Reviews for the Easily Distracted

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Doctor Strange

Title: Doctor Strange

Describe This Movie Using One Simpsons Quote:
Homer: Oh, here's something you'll like: When Animals Attack Magicians.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Gifted neurosurgeon loses use of hands, gains third eye.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three-and-a-half M.C. Escher's Relativity prints out of five.

Tagline: "Question reality. Change your destiny."

Better Tagline: "How happy life could be if all of mankind
Would take the time to journey to the center of the mind"

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: "So, I tell them I'm a pro doc, and who do you think they give me? The Ancient One, herself. The flowing robes, the grace, bald... striking. So we finish the training and she's gonna stiff me. And I say, 'Hey, Ancient One, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know.' And she says, 'Oh, uh, there won't be any Eye of Agamotto, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.' So I got that goin' for me, which is nice."

"Critical" Analysis:
Doctor Strange is the weirdest property Marvel Studios has yet attempted to adapt for the big screen (Guardians of the Galaxy, with its green-skinned aliens and talking raccoon, is still structurally a super team-up). The DS comic books have been delivering the four-color equivalent of psilocybin since 1963 (thanks in large part to the surrealistic sensibilities of his creator, Steve Ditko), so the murmurs of doubt weren't all that surprising when a movie was announced as part of Marvel's "Phase 3" slate of relentless market saturation.

The good news is, director Scott Derrickson (Sinister, Deliver Us From Evil) and co-writer C. Robert Cargill have done what many thought unthinkable in the wake of the mostly repetitive recent MCU movies: They've delivered an eminently watchable — and surprisingly humorous — take on the Marvel formula.

You know the drill by now: another origin story about *another* rich white asshole in a goatee (could there be an "awesome facial hair bros" moment in Avengers: Infinity War? Stay tuned, true believers). Strange is just as arrogant as Tony Stark, if not quite as wealthy, and Cumberbatch doesn't have to strain much to capture his fairly abbreviated redemption arc. There's also the requisite threat to mankind in the form of Dormammu, ruler of the Dark Dimension, whom Kaecilius wants to assist in absorbing Earth into his domain.

Just taking those aspects into account, your skepticism can be forgiven. Hell, most of the "Ancient One's" mysticism — "Death is what gives life meaning," etc. — is gobbledegook. There are so many points in Doctor Strange that could have veered into self-parody, if not outright disaster, that the perspective-warping visuals are actually on point.

So it's a relief it works as well as it does. The weakness in most magic-based films lies in how well (or not) the filmmakers establish the rules, and Doctor Strange offers an admittedly shallow overview, but the scope of what appears possible is so vast and, in the end, so apparently limitless, you really don't care. In fact, the final battle may be the best example of its kind in the entire MCU since the first Avengers.

What else? The effects are the closest most of us will get to tripping balls in a Disney movie outside of dropping acid and watching "Pink Elephants on Parade" on a YouTube loop, and are completely faithful to the source material. Even better (for some of us), the "Dark Dimension" resembles nothing so much as those black light ’70s stoner posters. And while this reviewer is usually ambivalent about IMAX, if there ever was a Marvel movie suitable for the format, this is it.

It also doesn't hurt that Cumberbatch, Swinton, Ejiofor and Mikkelsen (sporting a sweet Steven Seagal ponytail) are as talented a Marvel cast as we've yet seen.

Doctor Strange isn't flawless (How does anyone get seduced by something called the "Dark Dimension?" Do they also have beachfront property on the Black Lagoon?), but it's a treat to look at and a lot of fun. And given the brutal slog this particular election season has been, it's a worthwhile distraction.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar