Tag Archives: Mads Mikkelsen

Doctor Strange (2016, Scott Derrickson)

The only particularly bad thing in Doctor Strange is the music. Michael Giacchino strikes again with a bland “action fantasy” score. The score feels omnipresent; I’m not sure if it really is booming all throughout the film or if I was just constantly dreading its return.

Dread is something in short supply in Doctor Strange. The film opens with Mads Mikkelsen’s ponytailed bad guy doing some visually dynamic magic. The world becomes a moving M.C. Escher piece, with lots of tessellation. While visually dynamic, these magical reconfigurations of the world don’t affect regular people and don’t really change the fight scenes much. The reconfigurations happen aside from the principals’ actions. Most of that action is white people doing questionable kung fu fighting with magic assists.

Director Derrickson embraces the long shot and the extreme long shot to do his action. The camera’s never close enough to reveal whether Tilda Swinton really did all her kung fu fighting. She definitely did her melodrama scene though. It’s a special thing, a melodramatic scene in Strange, the film utterly avoids using them. Lead Benedict Cumberbatch’s character development is done without them. Sure, when he’s despondent over his injured hands after a car crash, there’s a little melodrama. But not once he starts his journey.

Cumberbatch gives up on conventional medicine–he was the only surgeon good enough to fix his hands–and heads to the Far East. He’s looking for a magical fix. He finds it with Swinton and company. Swinton’s the leader, a near immortal sorcerer with a shaved head. Chiwetel Ejiofor is her main lackey. He gets the job of training Cumberbatch when the movie takes time for a training scene. Until Cumberbatch gets the magic; after he gets the magic, he’s got all the magic. No one seems to notice he goes from novice to sorcerer supreme in three minutes.

They’re too busy trying to save the world. Jon Spaihts, Derrickson, and C. Robert Cargill’s script is long on exposition, short on thoughtful plotting, even shorter on character development. Ejiofor gets it the worst. He’s in the movie more than anyone else in the supporting cast, but he never gets a character. Not until the third act and then it’s just a contrivance.

Rachel McAdams is in the movie less than Ejiofor, with a lousy part. The screenwriters seem to think Cumberbatch needs a romantic interest of some sort. She doesn’t have anything going on besides doting on Cumberbatch, whether she likes it or not.

Many of the performances improve over time. Swinton’s far better later on than at the beginning. Mikkelsen is bland at the open only to end up saving the middle portion of the film. He and Cumberbatch have some banter. The banter keeps things going given the CG spectacular isn’t ever spectacular when it needs to be. Cumberbatch, for instance, is only ever a passive party when not doing CG spectacular by himself.

Eventually Cumberbatch starts getting into ghost fights. Fighting when a ghost on the spirit plane. The ghost fights are simultaneously well-executed–something of a surprise as Derrickson and photographer Ben Davis don’t seem to care at all about the CG compositing being weak–and boring. The visual concept for the astral plane kung fu fights is good. The special effects realize it perfectly well. Derrickson just can’t direct fight scenes. So the scenes get old fast. Especially when they’re distracting from Mikkelsen.

Mikkselen’s essential for keeping it going in the second act. He and Cumberbatch’s banter has more character development for Cumberbatch than his entire mystical training.

Cumberbatch is entirely bland in the lead. He’s more believable opening portals to mystical dimensions and having showdowns with ancient intergalactic evil beings (who look a like the MCP from Tron, only without any enthusiasm in CG) than he is being the world’s best surgeon, who also knows more seventies music trivia than anyone else. His voice is flat and without affect; he’s trying not to lose his American accent. Unfortunately, it affects his performance.

It’s unlikely McAdams and Cumberbatch are going to have any emotionally effective scenes, but at least if Cumberbatch were concentrating on responding to her lines and not making sure he never sounds British… well, it might have helped. Both actors are completely professional opposite one another, but there’s zero chemistry. Wouldn’t really matter if there were any chemistry, as McAdams is only around for medical emergencies.

The film moves well once it gets to the second act. Cumberbatch moping is a little much; his performance doesn’t have any nuance. Maybe it did on set, but if so, Derrickson goes out of his way not to shoot it. Long shots, extreme long shots, bad expository summary sequences. Derrickson plays it completely safe. Even when Doctor Strange gets visually fantastic, Derrickson rushes it along so there’s not time to regard that fantastic.

Anyway, once Cumberbatch starts doing magic, it picks up. Then he runs into Mikkelsen and the film improves big time. Of course, then the third act is a mess and Mikkelsen’s villain level gets downgraded. The action finish is also contrived in just a way to keep Derrickson from having to direct anything too complicated. His action is like watching a video game cut scene. One where you aren’t worried about any of the characters being in danger.

And the cape stuff is good (Cumberbatch gets a magic cape once he’s a wizard). And Cumberbatch and Benedict Wong are almost good together.

Doctor Strange’s lack of ambitions, narrative or visual, hurt it. But the script and Derrickson’s disinterest in his actors hurt it more. Still, it’s usually entertaining. It could definitely have been worse. Cumberbatch’s lack of personality probably helps Doctor Strange. The film wouldn’t know what to do with any.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Scott Derrickson; screenplay by Jon Spaihts, Derrickson, and C. Robert Cargill, based on the comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; director of photography, Ben Davis; edited by Sabrina Plisco and Wyatt Smith; music by Michael Giacchino; production designer, Charles Wood; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Benedict Cumberbatch (Dr. Stephen Strange), Mads Mikkelsen (Kaecilius), Tilda Swinton (The Ancient One), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Mordo), Rachel McAdams (Christine Palmer), and Benedict Wong (Wong).


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Casino Royale (2006, Martin Campbell)

I had read somewhere Casino Royale wasn’t going to be chock-full of CG like the recent Bond films, but maybe I misread it. As a series, the Bond films are supposed to be about stunt work and explosions. Casino Royale is actually light on explosions and practically absent of stunts. There’s lots of stunt-looking stuff, but it appears to be CG composites. Terrible CG composites, much like director Martin Campbell’s previous Bond film, Goldeneye, which at least had the excuse of being an early CG-adopter. I can find one nice thing to say about Casino Royale–maybe two. Daniel Craig is not bad. He’s fine, actually. He’s not playing James Bond–because after so many actors, Bond is a shell of a character. He’s made by certain trivialities, which make an amusing couple hours in exotic locales filled with foreign actors speaking English and explosions and stunts. Casino Royale, I’m sure it’s more pretentious supporters would say, serves to deconstruct said trivialities, which leaves the film empty. I sat and waited for one exciting scene and it never came. The other good thing was Giancarlo Giannini. He’s amusing in a self-aware performance. A lot of Casino Royale’s performances feel as though Campbell has just called “action.” The performances are all very stagy. But I’ll get to them in a second. First I need to say something about Campbell’s direction. It’s not just uninteresting or boring or predictable–adjectives to describe David Arnold’s atrocious score–Campbell’s direction is actually a new step in DVD-market mediocrity. I sat and watched scenes composed for people’s HDTV’s. Sony HDTV’s, of course, since Casino Royale is a two and a half hour advertisement for Sony productions. Campbell actually repeats certain scenes–ones to humanize Bond–from Goldeneye, lifts them straight out. Except Goldeneye was technically competent.

I guess I can’t escape the performances. Eva Green is awful, Mads Mikkelsen is amusingly awful, and Jeffrey Wright is unspeakably bad. It’s a new level of terrible from Wright, who manages to give the same performance over and over again, but worse each time.

The writing is something special. It manages to bore to new heights. James Bond isn’t the film’s central character for much of the film, he’s the subject, which is not a working arrangement for something known as a… James Bond film. This distance serves to introduce the audience to a fifty-year old character. It’s quite useful in wasting time. I kept wondering if I could say the film has twenty endings, but instead it has no ending for quite a while. Casino Royale breaks the traditional three act structure and replaces it with nonsense. Campbell doesn’t have the directorial chops to work it, Craig’s fine but he’s not a miracle worker–he just keeps his head above water in a drowning pool–so it goes on and on and on. At least if it had been a trick ending, it would have been bad and funny, instead it’s just bad.

James Bond films have always been well-reviewed, at least since I’ve known about movie reviews. The distaste for them comes later–I remember Dalton being well-reviewed for example and there were astoundingly positive reviews for the worst of the Brosnan films. I didn’t to go Casino Royale hoping it would suck so I could be bemused at the state of artistic appreciation in the world today. I went to be amused by stunts and explosions and I didn’t even get those.

Something needs to be said about the terrible song, but hopefully someone else can say it. I’m bored with thinking about Casino Royale already.

Wait, one last thing. Sony appears–from the trailers I saw for their new films, from this film–to be making the worst mainstream films today, which is quite a thing to be able to say.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Martin Campbell; written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis, based on the novel by Ian Fleming; director of photography, Phil Méheux; edited by Stuart Baird; music by David Arnold; production designer, Peter Lamont; produced by Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Daniel Craig (James Bond), Eva Green (Vesper Lynd), Mads Mikkelsen (Le Chiffre), Judi Dench (M), Jeffrey Wright (Felix Leiter) and Giancarlo Giannini (Mathis).


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