Genre: Action/Adventure, Superhero
Since Disney bought Marvel Entertainment back in 2009, they’ve been deceptively repackaging the same superhero formula into different flavours – the blood-spattered edginess of Deadpool (2016); the all-ages whimsy of Ant-Man (2015); now Doctor Strange. There are no surprises here in terms of straying from the blueprint, but granted, Doctor Strange is one of the zingiest flavours on offer.
Benedict Cumberbatch is Stephen Strange (‘Doctor’, he insists), an arrogant but very skilled neurosurgeon who loses the use of his hands in a car crash. When the western world is out of solutions, naturally he travels east, to Tibet, where he discovers mysticism and magic and becomes a disciple of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). Soon enough he’s dimension-hopping like a rabbit on DMT, casting spells and whizzing about in his Cloak of Levitation in a war against threats to humanity considered too ‘mystical’ for the Avengers to handle.
The film gets off to a great start; in the first scene it boasts visuals like watching Inception (2010) through a kaleidoscope. Enter Cumberbatch’s fresh and convincing Doctor Strange. He and the lovely Rachel McAdams riff off each other with quick-wits in a tracking shot down the hospital walkway; scenes later, he’s shouting at her in his high-rise apartment: ‘oh, you pity me now do you?’ You’re not waiting for long before the eye-popping thrills kick in, this time in over-drive; soon Strange is being blasted through teleportation portals, fighting whilst astral projecting, you name it.
But – *yawn* – Doctor Strange tires towards the end. Battle after battle slows down the story, all the exposition slows it down even more. More than ever I noticed how much of a hindrance the complex mythology of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is. Doctor Strange was never going to be as clever as Inception, and it may toy with the theme of spirituality, but it was never going to spark your kundalini awakening either – it might as well have embraced its ridiculousness and played on it for fun. But of course, more important is assuring its interconnectivity to the Marvel universe, and laying the foundations for its guaranteed sequel. As a result we have to stick it out through all their chat about ‘the dark dimension’, and are offered our comic relief in the form of jokes about Beyonce.
Cumberbatch’s character arc sort of flops as well. The fizzling out of his problems with McAdams are the least of it; there’s a scene with Tilda Swinton two thirds of the way through in which she might as well hand his characters’ flaw to him on a plate.