Review – Is He in my Network? (“Doctor Strange”)

Move over Harry Potter, it’s time for the big boys to play, and this time, they don’t need any silly wands to conjure magic! Mentioned briefly in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Dr. Stephen Strange is the latest addition to the ever-growing Marvel superhero universe. And they’ve only just scratched the surface!
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Benedict Cumberbatch (who seems to be in everything these days) plays the titular character of Dr. Stephen Strange, an uncommonly arrogant and self-centered, but brilliant neurosurgeon who has an on-going thing with co-worker, Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachael McAdams). She tolerates the big lug’s incessant ‘all-about-me’ attitude because deep down, she really loves him. But Strange gets a heavy dose of humility when he survives a horrific car crash (don’t read texts when driving, kiddies!) and finds both his hands are irreversibly shattered, making his work obsolete.

Desperate for a cure, he talks to Jonathon Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt), a prior paraplegic victim who ‘willed’ himself to perfect health by visiting the Kamar-Taj in Nepal and learned ancient mysticism. WTH!? So Strange takes off and meets Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) there, a student who guides him to the protected stronghold where Strange is reluctantly taught by the order’s bald-headed Asian leader, the Ancient One (Tilda Swindon). At first Strange doesn’t buy all this magic ‘hocus-pocus, mumbo-jumbo stuff’, but after a mind-blowing demonstration, he’s all-in!

Meanwhile, we learn about the Ancient One’s former student that went bad and wanted more magic, but was denied. Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) is the arch-nemesis (along with his minions) who’ll stop at nothing to destroy the Earth using evil magic that serves the Dark One, Dormammu (a CGI cloud entity). Much like The Force, dark magic can used for good or evil, depending on who is wielding it and Strange, being a doctor, wants only to heal people, and not kill them. Reading all the books from the strict librarian, Wong (Benedict Wong) isn’t enough, so Stephen dons the powerful Eye of Agamotto amulet, which gives him super-powers to control time, something that is strictly verboten.

Kaecilius doesn’t fool around and starts taking down all three of the sacred Sanctums (special buildings) that protect the Earth, making Stephen leap into action and fight Kaecilius, getting more than be bargained for (and gaining a living Cloak of Levitation in the process). But when he learns a dark secret about the Ancient One and his own place in the universe, he begins to doubt his own life. Thankfully, there’s Christine to ground him in the ‘real world’ and makes him realize his place in helping humanity and not just himself.

The Inception-like conclusion is a crazy, mind-blowing, M. C. Escher CGI-fest of folded and twisted landscapes that really has to be seen to be believed. It’s just nuts! Taking the recycled plot from several movies like Batman Begins, The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, and even Kung Fu Panda, the screenplay by director Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill isn’t anything special, given the writers past movie history. But since it follows the original through-line of the comic books, it’s no wonder; the story is a very common one and used over and over again.

The real enjoyment here is the eye candy: the SPFX are just terrific starting with the wizard CGI effects (those twisty buildings? Wow!!) The fiery spinning portals, the astral-projections, and Strange’s living cloak are all very impressive. And best of all, the script has the right amount of humor thrown in, just like it’s predecessor, Ant-Man. Derrickson doesn’t shoot the best fight scenes, but his visual style is quite good and well suited for this movie trope. 

Cumberbatch with his American accent, is perfect as Strange, as is McAdams, Ejiofor, and Wong. Mikkelsen is creepy and has that thick air of loathsomeness that you want in a villain, but I really had a problem with Swindon. Casting a white British gal as Asian is ridiculously wrong, given the amount of real Asian actors everywhere. Yes, she was good, but you kept looking at her and thinking, “THAT’S Asian?? Uh, I don’t think so!” Oh, and Stan Lee pops up for his cameo, as usual. And stay tuned after the credits for a tasty tidbit featuring Strange and certain hammer-wielding god.

The Man Who Could Work Miracles (1936)

Suddenly acquiring magic at your fingertips? How’d you like that?! Based on a H.G. Wells short story and adapted by Lajos Biro, this wickedly brilliant black and white masterpiece tells the simple yet effective tale of an ordinary man who is unexpectedly handed the power of the gods. Remember the old saying, “Power corrupts. And absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Could you handle all this ‘magic’ at your fingertips?

One day, the gods (or angels) are bored and want to experiment. Can Man handle absolute power? Pointing a finger at a random guy, they choose a timid little man named George Fotheringay (Roland Young) in a quaint English village. After work in a haberdashery, he strolls to his favorite inn, the Long Dragon Pub, and begins arguing with his friends about miracles and their impossibility. But during this argument, he calls upon his “will” to force an oil lamp to turn upside down. And it DOES! The bartender freaks out, the people there freak out, and HE freaks out. But then…

Arriving home, he delights in performing more tricks alone: disappearing candles, lifting his table and his bed, making a kitten appear, and turning his bed into a cornucopia of fruits and fluffy bunnies. Bolstered by this ‘magic’, he goes to work and tells his would-be sweetheart, Maggie Hooper (Sophie Stewart) all about it. Naturally, she and everyone there, start to tell him what to do with his new powers. George asks the local priest (Ernest Thesigar) who suggests he speak to the learned Colonel Winstanley (Ralph Richarson), but that does no good, as the NRA loving Colonel wants George to wipe out all the “bad people” in the world.

As the film progresses, George grows a serious backbone and starts to take charge of his life, using his magic to sway and even scare people into his bidding. But he can’t force Maggie, his one true love, to fall for him, as his power can’t alter the human heart or soul. Pretty soon, everyone is deathly afraid of George, as he wields his power like a madman, building a ginormous temple to himself and warning every king and dictator on Earth to beware of his wrath. The ending is jaw-dropping with George actually destroying Earth! But, don’t worry, there’s a happy ending, I promise.

Roland Young, as George, scored big time here in his perfect portrayal of an almost antisocial man who slowly turns into a megalomaniac with a massive and dangerous ego. The transformation is slow and wonderful to watch and catapulted Young into the limelight and, only a year later, would make him a household name as he would go on to star in the Topper series; a henpecked timid man who only can see and talk to some very outrageous ghosts.

Directed by Lothar Mendes and using pretty cool 1936 SPFX (which were impressive for the time), TMWCWM is a classic morality tale that spans all decades, and makes you wonder what YOU would do if you were given the power of the gods. Would you do good? Eliminate war, disease, and poverty OR would you be corrupted by it’s sheer power and go nuts? Hmmm…

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