Marvel takes a magical mystical detour
Marvel adds a little psychedelica to its tried-and-tested superhero formula, writes Tara Brady
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.
Benedict Cumberbatch in Doctor Strange