Marvel takes a mag­i­cal mys­ti­cal de­tour

Marvel adds a lit­tle psychedel­ica to its tried-and-tested su­per­hero for­mula, writes Tara Brady

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS -

DOC­TOR STRANGE ★★★ Di­rected by Scott Der­rick­son. Star­ring Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch, Chi­we­tel Ejio­for, Rachel McA­dams, Bene­dict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg, Ben­jamin Bratt, Scott Ad­kins, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swin­ton. Cert 12A, gen re­lease, 115mins

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch is one of Earth-1218’s most tal­ented and ver­sa­tile thes­pi­ans, but just try telling that to cast­ing direc­tors. Thus, in Doc­tor Strange, the ac­tor is given an op­por­tu­nity to belt out his great­est hits with a pa­tri­cian Amer­i­can ac­cent.

We’re not com­plain­ing. Who among us would ar­gue against a blast of State­side Sher­lock or Karaoke Khan or Tape-Recorded Tur­ing?

The Marvel­verse’s nom­i­nally groovi­est su­per­hero, should, in the­ory, al­low for some small de­vi­a­tions from the block­buster stu­dio’s tried-and-tested for­mula. In the­ory.

Steven Strange – a bril­liant neu­ro­sur­geon turned sorcerer – made his comic book de­but in 1963, and has the con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous mumbo-jumbo to prove it. Where Iron Man has sci­ence and fire­power, or Thor has de­ity, Strange, in the af­ter­math of a digit-de­stroy­ing car-crash, trav­els to Nepal to learn about chakras and as­tral planes, man.

Un­der the guid­ance of the An­cient One (Tilda Swin­ton, the win­ning en­try in a sphinx cat show) – with ad­di­tional grinds pro­vided by a com­i­cally earnest li­brar­ian (Bene­dict Wong, who steals the show) and the even more po-faced Moro (Chi­we­tel Ejio­for) – Strange soon ex­cels at shoot­ing spe­cial ef­fects out of his fin­gers.

Mean­while, over on Team Bad­die, the An­cient One’s ex-dis­ci­ple Kae­cil­ius (Mads Mikkelsen) and var­i­ous non-speak­ing flunkies are hop­ing to sum­mon Dor­mammu, a war­lord from the “Dark Di­men­sion”. Cue var­i­ous bits of ex­po­si­tion that re­call Jedi lec­tures on midi-chlo­ri­ans and big showy stand-offs that leave the viewer to pon­der: “If this is a magic bat­tle, why are they thump­ing each other?”

The mys­ti­cism un­der­ly­ing

Strange’s ori­gin story al­lows for sev­eral 2001: A Space Odys

sey- in­spired SFX ex­trav­a­gan­zas and lots of post- Minecraft, post- In­cep­tion build­ing fold­ing. But this is the Marvel­verse, where ev­ery film must tick cer­tain boxes: Stan Lee cameo? Check. Mid-cred­its teaser trailer for next Avengers flick (that would be Thor)? Check. Post-credit teaser trailer for next Doc­tor Strange flick? Check.

Strange? Chance would be a fine thing. Our new hero is RDJ’s Tony Stark with about 10 per cent less snark and 10 per cent more pop-cul­ture ref­er­ences. Our new de­vourer of plan­ets is in­ter­change­able with the Sil­ver Surfer’s old neme­sis Galac­tus. Our new marginalised love in­ter­est (a crim­i­nally wasted Rachel McA­dams) may work in A&E, but she’s Pep­per Potts MD.

Fair enough, we sup­pose. Af­ter all, if it ain’t broke, etc. Be­sides, these small de­vi­a­tions prove bet­ter than none at all. Nim­ble di­a­logue and a con­stel­la­tion of ca­pa­ble - if mostly white­washed – stars en­sure this is a rather live­lier cre­ation than this year’s Cap­tain Amer­ica: Civil War.

Who cares if Strange’s ac­cou­trements (the Cloak of Le­vi­ta­tion and Eye of Ag­amotto) make one think of holy Mor­mon un­der­gar­ments: the film’s new-age clap-trap still makes a lot more sense than any­thing in Ant Man.

Ex­pect $1 bil­lion at the box of­fice. Ex­pect crit­ics to get called DC shills for not­ing that Marvel’s cookie-cut­ter con­tin­ues to pro­duce more pleas­ing shapes than its Warner Bros ri­val. Ex­pect the ex­pected.

Shazam!

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch in Doc­tor Strange

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