Wolfman’s Lounge Head to Head Review of Doctor Strange!

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Josh:  Early November marked a significant change in the world.  Though it loomed on the distance in recent years, it still seems impossible even though the day has come and gone, and had you asked me years ago if I thought it even possible, I would have laughed and said, “Never.”  Of course, I could only be talking about one thing:

Normal people now know who Dormammu is.
Both of us have now seen Doctor Strange and are ready to sound off about it.
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Mike:  Ha!  Yes, the fact that Dormammu has entered the arena of pop culture is something I never  thought possible.  These are strange days for sure, Josh!

I don’t know about you, but I think this may have been my most anticipated Superhero film OF ALL TIME.  I’ve always liked Doctor Strange because Wizards/Sorcerers rank right up there with dinosaurs, werewolves, and sharks.  And Doctor Strange isn’t just any sorcerer.  He’s the Sorcerer Supreme.  A title typically only reserved for really good pizza or maybe bagels!  Any fears I had about the film were quelled after watching Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy.  Marvel knows exactly how to handle their lesser known and more quirky properties.  I knew they would remain faithful to the character and essentially, “go for it.”  The end result was nothing short of wonderful, bizarre, and entertaining.
I think it all starts with just how perfect Benedict Cumberbatch was in the titular role.  He’s so talented. He’s so versatile.  And so dreamy.  Um, I mean……
Josh:  Hey, no judgement from me.  He is really great.  I’d go as far as to say that he’s as good as Robert Downy Jr. is as Iron Man.  And they both have great goatees, though Cumberbatch might have him beat there.  By the time the movie gets to the part where Stephen Strange is shaving his facial hair down to his signature look we’re all familiar with, I was so onboard with this movie (spoilers!) that I was ready to go home and shave that shit into my own face.  Reality set back in and I knew my wife would just look at it and say, “WHAT.  THE.  FUCK.”
The whole cast is great though.  Tilda Swinton is always good, as is Chiwetel Ejiorfor, and as a massive Firefly fan, I’m always stoked to see him.  Hell, even the guy who plays Wong is great.  That’s not a knock against the actor, who’s name is Benedict Wong, oddly enough, but Wong is another one of those characters I’m having a hard time believing that they’ve been brought to the screen.  Rachel McAdams does a great job with what she’s given, though her character is fairly useless.  Which brings us to something that should be gotten out of the way as soon as possible, this movie is still guilty of all the flaws that Marvel movies have had all along, including the idea that we need to see the inclusion a love interest even if that character isn’t given a whole lot to do.
Yet, all of those flaws are by far less noticeable due to the incredible visuals and absolutely killer concepts in the action scenes.
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Mike:  Rachel McAdams was in this movie?  I must have blinked.

For as much as Marvel gets right with the film, by making it the most weird, and “out there” movie in their entire oeuvre, I found a few flaws that really bugged me.  Granted it’s mostly nitpicking, but it’s kind of not.  This isn’t Marvel’s first rodeo and you’d think by now they would find some novel way of mixing up their patented money making origin movie formula a bit more.  I know you disagree with me, but I feel like they should figure out a better way to deal with origin movies.  They all play out roughly the same.  Start with a spiffy introduction to the character, insert superhero creating moment, then have scenes with them learning/understanding their powers, and then use said powers to defeat evil.  Finally, toss in a romantic interest, bake at 350 degrees for 120 minutes and watch the space bucks roll in.

 I hate to say that Marvel played it safe with this one, because they totally go for some ludicrous moments and dazzling action set pieces.  Doctor Strange is easily the most delightfully odd blockbuster film to come along in quite some time.  The film-making team had some big balls inserting trippy,Willy Wonka level, psychedelic scenes into this thing and that GRABBED my attention.  However, seeing them pull off these wild ideas made me sort of bummed out when they strayed away from them.  Call me crazy, but I sort of wish Doctor Strange was a little more, well, strange!  The comics are filled with monsters, cosmic beings and all sorts of demented shit.  I feel like they were ready to dive into the deep of the crazy pool and then got cold feet at the last moment.
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Josh:  Yes, here’s where we disagree.  While the overall package is not this weird, out-there thing that Mike was hopping for, I do think that it makes a better job mitigating the standard Marvel Movie Flaws™ by injecting just enough weird stuff into the key scenes.  All of the fight scenes and even a couple of the exposition scenes have these really cool concepts going on in them that makes me forget that, at surface level, I’ve seen all this several times before.  The scene that Mike mentioned, where Strange’s astral self is knocked out of his physical self and goes on a wild, psychedelic journey worthy of the Pink Floyd reference the film makes early is stunning.  The final fight scenes though really seal the deal for me.  While the movie does have the weak, undeveloped villain that we’ve come to expect from Marvel, the concepts in those scenes are awesome enough for me to not care.  Like Stephen did the first time I saw himself in astral form, I had this moment of absolute clarity towards the end of the movie, where I was momentarily able to access just how fucking incredible it was that I was watching a fight scene where the participants are moving in forward time while everything around them was in reverse.  I’ve had a couple of weeks to digest what I saw, but even now I am in full awe of how damned cool that idea is.

So no, they didn’t go for it as hard as they could have in the “weird shit” department, but they also kind of did.  I think it’s totally there, they just made it accessible.  They had to.  This is, after all, a major blockbuster movie with a new avenue of its well established universe on its shoulders, being put out by Disney, a company that was met with severe failure in the past whenever they “went for it” (ie, Tron, The Black Hole).  I can’t fault them for caution.
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Mike:  I guess I could give them more of a pass for being a tad cautious if this weren’t their 87th consecutively successful superhero movie.  Fuck, at this point they could make a movie about Dum Dum Dugan and I would go see it without hesitation.  They clearly get how to adapt these characters to the silver screen and reach a wide audience.

 Still, it’s not like I hated Doctor Strange.  Far from it!  When the movie is working, it is EASILY the best Marvel superhero movie they’ve EVER done.  And yes, the final 25 minutes are the most perfectly executed and brilliant ideas Marvel has committed to celluloid yet.  The finale in Doctor Strange is SO GOOD it retroactively makes many of their other superhero finales kind of shit, by comparison.
I think when the dust settles, despite my hangups, my heart tells me that this is still top tier Marvel stuff.  Moving forward I’m incredibly excited to see where Stephen Strange goes from here.  They’ve established a wonderful base to jump off from and I will eagerly await his next adventure.
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Josh:  Same here, I think a second Doctor Strange movie could top this.  That being said, this is still my favorite Marvel movie to date.  Yeah, if I’m going to be objective, Winter Solider is still their best, but like Guardians of the Galaxy, this hit notes that resonate with me outside of the realm of superheroes.  I am a Doctor Strange fan, and finding strong Strange stories is tough.  This is one of if not the best Doctor Strange story and one hell of a movie.
Mike:  Perhaps my “glass half empty” perspective stems from sky high/unrealistic expectations.  Because if I’m being honest, as much as I make it a point to watch all of the Marvel movies there are only a handful worth re-watching over n’ over.  I still contend that Guardians of the Galaxy is the best thing to come out of this whole cinematic universe, Doctor Strange didn’t change that for me.  However, besides maybe Ant Man and the first AvengersDoctor Strange is one of the few I KNOW I will revisit.  I really wish I saw it in IMAX 3D because my gut tells me it’s the best 3D experience since Friday the 13: Part 3.  Disney/Marvel, I know you’re reading, so feel free to slap that quote on the Blu Ray.  You’re welcome.  For the rest of you, go out and catch this one while you can.  It’s very much worth your hard earned Megabucks.

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