Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Stand and Fight: My Critique of Doctor Strange (2016)

This is a critique of some elements of the Doctor Strange movie of 2016, not a review. That means it's going to contain spoilers.

Overall, I did enjoy the movie, but there were some flaws that "ruined the ride" upon occasion. I discuss those below.

I had been annoyed by commentary on the movie before I even saw it. In the movies, The Ancient One is an Asian mystic. And a man. In the movie, the Ancient One is a "Celtic mystic" and a woman. Was this done as "whitewashing" as sites like "Nerds of Color" and various Asian advocacy groups say?  No, it was done because if they had done a male Ancient One who knew the martial arts, that would have been racial stereotyping and therefore racist!  There is an Asian character in the movie, Wong, played by Benedict Wong - but we never see him do any martial arts. Why? Because that would have been racial stereotypinging and therefore racist (according to these advocacy groups.). In the comics Wong was Doctor Strange's servant. In this movie and the subsequent sequels, Wong will be elevated to much more to appease the advocacy groups who don't want an Asian to be subservient to a white man - even, apparently, if that mirrors real life. If a white butler can be subservient to his white male employer, why can't the butler be Asian or black?

Movie makers can't win and I wish they'd stop pandering to these advocacy groups. The martial arts of Judo, Karate, Kung Fu, etc. etc. originated in Asia, and there's nothing racist or stereotypical about showing Asian characters being experts in martial arts or in knowledge of the mind. It is not the fault of the movie makers now or from the 1930s that certain people - whites, blacks, Latinos - would see these movies and use the term Charlie Chan or Bruce Lee as an insult. (Any more than it was the fault of the Lone Ranger TV series that certain bullies would refer to Native Americans as Tonto. The Lone Ranger was a great series and Jay Silverheels as Tonto was an equal to the Lone Ranger. If these TV characters and movie characters hadn't existed the racists of the time would have found some other way to insult Native Americans/Asians. (I rant about this because I love the Charlie Chan movies and the Mr. Moto movies and it is a great pity that they can no longer be seen on broadcast TV because the lead actor played in "yellowface" and Charlie Chan didn't speak grammatical English. He was an immigrant, was smarter than every person in the room (whites included) and his children spoke perfect English! There were valuable lessons about racial equality in those movies.)

But I digress.

There were a few tropes in Doctor Strange that I didn't like. The first was when the Old One first appeared. Clearly a woman, but she's doing her fighting against the villains (Kaecilius, as we will learn later) with a hood over her forehead and eyes, so it's impossible for her to see! It was clearly done just for the look of the thing but frankly it looked stupid. Throughout the rest of the movie when she does her fighting it's always with her head exposed, so I presume this early fight was just done so they could excerpt a bit for the trailer.

So Kaecilius and his crew steal some pages out of a book, the Ancient One appears, and Kaecilius and his crew immediately start to run, presumably because they know they can't defeat the Ancient One.

That's one of the flaws that I felt detracted from the movie - the characters spent more time running than they did fighting.

Doctor Strange running away from
Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange does an excellent job. One of the reviews I read, prior to seeing the movie, said that he worked because he was playing the character as seriously as if he were playing Hamlet. Well, that was probably true, but the implication was that other actors, who played other super hero roles, didn't. I'd argue that Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark played that role perfectly. So did the guy in the first Spiderman (the only one of the series, and of its reboot, that I saw.) So did the actors in the Fantastic Four movies.

And it makes sense that Doctor Strange would run from Kaecilius to begin with, as he's apparently had only a year of practice in the mystic arts, and Kaecilisus is more powerful.  But when Mordo, the black character who trains Doctor Strange in the art of fighting, arrives, they continue to run.

Mordo and Strange running in front of a "green screen"
And that scene of Doctor Strange and Mordo running up to the end of a window, and looking out over the city far below.... echoes of Cumberbatch's Kahn from Star Trek Into Darkness, anybody?

At the end... and here's a spoiler...

Mordo decides he doesn't like that Strange and The Ancient Ones have interfered with the laws of nature. So he leaves - which apparently sets up a sequel where Mordo is going to go around stealing the "magical energy" of sorcerers (starting, in a tag at the end of this movie, with him stealing the energy of Jonathan Pangborn - the guy at the beginning of the movie who was a parapalegic who could walk again, and tells Strange to seek out Kamar-Taj - but without giving him enough info, so he has to wander the streets for 10 minutes until he's attacked so that Mordo (also hooded) can save him.)

I used to read the Doctor Strange comics thirty years ago...but haven't since, so apparently there's several characters in the movie with "backstories" in the comics that may reveal to the knowledgeable that they will eventually turn out to be villains. I hope this isn't the case with the Doctor who attempts to save the Ancient One at the end of the movie - and fails.

So...the actors did a great job, giving their roles the amount of gravitas that was required.

The special affects were fantastic. I was reminded however of the slow-motion fighting in the Matrix, supplemented with the shifting and falling buildings of the various cities which makes these fight scenes different from those in the Matrix

Benedict Cumberbatch has already finished filming his scenes for Thor: Ragnarok. And he's apparently going to be in the next Avengers movie: The Infinity War.

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