UMP Review – Doctor Strange

Scott Derrickson’s aim was a rather preposterously unreachable one – he wished to elevate Doctor Strange’s character to a position among the biggest stars of the superhero genre. Unfortunately, even though he had the creativity and directorial capacity to carry such weight, Doctor Strange is a forgettable by-product in the Marvel’s factory.

A neurosurgeon Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) barely survives a car crash, which casts a shadow on his career. With his hands covered in scars, he desperately looks for a chance to recover. Only then does he travel to Kathmandu to find the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) – a mystical leader, who introduces him to sorcery.

Derrickson had a lot on his plate to start with – the team behind Doctor Strange was star-studded, not only due to Cumberbatch’s presence. Adding the ones like Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor on board, Michael Giacchino composing and blockbusters’ veteran DP – Ben Davies – Derrickson had a sort of dream team. Doctor Strange had to deal with an insurmountable obstacle, which was to swiftly jump into the pantheon of Marvel superheroes. And it didn’t quite meet these expectations.

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However, Strange is vastly different from them – there’s magic everywhere, spells and sorcery and all of that takes place in various dimensions, with time loops, LSD-driven plains and whatnots. Strange, with all his undisputable charm, feels like a far kin to his kind – one too strange to exist within their worlds and one too repetitive to consitute one on his own.

Thus, the final product is some sort of agreement between Marvel’s typical narration style and a mixture of well-known titles from the past. Doctor Strange has got Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy written all over it – Strange’s training, journey to discover himself, how he lacks belief and how internally conflicted he becomes over time. Add to it Inception‘s masterful, visionary graphics, a bit of philosophy from Matrix, Star Wars combat choreographies and even Guardians of the Galaxy‘s humor and voila. Hence, what seems to be the issue with Doctor Strange is that Derrickson’s film lacks its own taste.

Nonetheless, it doesn’t mean that Doctor Strange is an unwatchable flick. It’s still an entertaining piece of modern blockbuster, packed with pompatous slogans, evil vs. good conflict, dark forces and mystical brotherhoods dealing with malefic powers. Benedict Cumberbatch has a lot of fun with Stephen Strange – he’s overly self-confident, snooty and tongue-in-cheek, yet at the same time self-critical at many times. He’s more classy than Deadpool and more witty than Captain America, appealing to newcomers to the Marvel universe.

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The array of characters accompanying Strange is yet quite familiar – The Ancient reminisces Master Yoda and Ra’s Al’Ghul, Ejiofor’s Mordo is painfully shallow as an almost-master, down-to-earth sidekick, whilst Mikkelsen’s presence is too similar to his role in Winding Refn’s Valhalla. In the end, there are ups and downs, with the second having just too much impact on the final outcome.

Rather than being a blasting bomb that opens new doors for Marvel, Doctor Strange proves that the days of the superheroes hegemony are being slowly counted down. No matter whether it’s Batman, Captain America or Doctor Strange, one factor seems to be the key to the booming success – creativity and originality. And this seems to be slowly burning out, not only in Marvel Studios.

UMP Grade: 30/50

UMP Review – Warcraft: The Beginning

A visually dazzling spectacle portraying the war between orcs and humans, directed by Duncan Jones, didn’t quite carry the weight of the expectations it had to meet.

The war over Blizzard’s Warcraft franchise was waged for a decade, but the final product of this long-debated topic met with vast criticism. Nevertheless, even though Duncan Jones’ Warcraft: The Beginning has its flaws, it opens a new chapter for the fantasy movies and – what’s the most uplifting about it – sets a milestone in the CGI for the future.

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The plot of the film is based on the game Warcraft – the orcs, a bloodshed-loving race of warriors, is forced to leave their homeland and seek a new place to settle. Thanks to the magic of their spiritualistic warlord Gul’Dan, the united tribes of the orcs invade Azeroth. There they meet the resistance of the humans, led by King Llane and his servant, Lothar.

In 2009, James Cameron’s renewed the well-known story of Pocahontas in his superbly costly Avatar and at the same time revolutionized the 3D technology and settled a new bar for newcomers to deal with. However, the visuals of Warcraft: The Beginning, are a stunning piece of art that overtakes Avatar’s beauty. The computer-generated orcs are more lively and uniquely “human” than the real actors, with the leading Durotan (Toby Kebbell voice-acting) being by far the most compelling and deep character of the film. Apart from that, the world of Azeroth is impressively diverse – from chilling cold to succulently green forests and aridified flatlands – it’s detailed and eye-catching, a truly marvelous feast. A high point is also the soundtrack, composed by Game of Thrones‘ Ramin Djawadi.

Unfortunately, the visuals cannot cover up for the blatant flaws of Jones’ film. Mostly, the cast (apart from the CGI-ed ones) really dissapoints. Travis Fimmel, playing Lothar, is completely cloying, cracking poor jokes and desperately looking for the attention of the audience. Dominic Cooper as the King Llane is a caricature of a noble king, with that untarnished, over-the-top character and as the culmination comes Ben Shnetzer as Khadgar, whose acting is just plain awful.

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Another problem with Jones’ film is the plot. The so-called lore of Warcraft is immensely structured and complex, which somehow forced out many shortcuts to be implemented. Unfortunately, there are numerous plotholes, which might seem sloppy from the point of a person, who never had to deal with the game’s world. Although the reasons behind Durotan’s actions remain coherent and plot-wise, there are some forced-out behaviors that seem a bit off – like the ones directing Medivh, the guardian of Azeroth.

Warcraft: The Beginning feels a bit as if it was a rushed opening to a great saga. There is a spirit of ambition written all over it, to join The Lord of The Rings among the finest of the fantasy genre, but Jones really needs to regroup his troops once he’s given another shot with a sequel. The CGI rescued the film and made quite a beginning, but there is a lot of those, who felt dissapointed. And since now we were given the taste of it, we finally know what to expect from the next Warcraft.

UMP Grade: 3o/50