By: Kevin Jordan
Starring Bunsonburner Cucumberpatch.
If you are a fan of BBC’s Sherlock and haven’t laughed like a hyena lately, check out the ways people have gotten his name wrong (intentionally and unintentionally). What I love is that everybody knows who we’re talking about – as is mentioned several times in that link – and you probably read right past me referring to just ‘him’ without a second thought. That’s the power of Bartleby Scratchanitch and might be why he’s been cast in seemingly every movie for the past five years. And not just random movies for paychecks either. He’s starred in The Hobbit trilogy, Star Trek: Into Darkness, several prestige films, cameoed in TV shows and other movies, was nominated for best actor as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, given us possibly the best Sherlock Holmes portrayal in history, and now is playing a prominent superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) – Doctor Strange. He’s like Nicholas Cage, but getting roles that Cage can’t even sniff at any more (also, Shaggypants is a much better actor).
If he hadn’t already played Sherlock, I would have been skeptical of Bishandchips being cast as a super hero. As it is, casting him as an acerbic, arrogant, superhero who has to learn some humility is pretty much par for his course, especially since Robert Downey Jr. is already Iron Man. Much like Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange is another unknown Marvel property that exceeds expectations partly because of superb casting. In addition to Biddlebosh, Doctor Strange features Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Rachel McAdams. Wait…that can’t be right – they got four Oscar nominated actors and a James Bond villain in this movie? Holy $#%^. Also, they were all really, really good.
(Very mild SPOILERS ahead.)
Perhaps the trickiest component of the film was giving the audience a character with an origin story that seems far more suited to a Harry Potter movie than an MCU film. In a nutshell, Strange is a surgeon who loses his livelihood after a car accident maims his hands. In desperation, he goes to Nepal to track down some magicians after Benjamin Bratt explains how they helped him heal from paralysis. Yes, that Benjamin Bratt. Strange learns magic, is taught about the infinite universes (multiverse) by The Ancient One (Swinton), and trains with Mordo (Ejiofor) in a Hogwarts-like setting. Except without all the dragons and elves. But, there is a lot of hand waving and library scenes. And magical circles and teleportation. If not Potter, then at least The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Huh….Cage…anyway.
Strange learns that this group is charged with keeping the Earth safe from a world-eating cloud monster (Dormamu) from another universe and Kaecilius (Mikkelsen) is trying to help Dormamu eat the Earth by destroying the three buildings on Earth that keep him at bay. I know, I know – it sounds ridiculous and it is. But it also works within the context of this film, as well as the MCU. And because this movie is following a classic playbook (the hero’s journey), Strange rejects the quest at first (he just wants to heal his hands), then reluctantly agrees to fight for the cause. I’m not saying it’s a great plot. In fact, there are plenty of faulty pieces that would have been much more glaring if the other components of the movie didn’t make up for it. For all you pouty DC fans, a couple of examples are Strange’s cape is very inconsistent (it’s alive…or something, and protects him…sometimes), the mirror universe seems to be there strictly for Inception-y special effects (they can bend buildings in there), and why doesn’t Kaecilius steal some other powerful artifacts and books in addition to the two pages from one book he steals at the beginning of the movie? I mean they’re literally just sitting out in the open. There, happy now?
Even though they left some things underdeveloped and even though making the noob fight the most powerful and dangerous entity in all the universes seems a tad clichéd, the movie is still immensely entertaining. Like all MCU movies, the comedic relief hits every mark, things introduced early on have importance later in the movie, the romantic subplot between Strange and Dr. Christine Palmer (McAdams) doesn’t feel trite, the chemistry between Strange and Mordo is great, and Swinton crushes every scene she’s in, even when she’s fight-acting. I didn’t know she could do that. The movie even manages to include a “crossing the streams moment” that works on multiple levels. Yes, it’s a deus ex machina, but Marvel manages to make it fun instead of eye-rolling.
So, what do I think of it overall? Well, I can’t just completely dismiss those earlier complaints. But, with a cast including Bumpysplash and a summer filled with middling popcorn flicks, we’ve been looking forward to this movie for months, so it automatically gets a little slack. Not to mention expectations were high because Marvel hasn’t whiffed on any of their films since The Incredible Hulk. But most importantly, Barslap Cooneylatch was so good and fun that the movie could have been much worse and I still would have forgiven it. Luckily, it wasn’t.
Rating: Don’t ask for any money back, and thanks to Binneyloon Crazypants for having such an awesome name (and being a great sport about it).