Face-Off: Iron Man vs. Doctor Strange

Last week not only saw the face-off of two of the more legendary heroes in the history of film, Luke Skywalker vs. Harry Potter (win went to Skywalker, but the comparison of the two franchises will be revisited soon), but also marked the final entry in this exclusive series by the incomparable Brian Bitner. The man has acted as the judge over tons of past editions, and his take and opinions will be sorely missed.

But the train must keep on rolling and in doing so we offer our latest edition in this series which pits two films that have already faced much comparison in the last month: DOCTOR STRANGE vs. IRON MAN. The former was met with rave reviews and so far be proven to be the most successful solo intro in the MCU since its competitor. Now, let's get this show on the road and watch these two superhero titans duke it out like cocky, goatee-clad men.

Robert Downey Jr. seemed like an odd choice for the role when it was announced back in 2007, as the actor was still winning Hollywood back with movies like KISS KISS BANG BANG and ZODIAC after years of substance abuse. However, the man won over critics and audiences with his charming, complex take on the lesser-known hero, rocketing himself and the MCU into the stratosphere. It will be near impossible to replace him when the role is inevitably recast, but I’m sure Marvel and Disney have deep enough pockets to keep him around for as long as he able to be convinced. Going back to what he said in IRON MAN 3: He is Iron Man.
Talks of who would play the hero were met with much speculation after actor Joaquin Phoenix dropped out from playing the Sorcerer Supreme, but found a great choice in Benedict Cumberbatch, resulting in widespread cheers and merrymaking. His performance was reliably terrific, giving Dr. Stephen Strange not only a similar roguish charm akin to Downey Jr. with Iron Man, but added a greater sense of arrogance and anger.
The first IRON MAN had a micro budget compared to current Marvel movies, and was considered by many involved to by an “independent blockbuster.” As a result the action sequences feel smaller and more intimate. Notable scenes include Stark’s escape from the cave in his prototype suit, his first foray into combat resulting one of the most badass walking-away-from-an-explosion scene in movie history, and a cool climactic showdown between him and the big baddie, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges).
If audiences walk away from STRANGE talking about anything, it will be the movie’s distinct visual palette when it comes to the action scenes. Buildings morphed, reality altered, Strange seamlessly threw baddies out of doors leading to different locations, and a cloak beat someone up worse than Jack Reacher ever could. Sure, it’s debatable whether or not it stands up to comparisons with a movie that used similar techniques, INCEPTION, but STRANGE made excellent use of its mind-bending, reality shifting effects.
Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) is a famous arms dealer and engineer who is given a reality check after being kidnapped by terrorist. While in the cave he is humbled and is forced to use his intellect to escape. Upon returning home he rededicates his life to making up for the decisions he's made in his past in order to become a hero using a custom made suit.
Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) is a famous surgeon who is given a reality check when a car accident makes his hands unusable, possibly forever. In his quest to find a cure he’s led to an ancient, secret society who dedicate their lives to mastering the manipulation of time and space for the good of mankind. Strange soon learns how to use new powers, and after getting over himself learns he must use his powers for the good of others, not just himself, and take up the mantle of a hero.
IRON MAN works as an individual superhero flick contained within itself. No other dimensions, or references to other heroes (unless you include S.H.I.E.L.D). At this point the idea of an extended MCU was just that, but we do see Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson ) introduce himself during an end-credit scene, and the rest is history
References to The Avengers and other MCU Easter eggs aside, STRANGE takes us into other dimensions and realities in ways no other Marvel movie has, and as a result opens up the world to a whole plethora of possibilities.
Metacritic: 79 (User Score: 8.6)
Rotten Tomatoes: 94% (Audience Score: 91%)
IMDB: 7.9
Box Office: $318,412,101 ($585,174,222 global)
Metacritic: 72 (User Score: 8.4)
Rotten Tomatoes: 91% (Audience Score: 90%)
IMDB: 7.9
Box Office: $215,507,729 ($635,592,548 global) and counting
What lends to the quality if IRON MAN is that it feels just as much like a Jon Favreau movie as it does any of his other films. Of course it’s there in the movie’s humor, but also in the pacing and performances. The actors feel so at home in their roles and the movie moves along at a smooth pace with everything feeling character driven—with yet another Marvel hallmark starting here.
Scott Derrickson has a firm hand on the wheel, succeeding in many of the ways Favreau did. However, Derrickson has made his name with dark horror movies, and I don’t quite feel he left a unique mark to make it feel like “his” movie.
Jeff Bridges as "Obadiah Stane"
Gwyneth Paltrow as "Pepper Potts"
Jon Favreau as "Happy Hogan"
Terrence Howard as "James 'Rhodey' Rhodes"
Paul Bettany as "J.A.R.V.I.S." (voice)
Clark Gregg as "Agent Phil Coulson"
Tilda Swinton as "The Ancient One"
Mads Mikkelsen as "Kaecillus"
Michael Stulhbarg as "Nicodemus West"
Rachel McAdams as "Christine Palmer"
Benedict Wong as "Wong"
Chiwetel Ejiofor as "Karl Mordo"
Marvel has been accused of having a villain problem, but I don’t think that applies to this film. Few villains in the MCU have had such a personal connection to the hero, making the conflict between Stane and Stark all the more dramatic and fulfilling. Come the final fight it feels like two real characters in those mechanized suits duking out their beefs, instead of a thrown-together mash-up.
Though Mads Mikkelsen is as reliable as ever here, the character of Kaecillus simply doesn’t have enough depth or purpose. He’s a bad guy who does bad things because he doesn’t agree with how the good guys do things. That’s the end game or many (if not all villains) but the point is to bury it under layers of characterization. Kaecillus doesn’t get such a treatment.
This was a close race, but in the end IRON MAN just does a lot of things a little better than STRANGE. Not having the budgets of its other MCU companions sort of works in the movie's favor, as it had to rely so much more on characters and the quality of its script to save the day—while also offering its share of superhero set pieces. As well, the movie made Downey Jr. a bigger star than he ever was, and not just because the movie was huge, but because he earned it with a legendary performance as Tony Stark. IRON MAN began the MCU on a high-note and STRANGE carries it on proudly, but as they say, there’s nothing like your first time. See what I did there?

Agree? Disagree? Which do you prefer?



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