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Dr. Strange

Bringing Dr. Strange to the big screen is a big challenge. Maybe even more so within the particular confines of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It may feel like anything can happen in a universe with room for a Norse god, a guy who shrinks or grows at will, and a foul-mouthed raccoon (-ish thing) who loves weapons. But the Marvel creators have been pretty careful to update all their characters in a way that grounds them in science and technology – albeit, technology that doesn’t, and probably never will, exist. There’s a semi-rational explanation for all of these characters, even the god, who isn’t really a god, but a being from another dimension. Whatever that means.

But then there’s Dr. Strange.  He’s a magician.  Not the kid’s birthday party kind, not even the “make the statue of liberty disappear” kind, but the old-fashioned, spells and talismans kind.  The Harry Potter kind. Is there room for him in this world? And more importantly — if so, does that make Tony Stark a muggle?

His origin story is pretty familiar. Steven Strange is a successful surgeon, an arrogant jerk, who drives a fast car off a cliff and ends up losing the use of his precious hands. This may or may not be a tragic occurence. In an attempt to get the use of his hands back, he travels to Tibet to seek the Sorcerer Supreme (a bald Tilda Swinton – possibly the whitest woman on the planet. In Tibet. Don’t get me started.) who is ageless and engaged in a battle with one of her former pupils, the one with the unpronounceable name, played deliciously by Mads Mikkelsen.

Of course Strange shows a particular talent for magic, quickly surpassing all the other students under Swinton, though he keeps insisting he’s only learning how to teleport in order to heal his hands, and has no interest in the battle for the universe. You know how that’s going to turn out.  He really wants to be self-centered and cold, but just can’t help but become a world saver and a hero.  After all, there is a giant glowing baddie out there, who’s going to destroy the universe, and somebody has to stop him.

I loved the climax to “Dr. Strange,” in which our hero learns humility and sacrifice, and defeats a much more powerful victim by allowing his ass to get kicked over and over forever and ever. There’s nothing quite so satisfying as watching a guy win by losing. It gives the rest of us losers a reason to hope.

All in all, “Dr. Strange’ doesn’t really break any new ground in terms of story or character, and the Marvel formula is becoming awfully tired and familiar. (In the movies. The TV shows continue to be fresh, surprising, creative.  Can’t we get Jessica Jones or Luke Cage to the big screen? Or at least their writers?) Still, despite its familiarity, or perhaps because of it, “Dr. Strange” really does work just fine. This is certainly helped by the fantastic special effects– this easily the most visually exciting action flick this year. It borrows a little (not a lot) from “Inception” a few years ago, but expands what it does borrow to breathtaking dimensions. And perhaps most importantly, it stays far, far away, from the magical effects of the Harry Potter films.  There are no flying cars or talking paintings here. Everything has a distinctly modern, even science-y, sheen. You can kind of almost believe that magic is just science we haven’t discovered yet.

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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

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