DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)
DID I FALL ASLEEP? No.
DID I LIKE THE MUSIC? Didn’t do much for me. EDIT: As many have pointed out, this was also by the great Michael Giacchino, but it did not capture my attention as I was multi tasking.
WHAT ELSE DID I NOTICE: I saw this twice in theaters, the second time by accident. (Long story.) For this rewatch for the first time I cheated a bit because I was running out of time and put it on while I was doing housework. To say I find this movie underwhelming is totally accurate.
For the first time we’re back to the straight up origin, from Doctor Strange the asshole neurosurgeon to Doctor Strange the asshole cosmic guardian. The Hero’s Journey here is mostly external and Stephen Strange remains a jerk all the way through. People said Benedict Cumberbatch was miscast as Starnge because he didn’t make you like him. News flash: you weren’t suppsoed to like him.
This is kind of a much better done version of the early Marvel films like Daredevil and Ghost Rider. There’s the big name actress as the long suffering love interest – Rachel McAdams as a colleague that Strange treats like crap until she has to sew him up or do some other helpful task. And oh there’s Michael Stuhlbarg – have you ever seen A Serious Man? One of the Coen Brothers’ best and most underrated films. I found the DVD while I was rummaging for my Marvel ones. Time for a rewatch of that I think.
Where was I? This is probably the most predictable and rote of all the movies I rewatched. There are definitely well done moments – Strange’s occult training hits all the spots you expect it to – but overall I just found it dull. And the yellow face casting of Tilda Swinton still bugs me. I mean Swinton was born to play an ageless cosmic guru, but why waste Michele Yeoh in a 10 second cameo in Guardians 2 when she would be so awesome in this?
I guess this is the place to talk about Marvel’s diversity or lack thereof, a topic that also affects Spider-Man Homecoming, so see below. I could write a whole long post about how rote all the girlfriends and secondary women in labs are in all these movies. Gwyneth Paltrow and Natalie Portman did their best, but their characters are dismissed in a line in Ultron, and Black Widow is all over the place, as we’ve mentioned many times. One of the many things I love about Winter Soldier is that it’s a rainbow coalition of Nick Fury, the Falcon, Black Widow and Maria Hill who are left to mop things up, but White Chris is still the center of attention.
All of these movies dutifully add people of color when necessary – Idris Elba! – and everyone has a friendly black sidekick, but it’s totally stereotypical. Sam Wilson and Rhodey are never the stars of the show. Black Panther got the royal treatment, but that became a huge statement just by existing.
How much of this is just standard Hollywood bullshit, how much is fear of Chinese backlash, how much is Marvel Studios’ own practices, I don’t know. Thor Ragnarok, Homecoming and Black Panther are leaps and bounds ahead of anything else in the MCU for portraying non-white characters as interesting in their own right, characters with agency and charm. So things are getting better. But after 18 movies, they’d better be. I have my own suspicions about why this is, but I will have to investigate more before I present my findings.
Anyway, I did enjoy the trippy art direction of
Inception, I mean Doctor Strange, but it has a classic “They made Mads Mikkelson Ugly!” villain – in this case he got a little too busy testing glitter and gel eyeliner at the local Ulta and got a nasty eye infection. Kaecilius is just another lame villain in a long line of lame villains.
Wong was pretty cool though.
Overall, Doctor Strange was in one eye and out the other. He was way more interesting in Ragnarok, and I guess we’ll get to see him spread his wings more in Infinity War.
WOULD I REWATCH: Well, I will always have a need for hosuehold chores.
SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING (2017)
DID I FALL ASLEEP? NO!
DID I LIKE THE MUSIC? It’s Michael Giacchino, baby. He’s quality. Finally Marvel is spending money on their scores!
WHAT ELSE DID I NOTICE: This movie is delightful. From start to finish. It even has the most note-perfect, theme-in-one-image poster of all.
I pretty much love everything in this movie. Maybe it’s a tad long, but okay, you had that extra bite of cake. Some have said that Michael Keaton sleepwalked through the movie, but his sleepwalking is better than most actor’s scenery chewing. One of the very best villains in all these movies – although why a disgruntled contractor likes to fly around in razor wings is a little weird. Still, like everything else in Homecoming, The Vulture is updated for 2017 in a just right way – even his fur trimmed jacket recalling the OG Vulture’s feather trim. And sure the journey from Batman to Birdman to the Vulture was a little arch, but the hero’s journey takes unexpected turns ehre and there.
Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is likewise a miraculous reboot. He’s just great. The opening home video version of the airport fight from Civil War is the perfect set-up for bringing us back to the groundlevel after years and years of cosmic threats and battles. Granted, it’s not to hard to make New York come alive on screen, but this is a particularly lively and real-feeling Queens, from arguing about who makes the best sandwiches to the multi-racial make up of Peter’s high school. That’s realism.
It also leads to the most unexpected moment in ALL THE MCU MOVIES. I originally saw this at a screening, and when Michael Keaton opened the door and we learned he was the dad of Peter Parker’s prom date, the whole theater – full of hardened journos – GASPED ALOUD. It’s a sharp comment on how we view race and family, but also a plot twist that NO ONE SAW COMING, for once, because of our own racial blinders.
The other best thing about this movie is that is allows all the characters room to breath. Director Jon Watts does something that almost none of the other movies I watched did – big close-ups of the actors just reacting to things. It’s part of what gives the film its grounded feeling and makes everyone much more relatable. Plus such excellent actors in all the supporting roles, from Tony Revolori to Donald Glover to Jacob Battalon. And Tyne Daly! A great little cameo. And Marisa Tomei’s hot Aunt May is another soupçon of delight. (Aside: are these the only middle aged women in the MCU? I think so!)
Of course, the Peter/Tony Stark/Happy relationship is at the heart of the film, and hilarious, but we finally see the Avengers as celebrities beyond the ken of the normal human. We’ve been locked in Star Tower for so long that that seemed like real life, but it’s glitzy and glamourous. Tony and Happy are remote father figures, critical and unavailable. While Peter doesn’t spend too much time pining for Uncle Ben, he doesn’t need to. His loss is evident in his search for a male authority figure, and we never get pounded over the head with it.
Things that weren’t perfect: It still annoys me when Liz calls Peter “The smartest person I know.” For most of the movie he’s a total dork. Sue we see him fiddling with alien technology, but they didn’t want to make him too smart, I guess. Also, Happy sending off that plane full of priceless technology without a pilot seems a bit irresponsible!
From an outside perspective, the making of this movie was a huge coup for Marvel Studios, as Sony admitted that Kevin Feige could do a better job than they could alone. Bringing in Tony Stark is a brilliant move that sets up the inexorable march to Infinity War even as we enjoy a lighthearted teen action movie.
We’re 16 movies in and Marvel has now proved that they really can do just about anything.
WOULD I REWATCH: Heck yeah!
Next time: My favorite MCU movie of all! What will it be????? CAN U GUESS?????
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.