Doctor Strange

Genre: Action

Director: Scott Derrickson

Screenplay: Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson & C. Robert Cargill

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt, Scott Adkins, Zara Phythian, Alaa Safi, Katrina Burden

Running Length: 115 minutes

Synopsis: After his career is destroyed, a brilliant but arrogant surgeon (Benedict Cumberbatch) gets a new lease on life when a sorcerer takes him under his wing and trains him to defend the world against evil.

Review: It has become increasingly difficult to innovate in the genre of superhero movies, since there is now an expectation that comes with the territory (just look at the number of moviegoers that patiently wait for the end credits to finish rolling nowadays). Marvel has proven significantly better at carving out new spaces within the crowded genre, however, and Doctor Strange is yet another Marvel film that has managed to defy expectations. Delving into the mystical facet of the Marvel Comic Universe was surely a gamble, but it is one that has paid off handsomely. Doctor Strange is easily the best superhero movie to be released in 2016, and a breath of fresh air for the MCU.

Scott Derrickson is not the most obvious choice of director for Doctor Strange, having cut his teeth on horror films like Sinister and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, but perhaps he was exactly what the doctor (ahem) ordered – a fresh pair of eyes that would be able to dispense with convention. Doctor Strange doesn’t deviate that far from other MCU movies, but is different enough to warrant a second look, even for audiences who have grown tired of the neverending barrage of films in the same mould. Derrickson and co-writers Spaihts and Cargill are also not afraid of adding humor into the mix, and there are almost as many comedic sequences as there are action set pieces.

Derrickson also seems to have a knack for creating eye-popping visuals, particularly the Inception-esque scenes of the cityscape folding and twisting onto itself that are alone worth the price of admission. In particular, the chase sequence that takes place in one of these settings is possibly one of the most imaginative scenes in recent memory, and would make M.C. Escher proud. This is also a film that I highly recommend watching in 3D (this is probably the first movie since Avatar that I’ve made this statement), and together with some truly trippy imagery, Doctor Strange undoubtedly serves as a feast for the eyes.

British thespians Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton and Chiwetel Ejiofor seem like odd choices for a superhero movie, but casting them is an inspired decision. The level of acting is so consistently high that it manages to elevate the film to the next level, allowing the audience to look past some of the more ludicrous pieces of dialogue or plot holes. While the film does end on a slightly weak (and rather psychedelic) denouement, this first Doctor Strange installment has successfully created a new Marvel franchise, and it would certainly be interesting to see how his mystical powers are put to use in subsequent Avengers or MCU films.

Rating: * * * ½ (out of four stars)

P.S. Remember to stay for both post-credit sequences, one situated at the very end of the rather substantial end credits.


Max Steel

Genre: Action

Director: Stewart Hendler

Screenplay: Christopher Yost

Cast: Ben Winchell, Josh Brenner, Ana Villafañe, Andy Garcia, Maria Bello, Mike Doyle

Running Length:  91 minutes

Synopsis: 16-year old Max McGrath (Ben Winchell) has just moved to a new town – and is desperately trying to fit in – when he discovers his body can generate the universe’s most powerful energy. Unbeknown to Max, a techno-organic extraterrestrial named Steel (Josh Brenner) has been keeping an eye on him, hungry for his super-human energy. When they finally meet, they discover that together they form Max Steel, a superhero possessing powerful strength beyond anything in our world. These two unlikely friends soon find themselves hunted by sinister forces who want to control Max’s powers, as well as an unstoppable enemy from another galaxy.

Review: There is a reason why Max Steel was not screened for the media prior to its unheralded opening this week – because the assuredly unenthusiastic reviews of this mediocre superhero movie would have killed any chance it had at the box office. Max Steel is based on the Mattel toy and TV cartoon title, but the result is so underwhelming and unimpressive that Mattel would probably have done better spending that money on a Barbie direct-to-video movie. Bowing against the colossal Doctor Strange in Singapore is also a strange (ahem) decision – what chance of success would Max Steel stand against a marquee MCU superhero title?

Max Steel was clearly positioned as an origins movie and a start of a franchise, but this also means that an inordinate amount of time in this film is devoted to setting up the backstory of Max and robot/alien sidekick Steel. Yet, so little is explained clearly that it is never really certain exactly how Max and Steel came about, much less the Ultralinks that are after them. Almost an hour goes by before Max even discovers his true legacy, and to be honest most audiences would have ceased to care by then.

The acting in Max Steel leaves much to be desired. While Ben Winchell is fresh-faced and relatively good looking, he doesn’t seem to possess much thespian talent and as such struggles to deliver in scenes that call on even a tad bit of emoting. Both Mario Bello and Andy Garcia phone in unengaging performances, with Andy Garcia given the thankless role of being the stereotypical tech millionaire villain. The special effects are passable, but on the whole Max Steel feels more like a film developed for the small screen, and if you choose to watch one superhero movie this week, this should not be the one to pick.

Rating: * ½ (out of four stars)