Category Archives: Rating: 3-3.75 stars

Swiss Army Man (2016)

Swiss Army Man is undoubtedly the wackiest movie I’ve seen in years. I have no doubt it will end up on some people’s “Best Of” lists and others’ “Worst Of” lists. You either get it or you don’t.

The film is about a depressed, suicidal man named Hank (Paul Dano) who befriends a very farty corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) on a desert island. The corpse turns out to be extremely useful in a variety of situations throughout Hank’s efforts to return to civilization (hence the title, a nod to the utility of the Swiss army knife). Yes, the movie is as weird as it sounds.

It’s very obvious from the first fart that Swiss Army Man is not your typical movie. There are plenty of outrageous and farcical situations all throughout that will invoke as much laughter as feelings or being weirded out. It’s not afraid of being rude and crude and disgusting, and kudos to both Dano and especially Harry Potter for fully embracing the absurdity. It’s totally out there, and you can either go along for the ride or scoff at the stupidity of it all.

And yet, the film is laced with a strange sense of melancholy and poignancy. If you dig deeper than the artificial layers on top, you’ll find that the film actually says a lot about loneliness and depression, and sends a strong message about living life to the fullest and not being afraid to put yourself out there–before it’s too late.

As for me, I liked Swiss Army Man, to an extent. I enjoyed how original and wacky it was, and I definitely laughed out loud way more than I thought I would at the relentless jokes, many of which were actually on the low-brow end. I also developed an entirely new appreciation for the talents of Daniel Radcliffe, who played the best corpse since Weekend at Bernie’s (though another film I recently watched, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, sure has a performance that gives him a run for his money). On the other hand, I don’t think the film, even at just 97 minutes, had enough material to sustain the running time. There were moments where I felt the gimmick was wearing thin and lost a bit of interest, though I have to say the ending was brilliant and redeemed some of my misgivings. Definitely worth checking out, but be prepared for what you are getting yourself into.

3.5 stars out of 5

PS: It’s a real shame hardly anyone saw the film, which made less than US$5m on a US$3m budget.

Skiptrace (2016)

It’s hard to believe that Jackie Chan was just awarded with an Oscar for lifetime achievements late last year! In celebration of the man’s career, I decided to watch Skiptrace, an action movie that apparently came out in 2016 but I had no idea even existed.

To be honest, I expected absolutely nothing from this movie. The last couple of Jackie Chan films I watched were all garbage — Dragon Blade, Chinese Zodiac, The Spy Next Door — essentially lame efforts to promote cross-border collaboration for the mainland Chinese film industry. Skiptrace seemed like more of the same, with Chinese actress Fan Bingbing being cast in the lead female role and Johnnie Knoxville as the American buddy sidekick. But you know what? I actually didn’t mind it. It’s definitely one of Jackie’s more watchable movies in recent memory.

The plot is pretty non-existent. Chan plays a Hong Kong cop trying to track down a criminal mastermind called the “Matador”, and somehow he has to track down a conman gambler played by Knoxville who witnessed a murder. Naturally, this takes the two of them on a trip around from Russia to China through Mongolia. Oh, and Fan Bingbing plays his goddaughter and the damsel in distress.

It’s a fairly typical Jackie Chan script, with the usual cringeworthy plot points, dialogue, jokes, and Asian actors forced to speak uncomfortable English. I’m actually quite sure some of Fan Bingbing’s lines were dubbed, or at least recorded later. Like many of his previous movies, Skiptrace felt like a tourism commercial, this time for Mongolia and parts of scenic China.

Having said that, I was surprised by the chemistry between Chan and Knoxville, who gets thrown around an awful lot (his forte, I suppose). Chan also seems to have a bit more of a spring in his step despite having hit the age of 62 and is involved in more action and stunts than in his prior films of the last few years. The action sequences and fights in general are just more creative and better choreographed too.

These positives don’t quite make up for the cringe moments and the bad Jackie Chan movie trademarks (such as always having a woman young enough to be his daughter as his love interest), though on the whole, Skiptrace turned out to be a surprisingly entertaining movie. Perhaps five-time Golden Raspberry Award nominee for Worst Director, Renny Harlin, somehow managed to turn back the clock to work his magic this time.

3.25 stars out of 5

Split (2016)

I wasn’t as down on the Shamhammer as some others were after his string of well-publicized debacles, from Lady in the Water to The Last Assbender to After Earth. On the other hand, I wasn’t has high as some others have been about his so-called comeback movie from 2015, The Visit. So I guess my expectations were cancelled out for his latest effort, Split.

As the title suggests, the film is about a crazy dude with dissociative identity disorder (played by the brilliant James McAvoy), who kidnaps three teenage girls (Anya Taylor-Joy from The Witch and Morgan, Haley Lu Richardson, and Jessica Sula) to a strange and unknown location somewhere. Much of the movie is about figuring out just what this guy is doing and what he wants as he shifts between 23 different personalities, each with its own name and traits. Critical to the storyline is his therapist, played by veteran actress Betty Buckley.

The first thing I will say about Split is that it’s very well-made for a low-budget film (US$9 million), once again demonstrating Shyamalan’s skills as both a writer and director. His ability to create tension and a sense of claustrophobia is as good as it’s ever been, and what I enjoyed most about the movie was the feeling that I had no idea what would happen next. And most of the time, the plot was indeed very hard to predict. You always look for a “twist” in Shyamalan movies, and I must say I quite liked what he had in store for us this time, even though it is more of a “reveal” than a twist per se.

The strengths of Shyamalan’s script and direction are anchored by three excellent performances. Of course, James McAvoy is absolutely astounding, pulling off each of his personalities with enough differences — subtle or otherwise — to tell them apart easily. At times he’s creepy or funny or brutal or pathetic or dangerous — and the fun lies in never knowing what you’re going to get.

Anya Taylor-Joy has been on my watch list ever since The Witch, and again she’s mesmerizing as the outsider Casey. There is just something about her eyes and expressions that add an air of mystery and vulnerability to her character. She’s going to be a star for years to come. And Betty Buckley is really a standout too as the therapist who has certain beliefs about dissociative identity disorder that become pertinent to the story.

Unfortunately, there were also a few things about Split that I didn’t like. As solid as the script was, there were still snippets of dialogue that came across as too contrived, conjuring up memories of Shamhammer at his pretentious worst. The film was also far too long at 117 minutes and felt that way towards the end. A compact 90-100 minutes would have made the film a lot tighter and more effective. And lastly, I wasn’t a fan of how the essential torture of these girls was sexualized. If it was merely to add tension, I would be okay with it, but I felt a lot of it was gratuitous.

In all, thanks to an interesting premise, well-crafted suspense, strong performances and a climax that doesn’t ruin the entire film, Split is good enough to be regarded as one of the better thrillers of the year. I wouldn’t put it anywhere near Shyamalan’s earliest films such as The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, but Split could very well be his best effort since The Village from 2004.

3.75 stars out of 5

PS: There’s a pretty cool scene at the very end of the film right after the credits start, so make sure you stay around for that. It’s a nice little surprise.

The Accountant (2016)

Ever wondered what the Bourne movies would have been like had they cast Ben Affleck instead of Matt Damon? Well, The Accountant is probably about as close as you’re gonna get.

Directed by the acclaimed director of Warrior, Gavin O’Connor, The Accountant stars Affleck as a highly functional autistic mathematics genius named Christian, who makes a living uncooking the books of some of the most dangerous criminals in the world.

Christian’s world is turned upside down when he ends up working on a new case for a company run by John Lithgow, and finds himself in mortal danger along with the young company employee who found a discrepancy in the company’s books (Anna Kendrick). Pursuing him is Oscar-winner JK Simmons, playing a Treasury agent, with the assistance of a junior data analyst (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), as well as a hitman played by Jon Bernthal.

One important fact I forgot to mention in the above synopsis is that Christian is also a Jason Bourne/John Wick-type ass-kicker who is incredible with a sniper rifle and deadly in hand-to-hand combat. Don’t freak out — there is an explanation for this, but it sure does elevate the threshold for suspension for disbelief.

And that’s the really just one of the many problems of The Accountant — it takes itself a little too seriously for a premise you’re more likely to see in a comic book movie. There are moments of humour and levity, but for the most part O’Connor keeps the film as a straight action-thriller, and as a result there’s a bit of a disconnect. This is particularly so as the film moves into the final act and there are a few plot twists and reveals — the first  is telegraphed from very early on and not a surprise at all, and the second, which comes at the very end, is pretty ridiculous.

My other main problem with it is the casting of Anna Kendrick, who could not be a worse match for Ben Affleck. The two just look so wrong together on screen, and even decent performances from both can’t make the chemistry work. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Affleck’s acting, though here he is good enough because he simply needs to be expressionless or dopey-looking the majority of the time. I do have to say that he executes the action sequences flawlessly (maybe it’s the Batman training) and makes you believe that he really has all those moves.

Weirdly, not withstanding all the flaws, I actually really enjoyed The Accountant. I thought the premise and concept were intriguing and the plot itself compelling enough to keep my interest. The action scenes were also extremely well done, nearly on par with what you might see in a Bourne film. I just had to take a step back and treat it as more or less a superhero movie — not of the fantastical Thor or Iron Man nature but more grounded, like say Netflix’s Daredevil or Luke Cage — and I soon found it highly watchable and entertaining. Go in with reasonable expectations and you might too.

3.75 stars out of 5

Moana (2016)

Once a man has children, he’s going to start watching more animated movies. And look, there are some animated films that I absolutely adore, but in general, my interest level in them is quite low.

This brings us to Moana, the latest Disney animated feature about a girl in a Polynesian tribe (the eponymous Moana, voiced by Auli’i Cravalho in her debut) who embarks on a mystical sea quest with a demigod voiced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to give back a stolen stone to a goddess. It’s really a lot simpler than that sounds.

I took my five-year-old son to see it today and he thought it was great. I was surprised by how long the movie was — 107 minutes, pretty long for an animation — but he was able to sit through it without a problem. It was me, actually, who needed to go to the toilet and fell asleep for a few minutes toward the end (I was really tired!). But that’s not to say Moana is not a decent movie. As animated films go, it’s actually pretty good, and I think it gives Kubo and the Two Strings (my review here) a run for its money as the favourite for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars next month.

In typical Disney fashion, Moana is spectacular to look at, especially with its abundance of bright colours and beautiful sea views. Kubo is beautiful in its own way because of the stop-motion animation, though for me, Moana is one of the most visually dazzling animations I’ve seen this year or any year. The film also boasts plenty of singing, action, cute characters, comedic moments, and a nice little message about believing in yourself and having the courage to make a change, etc etc. It’s a fun family affair with catchy tunes (“How Far I’ll Go”, in particular, is a winner and a threat to one of the La La Land songs at the Oscars), comedy for all ages, and a dash of heart. You should know the Disney formula by now.

So yeah, it’s another enjoyable, feel-good animated movie that didn’t really blow me away or connect with me on a deeper emotional level (like say Up or Toy Story 3). It was humorous, sure, and of course action packed, though I didn’t feel like the film’s performance in these two departments elevated it above any of the other popular Disney flicks in recent years (Big Hero 6, Wreck-It-Ralph, Frozen and Tangled). That being said, I really don’t have much to complain about the movie other than that it’s a tad on the long side, with a couple of moments that I felt dragged on and could have been trimmed to keep up the pace. Apart from that, all good.

3.5 stars out of 5

Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but even after watching Kubo and the Two Strings, I had no idea it was a stop-motion animation movie. It was only when I saw a short featurette of the movie on YouTube a week later that my mind was blown. They did all that? I guess you could say it’s a testament to the incredible hard work and dedication of stop-motion animators and filmmakers, or if you want to be cruel, that it’s a waste of time because technology has advanced to the point where computer animation is basically indistinguishable.

Anyway, Kubo has been hailed as one of the best animated motion pictures of the year for being original, visually spectacular and funny. I decided to go see it because my son started begging me to take him after he saw a trailer with a giant monster and a sword. As I’ve repeated ad nauseam, animated flicks are usually not my thing, and with that in mind, I have to say Kubo was a slight disappointment for me solely because of the high expectations.

Though it’s produced by American stop-motion animation company Laika, Kubo is set in ancient Japan and tells the story of the eponymous boy who lives in a seaside cave with his ill mother. Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson) can play this musical instrument called a shamisen (literally “three strings”), which can magically bring origami to life. He uses this skill to tell stories in the village to make ends meet. Of course, something dramatic happens to spark Kubo’s quest out into the world to find three magical items, with a talking Monkey (voiced by Charlize Theron) and giant Beetle (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) by his side. In his way are his two aunts (voiced by Rooney Mara) and the evil Moon King (who else but Ralph Fiennes?).

It’s an adventure film filled samurai sword action, cool monsters and family drama. I suppose in contrast to all the animation sequels we tend to get these days, it’s fair to call Kubo original. But for someone who grew up on anime and manga like me, the story is par for the course.

My main problem with the film, however, is that it didn’t make a whole lot of sense from a narrative or logic perspective. Yes, fables don’t always necessarily make perfect sense, though for me the contrivances of the plot took me out of the film a little bit. The humour was fine, but I didn’t laugh that much, and the twists were quite easy to predict too, so I never found myself really impressed by the film apart from the visuals.

I sound more negative than I intend to be, because I actually thought Kubo was very good. The animation is seamless and the details in both the characters and the sets are absolutely incredible. Watching the featurette certainly improved my appreciation of what a tedious and momentous task such films are to make. I’m merely saying that I was not as blown away by the film as many others were (97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 84% on Metacritic).

My two sons had different reactions to the movie. My elder son (4.5 years old at the time) loved it, especially the creatures, while my younger son (3 years at the time) found some the scenes frightening. Indeed, some of the characters had scary designs and the darker moments were quite eerie, so parents should keep that in mind when deciding whether or not to show it to younger children.

Ultimately, Kubo and the Two Strings is still worth watching simply for the amazing stop-motion visuals and the refreshing concept. Those who enjoy samurai swords and quest adventures should also find it enjoyable because the action sequences are well choreographed and the creature designs look really cool. But as with all films, keep expectations in check, or you might reach the same conclusions about it as I did: Not a disappointment as a film but disappointing relative to high expectations.

3.5 stars out of 5

Finding Dory (2016)

I’ll be the first to admit that I was never the biggest fan of Finding Nemo. Don’t get me wrong, I quite liked it — it was cute and amusing and all that — but I was just stunned by how much everyone else absolutely loved it. And so I was not particularly excited when they finally announced, after what felt like forever (13 years, in fact) that the sequel/spin-off, Finding Dory, was finally going to be released. I actually wasn’t even going to see the movie but my kids wanted to, so we all went.

As the title suggests, Finding Dory is all about tracking down the lost regal blue tang with short-term memory loss voiced by Ellen DeGeneres from Finding Nemo. It was of course not hard to get the ball rolling given Dory’s mental ailment, and this time it’s up to Nemo and his dad (again voiced by Albert Brooks) to track him down. Added to the all-star voice cast include Ed O’Neill as an octopus who has lost the tentacle, Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy as Dory’s parents, Ty Burrell as a beluga whale, and Idris Elba and Dominic West as sea lions, plus Sigourney Weaver, Bill Hader, Kate McKinnon, Allison Janney, Willem Dafoe, Brad Garrett and Stephen Root. Holy crap that is a great cast.

Like its predecessor, Finding Dory is an adventure comedy that teaches us to about friendship and to believe in yourself and who you are. And like its predecessor, it’s also absolutely fine as an animated film. It’s beautifully animated, with a smorgasbord of bright colours and wonderfully rendered textures. It has a good handful of good laughs, solid one-liners, quirky characters, and a good dash of poignancy. 

But also like it’s predecessor, Finding Dory didn’t really wow me — and for me there were no expectations to live up to. I didn’t remind it and you could even say I enjoyed it, but I certainly wouldn’t put it on the same level as say the Toy Story franchise or Up. It just didn’t affect me the way those films did.

My kids actually said they enjoyed it, though my elder son was disappointed there were no sharks like the first one, while my younger son fell asleep just before the climax (granted, it was a matinee screening). And as a true barometer of their interest, neither kept talking about the movie or re-enacted scenes from it for days afterward like they have for other films. Like father, like sons, I suppose.

As I have said many times before, I’m usually not the biggest fan of animated films, so take this review with a grain of salt. But I have to call it as I see it and declare that Finding Dory for me was just an above-average film experience that won’t have me running to get the Blu-ray any time soon.

3 stars out of 5

Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)

Quick, think of one horror sequel that’s better than the original. I bet you can’t.

Well, now you can. Ouija: Origin of Evil is a damn miracle. While the first one was an absolute travesty to cinema, earning a spot on my “10 Worst Movies of 2014“, the sequel is actually a pretty solid little horror movie with some wit and some scares.

I totally forgot about the plot of the original, so it came as a surprise to me that Origin of Evil is actually a prequel of sorts (like the title wasn’t a subtle hint). Set in 1965, it’s about a widow (Elizabeth Reaser) who stages seances at her house with her two girls (Lulu Wilson and Annalise Basso). After incorporating a Ouija board into their seances, it later turns out that the younger daughter can contact the dead, and presumably their dead father.

But of course, spirits can be conniving, and soon the family finds itself battling a demonic presence in their house. As with all supernatural films, a priest (Henry Thomas — yes, Elliott from ET!) gets involved before things spiral out of control in a climatic finish.

Perhaps it’s because Ouija has set the bar so low that I enjoyed Origin of Evil this much. I liked the 60s setting, which looked nostalgic and felt authentic. Director Mike Flanagan, who has done some very solid horror work in the past like Hush and Oculus infuses the production with a sense of class and confidence, with none of the  silly “here we go” vibe of its predecessor. Rather than relying solely on jump scares, the film adopts an effective blend of atmosphere through creepy moments and character interactions. It’s also great that the characters mostly act like normal human beings rather than typical sceptics who won’t believe what’s happening right before their eyes.

Elizabeth Reaser (you may remember her as the mother vampire in The Twilight Saga) and young Lulu Wilson both deliver strong performances that are significantly better than anything you’ll see in the original film (even though Olivia Cooke is very talented). It’s amazing how much scarier a horror movie is when the acting is actually believable.

As stereotypical of such horror movies, however, Origin of Evil loses the plot in its third act and gets pretty ridiculous, though I’ve realised since that this was because it had to match the storyline of the original film. That said, the movie is already so much better than I ever thought it could be. Even though it’s not a top tier commercial horror flick like say The Conjuring, I would say Origin of Evil is good enough to land firmly in that second tier occupied by movies like Insidious).

3.5 stars out of 5

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016)

I worship at the altar of Ang Lee, and so I was itching to watch his latest project, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, a curious title taken directly from the novel upon which the film is based. This was so even though the movie received mixed reviews and could only be watched in dreaded 3D. Lee apparently made it to be seen in not just 3D but also in 4K resolution and at a frame rate of 120 frames per second (smashing the previous record of 48 frames held by The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey). Where I am, they call it “Futuristic 3D”. Sadly, only a couple of cinemas were even equipped to screen it in that format, and of course those tickets were almost impossible to get.

Anyway, Billy Lynn is Ang Lee’s attempt at a contemplative war movie set largely in the mind of the film’s titular young man (played by newcomer Joe Alwyn, who reminds me of a bigger version of Logan Lerman) as he and his unit embark on the last leg of a “hero tour” across the country that ends in a halftime show at a Thanksgiving football game in Dallas. The film does not cover a long period of real time — essentially just the day of the football game — but reveals bits and pieces about the characters and what happened in Iraq through a series of flashbacks that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. It’s quite a fast-paced film by Ang Lee’s standards, with plenty of subplots to keep the ball rolling — from the unit’s efforts to make some money by leveraging their fame for a film deal being brokered by a quick-talking agent (Chris Tucker), to Billy’s dalliance with a cheerleader (Makenzie Leigh), to him fending off attempts by his big sister (played by Kristen Stewart) to get him to get discharged from the military.

Ang Lee has always had a knack for unearthing the depth of human emotions, capturing insights and ironies into human nature, and building authentic time periods really well — and Billy Lynn is no different. On this occasion, he focuses on the absurdity of the war, and moreover the hero worship used to propagandize US war efforts. Accordingly, the film is filled with many outrageous and humorous moments that come across as intentionally surrealistic. It’s almost a shock to see right from the beginning that the soldiers, led by Garrett Hedland, are really just a bunch of immature kids who act like a bunch of immature kids. They are sent off into the horrors of war to kill enemies, scarring them forever, and are then paraded around as national heroes packaged for the government’s agenda.

The cynicism is rife and it can be felt all throughout the movie, though credit to Lee for never fully stuffing it down our throats. Instead, we get a lot of long takes and extreme close-ups that create the sense that Billy is trapped in his own world and in his own mind as the dog and pony show rages on around him. He doesn’t want to go back to Iraq to keep fighting or be seem as a hero, and yet he feels he doesn’t have a choice but to play along. It’s the mix of these internal contradictions that fuel the film’s emotional core. I’m not sure if it’s intentional, but it sure feel like Lee is purposely juxtaposing the surrealism of the situation with the ultra-realism of the images on the screen.

Joe Alwyn is quite the revelation as Billy Lyn in his film debut, holding his own against veteran actors and never over-acting. He looks young and has this naiveté about him, but also a hidden strength amid the flood of emotions running through his mind. Not many actors would have been able to pull off so many close ups of their face. I was surprised to discover that he’s actually British and already 25 years old.

Kristen Stewart has continued her impressive run of performances after the end of that vampire franchise, reminding people again that she actually is a very good actress. Seriously: On the Road, Camp X-Ray, Clouds of Sils Maria, Still Alice — it’s time we remove the stigma. Garrett Hedlund is also impressive as the articulate dynamic leader of Bravo Squad, as is Steve Martin as the owner of the Dallas football team and Vin Diesel as a former member of Billy’s unit. Chris Tucker isn’t someone I would have cast for his role but he fits it well. There’s really no complaints about the cast.

My problem with Billy Lynn is that it never ends up being as deep and emotionally involving as I wanted it to be. The film skirts around the themes and issues but is unable to fully grasp them and sink its teeth into them, making the experience a strangely hollow one. I was interested and intrigued, and certainly never bored, though I must admit I yearned to be more engrossed. Some parts of the screenplay also came across as too polished for the characters, and for me it felt a little jarring. And I have no idea why “Futuristic 3D”, or any 3D for that matter, was applied to this film. It’s a war drama with a bunch of close ups. Why? For me, there was no need and it didn’t add anything. To the contrary, forcing the unnecessary technological advancements on audiences probably achieved the opposite effect and took them out of the film instead of pulling them in.

On the whole, Billy Lynn will likely be remembered as a middling entry in Ang Lee’s legendary filmography. While far from a failure, it is by Lee’s high standards not exactly a huge success either. It is still definitely worthy of your time, though its emotional punch and resonance fall short of the lofty bar set by his best films, and the technological innovations of the visuals tend to detract from rather than add to the viewing experience.

3.5 stars out of 5

Doctor Strange (2016)

Not quite sure how it is possible that I watched Doctor Strange when it first came out but have been too busy to get around to the review until now. Luckily, I have a good memory when it comes to movies (terrible memory for everything else).

The latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was considered a risky one because of the relatively unknown character and all the mystical mumbo jumbo the studio feared could turn people off. Further, it’s directed by Scott Derrickson, whose most notable films up to that point were Sinister, The Day the Earth Stood Still and Deliver Us from Evil. And on top of that, some people lost their PC minds and accused Marvel/Disney of whitewashing when Tilda Swinton was cast as the Ancient One.

Of course, all fears were unfounded. This is the Marvel juggernaut we’re talking about! After so many incredibly successful films, Marvel has figured out the winning formula that continues to elude DC. It’s all about fun, excitement, spectacle and giving audiences a great time at the cinema. Doctor Strange is no different.

Benedict Cumberbatch is perfectly cast as Dr Stephen Strange, a brilliant neurosurgeon who is, frankly, a bit of a dick at the start of the movie, especially to his colleague and ex, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). Following a devastating accident, Strange embarks on a journey of healing and character development through learning the mystic arts in a place called Kamar-Taj from the Ancient One, a beautifully bald Tilda Swinton. It’s very important, because a traitor by the name of Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) is hell bent on at wreaking havoc on the world.

Doctor Strange is a great example of how to execute a superhero origins story. You get a clear idea of who the character is at the start of the film and follow them on their journey to becoming who they are destined to be. The technical stuff is explained in a simple and understandable way that doesn’t get bogged down in the details. The training sequences are interesting and packed with out action so as to not be too boring, and our hero isn’t too powerful right out of the gate because he needs room to grow. There are good laughs along the way and the action is creative, inventive and spectacularly choreographed.

What sets Doctor Strange apart from the previous Marvel films is the psychedelic, mesmerising visuals and special effects. If you’ve seen the trailers you’ll know there’s all that world-folding and morphing stuff that feels like Inception on steroids. And it’s not merely eye-candy either, as the ever-shifting worlds and parallel universes blend in seamlessly with the action and the storyline.

The cast is easily one of the best in the Marvel franchise, with established names and Oscar nominees galore. As I said already, Benedict Cumberbatch was perfectly cast, exuding the initial arrogance and the later shift in his character wonderfully, without taking himself too seriously or coming across as too goofy. Rachel McAdams redeems herself from Southpaw and really adds to her character, while you can never go wrong with Mads Mikkelsen in any role. His villain is admittedly a little weak, as are most Marvel villains, though he does the best he could with the material he’s been given. Stealing the show are Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One (laying to rest some of the whitewashing complaints) and Benedict Wong as…Wong, a master of the mystic arts who protects their secret books and relics. On the other hand, I personally thought Oscar-nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor overcooked his performance as fellow mystic warrior Karl Mordo. It’s good to show some emotion, but there wasn’t any need for 12 Years a Slave emotion in a Marvel movie.

On the whole, I really enjoyed Doctor Strange, though I certainly wouldn’t put it near the top of the Marvel films to date. Great cast, solid execution, nice action, and a visual feast at times, but nothing really extraordinary to elevate it to the level of the top solo films of the main Avengers (I’m talking Iron Man, Winter Soldier, Civil War, etc). The final confrontation was also somewhat anti-climatic. I’d put Doctor Strange at around the same level as Ant-Man — ie, a second-tier Marvel film but great popcorn fun nonetheless.

3.75 stars out of 5

PS: Apparently, Doctor Strange will make an appearance in the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok.