Wednesday, May 31, 2017

It's Not Really So Strange

A wealthy white American man with a van dyke, played by an actor who's also played Sherlock Holmes more than once, leads a fast paced life. His success has brought great hubris and then one day he's unexpectedly brought low, suffering permanent physical injury, but the path he takes to fix his body also helps to heal his spirit. Yes, I can only be talking about that well known Marvel superhero film. Doctor Strange from 2016.

So, yes, it's more than a little like Iron Man. Except Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) isn't quite as arrogant as Tony Stark, his injury isn't quite as bad, his road back doesn't seem like it was quite as difficult, and he never gets to kiss his love interest, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams).

What does Disney have against romantic subplots? Maybe there's one in the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie but I don't really want to see it to find out. To be fair, romantic subplots used to feel superfluous, as in Tim Burton's first Batman, but they could also be really wonderful, as in Richard Donner's Superman and Tim Burton's second Batman movie. Romance can be fun, you know.

Anyway. Doctor Strange isn't exactly bad--I guess it can't be since it so rigidly adheres to formula. Strange's smarm became really annoying really fast. I know I was supposed to find it funny when he called Wong (Benedict Wong) "Beyonce". But I just wanted him to get on with being an adult already.

And, yes, that's a Chinese guy, so much for the supposed white washing in the movie. Quoting Wikipedia:

The character is depicted in the comics as Strange's Asian, "tea-making manservant", a racial stereotype that Derrickson did not want in the film, and so the character was not included in the film's script. After the non-Asian actress Tilda Swinton was cast as the other significant Asian character from the Doctor Strange comics, the Ancient One—which was also done to avoid the comics' racial stereotypes—Derrickson felt obligated to find a way to include Wong in the film. The character as he ultimately appears is "completely subverted as a character and reworked into something that didn’t fall into any of the stereotypes of the comics", which Derrickson was pleased gave an Asian character "a strong presence in the movie". Actor Wong was also pleased with the changes made to the character, and described him as "a drill sergeant to Kamar-Taj" rather than a manservant. He does not practice martial arts in the film, avoiding another racial stereotype. Derrickson added that Wong will have "a strong presence in the Marvel Cinematic Universe" moving forward.

He does pick up a weapon, presumably to engage in a martial art of some kind, so this film was basically made by the Ku Klux Klan. Oh, well. But seriously, this movie was carefully measured and calculated at every stage to ensure you received the correct political balance in percentages designed to avoid any potential unpleasant suggestions or reminders of states of affairs based on practices resulting from institutionalised discrimination with roots going back to policies enforcing racism. Aren't you happy?

Tilda Swinton is really good as the Ancient One. I genuinely like the idea of a woman in the Obi-wan role for the male character but I wish there had been some resonance between the philosophy of her teaching and the manifestation of Strange's powers. The turning point for Strange is when she drops him on Mount Everest, forcing him to use his own powers to get back. I do like how all the magic looks like firework sparklers, it has a nicely tactile quality.

She tells him he has to defeat his ego to get back. But nothing about the scene actually shows how humility assists Strange in this task, nothing about his training actually makes him more humble. Magic in the film functions precisely like technology does in the other films, the little floating shield things are even rather like the floating computer interfaces.

The other major effect, of folding buildings, is taken right from Christopher Nolan's Inception. It didn't seem like anyone working on this film had a genuine desire to create a sense of magic. The astral projection stuff was kind of fun.

Strange is particularly annoying in the credits scene with Thor (Chris Hemsworth). I don't know why exactly his smugness is never as entertaining as Robert Downey Jr.'s as Tony Stark, maybe it's because there always seems to be a wounded quality to Downey Jr.'s performance, his arrogance consequently coming off as oddly vulnerable. But Benedict Cumberbatch is a good actor, maybe he'll do something better with the character in films from different writers and directors.

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot, Mads Mikkelsen's in the movie. He's good but he never has much to do. He has the distinction of being the only character to make any comment on Strange's name being, er, strange. Chiwetel Ejiofor is unremarkable as Strange's sidekick and seems like he's being set up to become another unremarkable Marvel villain to be tossed onto the pile.

Twitter Sonnet #998

A gentle step intrudes but waits for thread.
A kinder sort of fog consoles the crowd.
It's nothing like a row of petals shed.
The creature's eye uncorks a bubble shroud.
Molasses stems unfurl in potted ships.
Canals continue west while captains east.
A mountain range may lick its rocky lips.
The yellow tops of trees report a feast.
Encouraged by the swimming moose we sank.
On paper pulled from candy heads we ate.
No gunner goes for paper glued to tank.
In distant schools the bees would count to eight.
Descending wisps have hardened clouds to hands.
On faulty disks all hues turn into bands.

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