Doctor Strange Review

Damn it, I thought I had finished with these back in the summer. But no, now that Marvel and DC are releasing several movies per year, they have to stretch them out well past the usual release days. Marvel started their Phase Three earlier this year with Civil War, and now the second in the series is out in cinemas.

Doctor Strange stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton and Mads Mikkelsen and is directed by Scott Derrickson. The film follows Dr. Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch), a brilliant neurosurgeon. After a car accident leaves him without the use of his hands, he trains in the mystic arts to try and heal himself.

The acting and cast range from being passable to looking incredibly bored. I wasn’t a fan of Cumberbatch’s casting as Strange, but he was fine , nothing too terrible about him. Tilda Swinton looks uninterested most of the time, not displaying any emotion throughout the film. Mads Mikkelsen is woefully underused, and is reduced to spouting nonsense in his scenes. Like most Marvel villains, he isn’t as interesting as he could have been. The best character is probably Rachel McAdams as Strange’s half-love interest. While it’s generic to see the only lady Strange interacts with reduced to the love interest, she manages to rise above the typecasting.

The special effects featured heavily in the promotion, and if you’re just wanting to go to the cinema for some pretty visuals, then Doctor Strange is a good choice. Due to the mystic arts, the world starts to fold in on itself and creates kaleidoscopic patterns across the screen. It’s very much like the city sequences in Inception or Paprika, but on a much larger scale. There is even a homage to Inception later on during a fight in a hallway, where the world keeps rotating, making the characters continually fall over and slide around.

The action scenes though leave a lot to be desired. Throughout the film we see students at the monastery that Strange visits practising kung fu, and even Strange starts fight training later on, but when it actually gets to the fisticuffs, it’s less Crouching Tiger and more Taken 3. The camera shakes around and cuts to odd angles, before showing us a pile of bodies on the floor. It gets even worse when the characters start using their powers. While they look good (the film does use CGI well), most of them are just a maelstrom of particle effects. They clog up the screen with so much visual pizzazz that we miss all the interesting parts. The final action scene though, when Strange and his teammates start using a more complex series of spells (and some ones that I won’t say here for the sake of spoilers), they do make the finale a visual delight.

Apart from the visuals though, there is not much going on underneath. The story is the same bog-standard origin that they’ve been recycling since the original Iron Man all the way back in 2008.You can pretty much guess how most of the film is going to play out, until the final third when things start to get a little meta. The third act seems to get going before the second act is even over, which signals a problem with how the film has been edited. The film doesn’t telegraph how much time has passed, it almost looks like Strange has become a master magician within the space of a week. The jokes as well are rather poor. Cumberbatch is the main deliverer of them, but they really don’t fit with his character. It would have been better to keep Strange as the stoic, mystery man that the trailers made him appear to be rather than popping out jokes now and again.

In the end, apart from some of the trippy visuals and the new character, Doctor Strange really has nothing new to show for itself. I guess if you’re heavily invested in the series you’ll have already seen it or be making plans, but for others, just leave it be.

Score: 6/10 Some cool visuals now and again don’t carry an entire film.

Blackhat Review


Blackhat is another 2015 film that I just missed before starting The Student Film Review. It had come out on DVD all the way back in June, but I only managed to pick up a DVD copy last week. And now I get to review it.


Blackhat stars Chris Hemsworth, Wei Tang, Leehom Wang and Viola Davis and is directed by Michael Mann. Blackhat follows convicted hacker Nick Hathaway (Hemsworth) as he released from prison to help a joint US-Chinese taskforce track down a dangerous hacker who is wreaking havoc through computers.

Michal Mann’s resume as a director is spectacular. His filmography includes things like Public Enemies, Heat, Collateral and Last Of The Mohicans. I went back and watched Last Of The Mohicans a few days ago just to see how it stacked up against Blackhat, and it’s still as amazing and brutal as when I first watched it. The man knows how to direct a good film. Blackhat, while not his best is still a very competent and good-looking film.

The main problem people have with Blackhat is that Chris Hemsworth is meant to be a computer hacker. Yeah, Chris Hemsworth, the guy who plays Thor is a computer hacker. I really don’t have a problem with the casting, early on in the film we see Hemsworth doing push-ups against a wall and a few lines of dialogue near the middle of the film indicate that his extended stay in prison away from computers meant he spent most of his time working out. However implausible that a 24-hour code junkie looks like a body-builder, I’ll buy it for the sake of the story.

The rest of the actors are rather more believable (and likeable), with Leehom Wang as Captain Chen Dawai who has history with Hathaway and Viola Davis as FBI Agent Carol Barrett who delivers nearly every line in a deadpan tone, sometimes accidently falling into the stereotypical “sassy black woman” role. The only bad casting in my opinion is Wei Tang, who like Chris Hemsworth doesn’t look like a stereotypical hacker and is mostly wooden throughout the film.

Michael Mann as a director is mainly known for two things, beautiful cinematography of cities (mainly at night) and then subsequent gunfights taking place in said city. Both of these factors work perfectly in Blackhat. The story jumps all over the world, starting in Hong Kong, but quickly moving to Los Angeles, back to Hong Kong, then to Kuala Lumpur and then finally to Jakarta. Mann soaks in these beautiful landscapes in the same way Hitman: Agent 47 did with Singapore, using beautiful helicopter shots to show the modern architecture or the wide-open expanses off. The gunfights in these locations are also put together well, with a spectacular shootout in the middle of the film set in a Hong Kong shipping port. The gunshots echo around the metal containers and from far off, giving the film a great sense of realism.

The main problems I had with the film is the length and the villains. The film is over two hours long (shorter than most of Mann’s films) but due to slow pacing at the beginning the first half feels a lot longer than it is. The pace does thankfully pick up during the second half of the film, meaning the film hurtles towards it conclusion, but since the pace has picked up the film accidently flies straight past it’s ending, with no memorable end scene. I actually had to think really hard to try and remember how Blackhat ended; I eventually gave up before it finally came to me. The film doesn’t know how to keep a steady pace; instead it just flips from one end of the scale to the other. The villains are bland and boring, just coming down to dudes who actually look like hackers but are also experts with machine guns. The main bad guy doesn’t have a big, memorable reveal so the film feels a little unfocused since we don’t know or care who this guy is.

In conclusion, Blackhat has some problems with its cast and story, but the amazing cinematography, coupled with the exotic locales and brilliant gun battles and knife fights make it an interesting action film.

Score: 7/10 A straight forward action-chase film with a modern day digital update.

Avengers: Age of Ultron Review

I have an odd history with superhero films. I’ve caused outrage with some diehards fans of the genre by saying that I quite enjoy Batman and Robin, or X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I’m not really that impressed with The Dark Knight and I do believe that there might possibly be a superhero overload with the eighteen confirmed Marvel films coming between now and 2020. However, I do own the Marvel Encyclopaedia, so I guess I’m a sort-of fan. Either way, let’s get on with Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Quick heads up before I get going though. Some details will be on the vague side, due to my views on spoilers (mainly not giving any away). I do hope I give nothing away, but this is just a small note to say that certain details on characters, their arcs and plot points will be missing from the review.

Avengers: Age of Ultron stars Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth and Jeremy Renner as our usual caped, cowled and suited superheroes, with Elizabeth Olson and an almost unrecognisable Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver respectively.  When a new threat emerges to destroy the world, our old Avengers must assemble once again, this time with the help of the two new recruits, to save the day.

First off, before you watch AAOU, you might need to watch the last couple of Marvel films. With returning plot points and returning characters from the last few films, you might want a small refresher watch just to make sure you can just jump straight into the new one. Luckily, through exposition, those who may have missed on some of the earlier films are brought up to speed fairly quickly.

The acting from all involved, be it the frontrunners or the background characters from earlier films is of the highest quality (did we really expect anything less from Marvel?) Highest kudos goes to Elizabeth Olson and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who look like their having the time of the lives in the film, and also managing to pull off the Eastern European accent very well, unlike some other big budget release recently (Child 44 anyone?) Credit also needs to be given to James Spader, who voices the villain Ultron, giving a CGI robot some fun character traits.

Danny Elfman’s music throughout the film fits very well, giving some scenes a dark sense of danger, a route that many fans had speculated the film was going to take. Despite these darker tones the film is still a great laugh, with the jokes coming thick and fast at the beginning, but petering out relatively quickly so that our attention is focussed solely on the bombastic action scenes that are punctuated throughout. These action scenes are grand affairs, with explosions and destruction being main highlights of a fair few of them. At times they threaten to slip into a vat of sameness (seen one ruined building seen them all) yet each one is spiced with a flair of its own, with enjoyment coming from the times where members of our Avengers team up to see what happens when you cross things like Thor’s lightning and Captain America’s shield.

Now on to what could be considered the “bad stuff” of the film. First of all, the length. At 142 minutes the film feels extraordinarily long, which wouldn’t be a problem, if the film did not skimp on details. Some characters go missing or look to be grievously injured for a while during the film, and when they return we are not given any indication of where they were or how they survived. Second, those bombastic fights scenes that I talked about can be sometimes a handful to take in, and with the pace they are set at, it can feel as if the action has gone right by you and you haven’t a clue who is who and whether any of them have been injured.

Third, The CGI has remarkable dips in quality, with certain scenes looking downright awful. It’s shame because most of the CGI throughout the film is spectacular, with characters like Ultron having great attention to detail. It just pulls you right out of the film when the CGI takes a plummet in quality. Fourth, a blossoming romance between two of the Avengers, to me anyway, felt a bit forced and contrived, mainly because I couldn’t feel any chemistry between the two actors.

Finally, with the setting up of several other films, with older characters coming in to fill roles, absent characters joining the Marvel roster and plot devices being implemented for sequels, the film does set up many plot threads which we will have to wait a while before we get a satisfying end. And while it is fun to see all these characters and objects being slowly added to the Marvel Universe, some of it does seem unnecessary given the already astronomical length of the film. Okay, now I’m probably just being nitpicky.

In conclusion though, Avengers: Age of Ultron is a worthy sequel to one of the most refreshing superhero films in a long while.

Score: 7/10 A second blazingly fun romp with Earth’s mightiest heroes.