‘Doctor Strange’ Review

Director: Scott Derrickson

Writers: Scott Derrickson, Jon Spaihts, and C. Robert Cargill

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, Michael Stuhlbarg, Scott Adkins, Benjamin Bratt, and Tilda Swinton

Synopsis: A former neurosurgeon embarks on a journey of healing only to be drawn into the world of the mystic arts.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

*Reviewer Note 2: There are two post-credit scenes.*

*Reviewer Note 3: I do think the best experience of watching the film is in 3D. I know the extra ticket price and 3D in general might be a pain, but I think it’s worth it to gain the full experience.*

 

 

It feels like the last three years, Marvel has released films that everyone has either doubts about or feels like Marvel is taking too big of a risk. First it was Guardians of the Galaxy, then Ant-Man, and this year is Doctor Strange. And of course, every year those doubts are proven wrong. Not only is Doctor Strange another great addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it truly is unlike anything Marvel has ever done onscreen.

The film follows Doctor Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch), highly popular but arrogant surgeon whose life gets turned upside when he’s in a sudden car accident that severely injuries his hands. When he runs out of options to gets his hands better, he heads to Nepal to search for someone that could potentially cure him. That person is The Ancient One (Swinton), who then reveals to Strange that her way is through the mystic arts. While Strange is learning things he never thought were possible, an old student of The Anicent One, Kaecilius (Mikkelsen) is trying to open a portal to The Dark Dimension and summon a dangerous entity in Dormammu.

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Like the previous films I’ve mentioned, Doctor Strange was a risk for Marvel since not many causal movie fans will know who Doctor Strange is, but more importantly, the film is adding something and putting front and center in the MCU: magic. The interdimensional aspect of the film only works because of director Scott Derrickson. He was able to bring some really great and awesome looking visual effects that I’ve rarely ever seen on film. It also helps that Derrickson has worked in horror, because you can see that in some of the shots, especially when the Dark Dimension comes into play. You will definitely walk away talking about the visuals of Doctor Strange. Also, for a film that delves into magic quite a bit, I was surprised how much hand-to-hand combat there was in the film. Not complaining, just an observation.

When it comes to the film itself, Doctor Strange does feel familiar in terms of what we’ve seen before from Marvel in the way of an origin story. We see the arrogant and egotistical character on the top of his game when suddenly something tragic happens and he’s having a self-made crisis until he has to rise to the occasion and prove himself. Of course, it’s always nice to see those stories play out, and Doctor Strange does enough to make that formula work for it, instead of against it.

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Benedict Cumberbatch is pretty much perfect as Doctor Stephen Strange. He finds the right balance of arrogance and likeability to keep us invested in his story until the very end. However, one of the big highlights – cast wise – is Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One. “White-washing” controversy aside, which never made sense to me because it’s Tilda Swinton, she almost steals the show every time she’s onscreen. She also has her own balance of being a mentor, but someone who must keep her distance from people because of the responsibly of being the Sorcerer Supreme.

Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo has his own history before the film that is hinted at, but is a by-the-books kind of warrior that teaches Strange along the way. Benedict Wong’s Wong is another highlight of the film, although I wish we had a little more with him. When it comes to Mads Mikkelsen’s villain Kaecilius, I’m sure many will see him as another underdeveloped villain that doesn’t fix Marvel’s villain problem. I wouldn’t be doing a good job of a reviewer if I didn’t agree with that to some extent.

Kaecilius doesn’t see himself as a villain and that usually makes the best kind of villains. Everything he does he thinks is for a grander purpose and makes a sound enough reason for his actions when he goes face-to-face with Strange, something even he points out that sounds good in theory, but in action not so much. However, the thing that keeps us invest in Kaecilius’ story – even for a moment – is Mikkelsen, who is always great in everything he does, and the same can be said here. But, it would have been nice to spend more time with him, and even see just a bit on how he became the way he becomes onscreen instead of just being told.

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One of the biggest cast missteps is Rachel McAdams’ Christine Palmer. There’s no denying McAdams is a great actress, and anytime she’s in something you know she’s going to give one hundred percent. However, here, she entirely wasted. Palmer doesn’t add much to the story. She does have one key moment before the final act of the film, but that is about it. Although, many probably won’t know him too much, Michael Stuhlbarg pops in the film as Dr. Nicohemus West, a character from the comics, and somewhat rival to Strange, but it’s nothing more than a lesser supporting role.

All in all, Doctor Strange is truly unlike anything Marvel has ever done before in terms of visuals and the “out there-ness” of it all. While the film does have some familiar beat-for-beat origin story Marvel moments, and loses just a bit of steam in the final act, Benedict Cumberbatch and Tilda Swinton keeps us invest from start to finish.

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Doctor Strange

4 out of 5

‘The Martian’ Review

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Director: Ridley Scott

Writer(s): Drew Goddard

Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Askel Hennie, Mackenzie Davis, Donald Glover, Benedict Wong, and Chiwetel Ejifor

Synopsis: During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit, and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Andy Weir, director Ridley Scott takes the helm of telling a story of probably someone’s worst fear: being left behind alone on a different planet. Scott has been on slump lately, but The Martian is the film that may get him back on track.

 

The film really jumps right into the action and story. The film take place on Sol 18 (“Sol” is a Martian day) of a 31-Sol mission on Mars. Astronaut Mark Watney (Damon) and his fellow Ares III crewmembers are hit by a storm sooner than they anticipated. Seeing that they are left with no choice, Commander Lewis (Chastain) orders the crew to leave Mars, but while the crew attempts to escape, the storm hits and Watney is struck by debris and vanishes into the storm. Lewis stays back a bit to search for him, but the crew eventually assumes he’s dead and leaves. Of course, Watney survives – not without getting impaled in the stomach – and makes his way back to their base of operations known as The Hab.

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There Watney realizes besides his biggest problem of being left behind on an isolated planet has to deal with other problems. He has no way to communicate with NASA, he doesn’t have enough food and the food he does have only will only last a few weeks, and finally, the next mission to Mars won’t arrive for four years. So left on the planet with nothing but wits and need to survive, he’s going to, as he puts it, “science the shit out of this.”

I actually read Andy Weir’s book prior to watching the film and Ridley Scott and writer Drew Goddard keep the spirit of the novel intact, and while changes were made The Martian is a pretty faithful adaptation. The film leaves out a good chuck of the science that Watney talks and does about his time on Mars, and what he does to make sure he doesn’t run oxygen, water, or food. Instead, Scott focuses more on the immediacy of the issue that Watney faces, and while some of the science is there, it’s scattered throughout, and the focus becomes how Watney will survive on Mars and what NASA is doing to save him. It’s really a bad move really, even though the film marks in at about two and half hours.

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Despite this, a film like this lives and dies with the lead, and Matt Damon’s Mark Watney is great. Damon may have not been on everyone’s wish list to play Watney, but Damon brings everything to the character that he can and that task is not easy. Damon is pretty much alone for the whole film and thanks to Damon’s always reliable acting chops. We feel for Watney and want to root for him. The other thing that Damon brings to Watney, and the film that will surprise some people, is humor. The Martian is surprisingly funny and filled with humor throughout. If you’re wondering how Watney doesn’t go crazy – and how the humor comes into play – Watney video records everything for NASA’s log and much like a scientist, he is documenting everything he does taking us along for the ride.

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While The Martian is on Damon’s shoulders to carry, a lead is only as good as their supporting characters, and the film has great supporting characters and actors. The Ares III crew chemistry is solid and you believe that these people have been together for months with the banter being fresh and quick. Jessica Chastain’s Commander Lewis is the stern and no-nonsense leader, Michael Pena’s Martinez, the pilot, shares most if not all the banter between Watney and its pretty damn great to hear and watch. Sebastian Stan’s Beck, the doctor, and Askel Hennie’s Vogel, the chemist get lost in the shuffle a bit, but have their moments. Finally, Kate Mara’s Johanssen, the tech, gets her moment to shine too, but with Pena and Chastain getting more of the attention, she also gets lost.

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The NASA and Earth characters are as great as Damon. Jeff Daniels plays Teddy Sanders, the head of NASA, and is looking out the agency as a whole and while his decisions may look like he’s being a hard-ass or the suit bad guy, Daniels gives Sander a special feel. Chiwetel Ejifor’s Vincent Kapoor plays the Mars Missions supervisor and has some great moments especially when he’s across Daniels and Sean Bean’s Mitch Henderson, who is the Ares III’s supervisor. Anytime the three characters are together, the scenes pop because everyone is trying to pull the power away from each other. The scenes also bring the two different sides of the argument that people would face if this ever happened.

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Kristen Wiig plays NASA spokesperson Annie Montrose who has some funny scenes and honestly, I thought was great casting, although I wished they kept more of her lines from the book. Mackenzie Davis plays Mindy Park, who is the first to discover that Watney is alive on Mars and keeps track on him through satellites. Finally Donald Glover and Benedict Wong plays an astrodynamics engineer that tries to figure out a way to bring Watney home and an engineer that works at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory that tries to communicate with Watney on Mars and brings up an idea that could get Watney more food.

The Martian won’t be for everyone. The film does follow Watney as he’s on Mars and tries to survive, and while it’s great to see how he does it and not go crazy, the film is a slow burn and moves at pace that could make people lose focus. However, the pacing and the editing between Earth and Mars should make the film go by fasting that it really is.

All in all, The Martian is a great human story about survival. What helps the film is the great cast, especially Matt Damon who carries the film with ease, and director Ridley Scott who shots the film in such a way that it does make you think they shot the film on Mars. The Martian is definitely one of the best films of the year.

 

The Martian

5 out of 5

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