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Movie Reviews: Inferno and Doctor Strange

Inferno

Cary, NC – Inferno is the third film in the Robert Langdon adventure series, following The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons. Director Ron Howard (Apollo 13, Rush) and star Tom Hanks return for a surprisingly fun mystery thriller anchored by Hanks and his co-star Felicity Jones.

Hanks And Howard Deliver

I must admit, I don’t have strong feelings for the previous two films one way or another. They were fine – neither as controversial as they were made out to be. I’m always down for Hanks, and Howard has never really been given the credit he deserves, even with an Oscar win under his belt. Still, my expectations for Inferno were fairly low walking in.

So imagine my surprise when I found myself having a lot of fun with the film! Like its predecessors before it, Inferno involves Hanks’ character in a fight against time to solve a global mystery, this time using Dante’s Inferno as his guide.

Director Howard is able to really hone in on a sense of adventure this time around, as well as a greater sense of urgency than the previous installments. There is something about a globe-trotting adventure that always seems to work for me, at least on some level, and when you have a star like Hanks, it only helps.

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Co-Star Jones Is One To Watch

Not every actor can lead a film like this, and while Hanks has never been an action star, he does know how to make some of the more ludicrous dialogue seem believable. His co-star, Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything) deserves equal credit. Her character doesn’t really have much to do, but Jones gives it her all anyway. I’d keep on eye on this particular actress in the very near future; she’s about to have a very big moment as she’s starring in the next Star Wars film this December. But she’s also incredibly talented and should be showing up much more very soon.

Better Than Its Predecessors

Overall I was very pleasantly surprised at what a fun adventure Inferno turned out to be. Out of the two Hanks films to come out this fall, I’d say Sully is the better option, but still, Inferno is a slick ride with confident guidance by Howard as director.

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Doctor Strange

Cary, NC – In the latest superhero blockbuster from Marvel Studios, the filmmakers tackle the problem of over-saturation and similarity in their movies by simultaneously making it a smaller story with much bigger special effects with great success.

Hero’s Story

One complaint of the nearly 10 years of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies has been too many characters. While the brand’s biggest fans loved seeing almost every superhero under the sun fight in Captain America: Civil War, casual filmgoers can be turned off. Doctor Strange avoids this because, despite a big cast, it is a mostly contained story without connections to a larger cinematic canon.

The other benefit is Doctor Strange has a strong character arc that makes for a compelling story. Stephen Strange, played by Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock, The Imitation Game), is a rude, cynical brain surgeon who learns to see beyond himself and embrace the mystical and non-scientific. While Strange’s role as a “chosen one” is a little hokey, seeing him go through this change and become a hero is a recipe for a great story and Cumberbatch has the acting ability to make this character feel real.

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High-Level Cast

Speaking of Cumberbatch, Doctor Strange may have one of the strangest (fittingly) casts for a Marvel action movie. Sure, Guardians of the Galaxy had a pro wrestler and a CGI raccoon and tree, but you’d expect as much in a comic book movie.

The cast for Doctor Strange reads like an Academy Award-winning film. Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor (The Martian, Serenity), Rachel McAdams (Mean Girls, Spotlight), Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal, Casino Royale), Benedict Wong (Sunshine, Marco Polo). Everyone plays their role, some smaller than others, with perfect notes that have to range from ordinary, relatable human doctors to multidimensional cultists. And while Cumberbatch’s Strange and Ejiofor’s Baron Mordo are different personality-wise from their comic book counterparts (one more than the other), it still makes for compelling and enjoyable characters.

The elephant in the room casting-wise is Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left AliveMoonrise Kingdom) as the Ancient One. While the Ancient One in the comics is Tibetan, Swinton’s is changed to Celtic and this led critics and fans to accuse the film of white-washing. It seems the producers and director Scott Derrickson (Sinister, The Exorcism of Emily Rose) didn’t want to create a stereotypical Asian master of the mystic arts, but it would hardly have been impossible to create a role with sensitivities. And while Swinton is a tremendous actor and does bring a lot to the role, it’s hard not to wish for what could have been and make a strike for Asian representation in American movies.

Insane Visuals

Now, with all that said about the cast and story, Doctor Strange‘s strongest aspect is its visuals. From the trailers, one can get a sense of how trippy things get with cities bending in on themselves and all kinds of strange (again, fitting) sights and sounds. It’s been compared to Inception and it definitely has that style to it. But here, that visual style is cranked up to 11. It’s hard to exactly describe everything filmgoers will see, both because I’d hate to spoil it and because it often defies easy explanations, but suffice to say movies have come a long way since A Trip to the Moon.

Having a big-budget movie about Doctor Strange is strange (sorry, hat trick) enough, since it’s about a man who fights crime by using the Eye of Agamotto to get power from the Vishanti to battle Dormammu. But the commitment to the visuals is what really brings it all home and makes this magical world feel as big as it sounds.

Great Fun Movie

With a great look and probably the strongest overall cast of any Marvel movie, Doctor Strange is a good time at the theater. It is almost miraculous we get to have this kind of major movie and it shows that, as tiring as superhero movies can get for some of us, there are still gems out there.

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Jordan Hunt reviews movies for CaryCitizen. Read more Movie Reviews. Photos from Facebook (Inferno/Doctor Strange).