Doctor Strange – A New Entry to the Avengers Universe

If I had a dollar for every time I saw a bad superhero movie, which almost all are, although I wouldn’t become a millionaire, I could have, by now, bought myself a pretty decent lunch.

There are only two ways for a comic book movie to be good, one is to totally embrace disbelief, like in the case of Spider Man 2, and the other is to take a chance and go to great heights to make audiences believe that, in some instances, a superhero is a reasonable alternative to law-and-order (the strategy The Dark Knight employs).

The Sunday I saw Doctor Strange on was a Sabbath that marked the special annual religious celebration of what Ethiopians refer to as MedehaniyalemYeAmetu. The famous MedehaniyalemChristian Orthodox Church, host to the occasion, situated in front of Edna Mall, was filled to the brim by people dressed in white garments. Standing on an elevated platform, I glimpsed a strikingly linear image that was almost rivalled by the visual effects of the aforementioned movie Doctor Strange.

So, who is Doctor Strange anyways? He isnt a popular superhero figure like, say, Batman or Superman, whom everyone knows without having ever seen them in their film incarnations. Instead, he is a lot like Captain America, or Thor, that only comic book geeks have heard of, but will now become popular that a multimillion dollar movie has been made about him.

His real name is Steven Strange, and belongs to the same cinematic universe the Avengers exist in. Formerly an esteemed neurosurgeon, he incurs nerve damage on his hands in a car accident which sets him off on a pursuit for a cure. He finally meets the Ancient One, who does more than just cure him.

A minor character in Doctor Strange explains that although the Avengers keep the world safe from physical danger, the Ancient One and all her disciples do so from mystical ones. What this means is a bit complicated to explain because Stranges world is indeed strange and convoluted. The film is actually not science fiction, as I suspected, but fantasy. So, almost anything goes without much reason.

The films antagonist  some dude called Kaecilius – is a former disciple of the Ancient One, who grew disillusioned by her use of magic and logic. What he wants to do is invite over Dormammu, another super powerful dude that could freeze time.

Superhero movies are filled with an incredible sum of fatalism. Every time some villain is about to take over the world, a naf somewhere in the world (usually America) gets or discovers a unique power that just so happens to be anathema to the antagonists plan. Here, unsurprisingly, Doctor Strange turns out to be Earths last line of defence against Dormammu.

A movie that stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton or Mads Mikkelsen is cool, but one that stars all of them at the same time is just unfair. Swinton, one of the most interesting actresses of all time, and a movie buff herself, has never actually given a bad performance. Danish actor Mikkelsen is also a very dependable actor – his casting here as an antagonist brings back memories to his eerie performance as a James Bond villain in Casino Royale.

Cumberbatch was on the other hand a bit of a letdown for me. What we have here isnt the efficient, gifted Cumberbatch, but the movie star Cumberbatch. This is what commercial movies, that dont allow subtlety, do to great actors. I detected a slight age of arrogance, success maybe finally getting to him, but I hope he quickly shrugs it off. Movie stars that morph into acceptable performers tend to last more than talented actors that become A-list players.

For some reason, maybe it is because of the subject matter that is dominating the news lately, the Ancient One, Swintons character, reminded me too much of Hillary Clinton. She is a very powerful, very influential, very practical figure with a lot of hidden baggage. At one crucial moment in the movie, she concedes that sometimes it is important to break the law in order to serve a higher purpose.

Under normal circumstances, Doctor Strange is a very entertaining movie, but when we take into consideration that it is the 14th movie in the Marvel cinematic universe, it becomes disillusioning. It sounds too much like a TV show. It really isnt a movie, but a subsidiary of a much bigger franchise, The Avengers.

Furthermore, this isnt just a Marvel movie, but yet another superhero origin story. By now, we can all guess how the events in the film will unfold. There is a guy, he is smart, arrogant, and will by accident stumble onto some superpowers. At the same time, intercut, with his story, a villain with diabolical intentions will be introduced. Meanwhile, the hero gets better and better at using his powers, and even takes out some minor villains. As the inevitable last reel looms, there will be a final showdown between hero and villain. Obviously, the former wins and a dream girl, who has been by the heros side all the while,will be kissed. Doctor Strange is no different, although like Deadpool, it does try to mask its formula story with self-serving humour.

It is perhaps crucial to watch this movie in theaters, or I should say, theater. This is not an endorsement of Matti Cinema, mind you, but the movie is very visually bold. Doctor Strange was envisioned for the big screen, and anything less takes too much from the movie and leaves bare its average plot.


Published on Nov 15,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 863]



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