange uses the Eye of Agamotto (don’t ask) to turn back time; then he travels to the dark dimension, where he creates an infinite time loop so that every time Dormammu kills him, he returns to battle again. It’s sort of like “Groundhog Day” or “End of Tomorrow” but in miniature. I like this bit. He knows he can’t beat Dormammu so he lets it get bored until it agrees to leave the Earth alone. He outsmarts it.
So why does Mordo have a problem with this? Because bending time is forbidden.
Mordo, you see, is a stickler, a puritan. He’d rather have the world end than break the rules to save it. He was earlier incensed that the Ancient One tapped into Dormammu’s dark power to keep living, even though, in the long run, she was doing good.
And that’s the metaphor:
- Ancient One = Hillary
- Dormammu = Trump
- Tapping into Dormammu's power = Paid speech to Goldman Sachs
- Mordo = Bernie, or a Bernie Bro
Things worked out better in their universe.
Overall, “Doctor Strange” is efficient and fun but it’s hardly breaking new ground. On the contrary, it’s going over much of the same ground that “Iron Man” did eight years ago: The vainglorious man with Ronald Colman moustache (now goatee) brought low, then raised higher with greater powers and greater purpose. I guess Stan and Jack liked that storyline.
Once Strange arrives in Katmandu, the various concerns/tensions are all resolved with such facility as to seem facile:
- Will the Ancient One accept him? Yes.
- Is he too egotistical to learn the mystic arts? He is ... but he does anyway.
- Will he just cure himself and go back to his pompous ways, lording it over second-raters like Michael Stuhlbarg? Nope.
- Will he be seduced by “the Dark Side” like Kaecilius? Nope.
Oddly, once the battles begin, Mordo begins to worry not that Strange will be seduced by the dark side but that he doesn’t have the will to fight the dark side. It’s a concern introduced at the 11th hour and dismissed at 11: 10, and was never a concern of ours. If there’s one thing Strange isn’t, it’s a quitter.
Collecting comics in the 1970s, Doctor Strange was never one of my favorite superheroes. I didn’t understand his powers, I don’t like alternative dimensions that look like a sketchy part of outer space, and I’m generally not a fan of vainglorious men with Ronald Colman moustaches. But somehow Marvel Entertainment makes this movie work.
Think of that. Marvel can take one of its lamest characters, run him through three screenwriters, hand him off to a director mostly known for shitty horror flicks (“Devil’s Knot,” “Sinister 2”), and wah-lah: a fun flick that mixes elements of “Kung Fu,” “Groundhog Day,” and the mindbending landscapes of MC Escher. Hell, they even throw in a bit of “The Greatest American Hero”: a man doing comic battle with his superpowered clothes.
Cf., DC, which can’t even put the two most popular superheroes in the world together without making a crap salad.