Mystic Master of the Fortune Cookie:
I don’t normally give much credence to nonsense ideas like ‘trigger warnings’.
This is the phrase used by those dainty little buttercups who want them posted at the beginning of books, films and whatever you’re having yourself, as a warning that certain content contained therein might just remind you of some trauma from your past life, thus sending you screaming up the walls and crying for your mamma. It’s a phrase created by morons for other morons.
Mother of God, what a load of washed-out wimps the 21st century is guilty of producing.
Still, after seeing the Scott Derrickson-directed Doctor Strange, maybe in this case a trigger warning would actually be appropriate – because if you are one of those ageing hippies who took a lot of acid back in the day, some of the amazing visuals here might well set you off on another, very unexpected journey.
Never mind the ultra-bright colours and the trippy, hallucinatory rushes… there is one scene where the good doctor watches as the fingers of his hand grow little hands of their own and little fingers to wave along with the little hands and the little hands start crawling all over him and…
It’s just as well they strap me in at night here in the ward, because I know that I’ll be doing a lot of screaming over that one for a long time to come.
It’s also a bloody good job I liked the special effects, because that is about all I did take out of this afternoon time-waster. Which came as a surprise, since I am an enormous fan of these Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. This is the fourteenth in the ‘Avengers Initiative’ series; and for the various creators to have been so consistently good – and sometimes actually great – is no mean feat.
Even when the films have been a bit weak, like the Thor ones; or when we’ve had to endure scenes of Samuel L. Jackson looking intense or yelling a lot and just being Samuel L. Jackson, there has been merit in them.
No, I got very little in the way of enjoyment from Doctor Strange.
Possibly imagining that since we all like society-loving Tony ‘Iron Man’ Stark — the obnoxious, smart-ass playboy with the killer quips – writers Robert Cargill, John Spaihts and Derrickson himself thought that lightning would strike twice if they asked Benedict Cumberbatch to try a reasonable impression. Only here the society-loving, limelight-loving, himself-loving neurosurgeon Stephen Strange is just obnoxious. Hold the devilish charm and the smart quips – just obnoxious.
To nobody’s upset, he is involved in a car-accident (his own arrogant fault and a miracle he didn’t kill half-a-dozen people) that destroys his lovely surgeon’s hands. As a result he tells his beautiful, talented – and likeable! – colleague Christine (the wonderfully natural Rachel McAdams) just how very little he thinks of her, adding with his customary politeness: “Hell, we were barely even lovers”.
Since that was one of the more pleasant parts of his diatribe he could have donated a million Euros to my favourite charity after that and he would have still been on my shit list.
Become a Mystic Master in Twenty Seconds Flat!
Anyway, exhausting the medical possibilities of curing his mitts, our Stephen sets off to find some mystical Eastern Shangri-La (called Kamar-Taj here) and after asking around on a couple of Kathmandu street corners he is welcomed in with open arms. The following day he leaves as a Master of the Mystic Arts, without in the slightest bit pissing off people like Mordo or Wong, who have been training there for donkeys’ years.
I wish to hell I had known it was this easy to do; I would have been hawking myself around Kathmandu in search of the Eastern Hogwarts years ago.
This is a film where there is no sense of time passing whatsoever. The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) tells Strange that he will learn in the same way that he learned surgery – by years of study and effort. Yet what we get is him trying to cast a few spells and getting annoyed at himself before she literally fucks his ass through a magical portal on the top of Everest, says get on with it and…well, a few minutes later, he’s back (no explanation), having worked out how to bend Time and Space.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
And this thing with the Ancient One: no more than with trigger warnings I don’t normally get bent out of shape over replacing one actor of a certain colour with another – but here it is just ludicrous. The Ancient One was Asian. That’s all there is to it. And weirdly, the always watchable Swinton decides to play this shaven-headed Celtic (!) wise one as light and kinda funny.
Female Celtic shaman or not, every time she opens her mouth to impart Words of Ancient Knowledge she comes off sounding as if she’s swallowed a whole Chinese restaurant-full of fortune cookies. The clichés are flying around like no one’s business.
Still, with Mads (Hannibal) Mikkelsen playing the chief Bad Guy, the film can’t be a complete washout, can it?
Mikkelsen is a fine actor but after seeing him in this ludicrous make-up job it will be a while before I can take him seriously in anything again. And when he and his henchmen (yeah, it’s that kind of film) go charging down modern streets in their ridiculous outfits it’s enough to make you cry.
So I was left with the special effects – and no, I don’t give a damn that I seem to be in a minority of one when it comes to this film – and I even have a problem with them.
When the Daddy of them all, the trip through the Star Gate, takes place at the close of Kubrick’s 2001, the reason we were blown away is because it happened as an organic part of a great movie. In Strange, it’s the completely off-the-charts stupid idea of him learning how to project his astral body one afternoon when he was between speed-reading spells and then zooming off into the Wide Blue Yonder. No context, nothing.
Ah well, Doc Strange is here to stay; and as this is the first time that Marvel have really disappointed me, I’ll be staying too.
What’s up next? Is it the second Guardians of the Galaxy?
I’ll have a bit of that!