Review: Doctor Strange

10643689501470780548050 It’s hard, currently, to walk into a Marvel Studios movie and not have that up-surging hint of pure excitement, that childlike feeling of anticipation as you know you are about to see an intellectual property (maybe even one that you relate to, inherently or otherwise) treated with the utmost grace and ability that large-scale filmmaking has to offer. This is no different in director Scott Derrickson’s interpretation of Doctor Strange, where an amazing cast led by Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role brings one of Marvel’s lesser known but greatly powered heroes to live action in a stunning and wondrous way. In fact, it is the sense of awe and grandeur that Doctor Strange inflicts that makes it so impactful, by ways of the introduction of magic and the deep mystery of the beyond, the film props itself up immediately as one of the best Marvel productions to date.

This film suffers some of the same indignities that the Marvel formula provides, namely a rushed prologue and shortened character development. However, these are largely sidestepped by the structure Derrickson lays throughout the movie: by taking advantage of the very tropes a character such as “Doctor Strange” is inundated with, the movie leads the audience to clever assumptions about characters, supplanting concrete descriptions with vague but informative notions. He lets the audience do the work he could have done with more run time.

The supporting cast is nothing short of fantastic, usually the case with films from Marvel Studios but especially so here. Chiwetel Ejiofor puts in a contrasting performance to Cumberbatch’s aloof Strange, a stoic and severe reminder of the variety of personalities at play in the movie as “Mordo”. Benedict Wong, easily enough as the character “Wong”, offers up a sort of characterization of Mordo’s severity, one that serves as both beloved guide and unintended comic relief throughout the movie. The only real disappointment is Rachel McAdams in the extremely forgettable position of lead love interest in a Marvel Studios movie as “Christine Palmer” a character that connects Strange’s old life to his new one and fulfills little purpose other than that.

The real high casting points in this film are the triumvirate of players at the top: Cumberbatch as “Doctor Strange”, Tilda Swinton as “The Ancient One” and Mads Mikkelsen as “Kaecilius”. Cumberbatch exceeds in his portrayal of Strange, he has always done well with the “brash American” characters and that skill is honed to a fine point here: at times sarcastic and playful, severe and enraged, the range he displays is wonderful. Swinton excels as she always does, donning an intriguingly androgynous form for “The Ancient One” and thoroughly accomplishing the effect that she knows much, much more than Strange or even the audience does. Mikkelsen takes a stereotypically underdeveloped Marvel villain and makes up for what the script lacks in with the pure intensity of his performance.

However, if there is one reason to see this movie, it is for its visual splendor. From beginning to end the movie is packed with stunning cinematography. Cinematographer Ben Davis adds to the feel he honed in Guardians of the Galaxy with a foreboding sense of forever. Anywhere from the “mirror dimension” to “The Dark Dimension”, the level and layout of the CGI work create mind-blowingly powerful landscapes and scenes. The very addition of something as illogical as magic to the Marvel universe opens up a plethora of visual options as the film takes on an almost kaleidoscopic nature, transcending normal visual cues for something altogether new for audiences.

Ultimately, Doctor Strange is a treat for the viewer in many ways: superb acting, the impact of an interesting yet underutilized character, a classic formula whose faults are for a bit lifted, but probably most of all Doctor Strange will owe its success to the rich visual thematics it has been imbued with by director Scott Derrickson. Between his delicate handling of a premise that could easily have jumped the shark and the impeccable acting chops of Benedict Cumberbatch, perhaps the most polished Marvel Studios movie yet was made, and it is a joy to behold.

[easyreview title= "Review of Dr. Strange" cat1title="Bart's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="4.5" overall= false]

Review: Man of Steel

Man of Steel

Comic book movies have had such a successful run over the last number of years. The sub genre has become mainstream and is beginning to feel like a genre all its own. In 1978, Richard Donner’s Superman was unprecedented, but since then we have seen three direct sequels and a fourth unsuccessful pseudo followup in 2006. Superman is by far the most well known comic book character around the world. Even people who have never read a comic know his basic origin story. Being such a known character has made his onscreen adaptations difficult to tackle. Director Zack Snyder attempts such a task with this year’s Man of Steel.

The challenge in adapting Superman to film is making him relevant in modern times. The character was created in 1938, and has a dated look, morality code, and worldview. In an age of violent villains and brooding heroes, can the flying boy scout still impress us?Director Zack Snyder worked with producer Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Trilogy) and writer David Goyer (The Dark Knight Trilogy) to create a movie that works to bring the “granddaddy of superheroes” back to the world of the living. To say that Snyder and his team delivered is a vast understatement. Man of Steel gives us a heartfelt take on a story we thought we already knew, outrageous characters, and action that rivals some of the biggest and best Hollywood has to offer.

The aforementioned origin story is relatively the same as we’ve seen in past films. We are treated to the added bonus message about free choice in a society. I am not sure if this was a metaphor for some modern day political issue or not, but to me it had some weight. Superman’s father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) is the early focus of the movie and plays to adding a serious level of gravitas to this classic character who was originally played by Marlon Brando. Jor-El works early on to warn of the impending danger to his homeworld of Krypton. Opposite Jor-El's ease and heroism is brutal and myopic General Zod (Michael Shannon). Zod’s soul purpose is to protect Krypton at all cost. Like any automaton, Zod goes too far when his “programming” conflicts with what’s happening around him. He decides to make a go at taking over Krypton.

Flash forward to Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill) as an adult on Earth and we see his interactions with Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, respectively). Intercut with moments of Clark as a child, the movie does a great job of not just rehashing the story everyone knows. The relationship between Clark and the Kents is very well explored and gives you a real sense of where Superman gets his moral center. For the first time in any Superman movie real exposition is given for Clark Kent/Superman’s struggle to adapt to living with his powers. The struggle to just be normal is a thread throughout his childhood. There is even time taken to give the audience a look at how Superman literally sees the world around him. A perspective not touched on ever in previous big screen outings.

Throughout his time in secret Clark is being pursued by the famous journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams) who is tracking his good deeds around the world. Lane has some interactions with him and she becomes obsessed with the very idea of an alien being. Eventually Superman in all his glory debuts himself to the world and Snyder does a great job of asking the question of “how would humans react to seeing a god show up on Earth?” This is yet another thing not explored in previous films. Once the world is put in danger Superman begins to make a myriad of sacrifices for the common good. From this point on a struggle ensues and we are treated to ~40 minutes of pure action. The sequences were heavy CGI-ed, but looked clean. The fight pace was insanely quick as you’d imagine. Jumping from one end of the screen to another and back again was common. Fighting through buildings and other urban landscapes was pretty par for the course after a while; this is not a complaint. The scope of the fights felt massive and lead to the the understanding of how powerful these characters were. Even smaller roles like Faora (Antje Traue), General Zod’s right hand woman was given a time to shine. I found myself grinning from ear to ear when she was onscreen battling. I cheered, smiled, and even chuckled as this was the Superman movie I’ve been waiting for for many years.

Henry Cavill’s Superman is a the classic good looking farm boy from Kansas that we all know and love. Cavill brings a nice guy innocence to the roll, but nothing really Earth shatteringly new. He is competent in the character and does no harm. His interactions with Lois Lane were on the weaker side, and was a rather decent hindrance to the overall flow of the movie. I wanted more from the two of them. Lois is fairly underwritten here, even as a damsel in distress character. A stronger definition for who she is would have helped greatly. The chemistry just wasn’t there this go round. When it came to Cavill taking on the big shoes and challenging Shannon face to face he delivers and you can't help but root for him. Cavill is my generation’s Superman, and I think we will be happy to have him. Michael Shannon shines as General Zod. Taking up about the massive mantel that Terrence Stamp left behind Shannon works his best just under the surface crazy personality style to the max. From calm General to foaming at the mouth psycho, Shannon runs the gamut.

All and all, Man of Steel is the movie I’ve been waiting for and I think modern movie goers will love it just the same. Warner Bros/DC have had some great moments with The Dark Knight Trilogy, but also had some false starts like Green Lantern. With Man of Steel it appears that they might just have got their footing back and are ready to start running full speed. Taking the route of a grounded world in which these fantastic characters live is the proper move for Warner Bros/DC and they seem to be taking it. What’s next for them is hard to say, but if they keep this up there is no end to the possibilities. The tagline for the 1978 Superman film was "You'll believe a man can fly." In 2013, you can believe again!

 [easyreview title= "Review of Man of Steel" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="4.5" overall= false]