Doctor Strange | reviews, news & interviews
Benedict Cumberbatch makes a promising debut on the Marvel production line
Aiming for the trippy qualities of The Matrix and Inception, Doctor Strange is possibly the most enjoyable Marvel foundation story since the first Iron Man, mixing wit with visual pyrotechnics. Benedict Cumberbatch plays supercilious neurosurgeon Stephen Strange (wholly unrelated to the New Romantic singer responsible for “Fade to Grey”). A virtuoso of the scalpel, Cumberbatch’s Dr Strange has shades of Robert Downey Jr’s over-achieving Tony Stark – this is cinema art directed from the fantasy lifestyle of men’s glossy magazines.
Dr Strange has the requisite underappreciated on/off girlfriend (Rachel McAdams) who works alongside him, admiring his precision brain repairs while despairing of his heart. He lives in an icy Manhattan apartment, seemingly no walls and all windows that look onto the night-time city. Outside is his Lamborghini Huracan which really should not be driven while inspecting neurology scans. His self-inflicted fall from grace renders him incapable of operating, and sets him on a quest to find a cure for his shaking hands. Cue Cumberbatch with messy hair, a terrible beard, and a journey to the Mysterious Orient in search of mystical enlightenment (pictured below).
Redemption comes in the shape of a bald Tilda Swinton, playing the Ancient One who knows all the secrets of sorcery and inner powers which can make the crippled walk. There’s a touch of The Karate Kid in the two British thespians’ on-screen relationship that borders on ridiculous. It’s hard not to be cynical about the Ancient One intoning lines such as “Forget everything you think you knew”, while the repetitive scenes of gruelling physical training and humiliation on the road to transcendence wear thin.
Mads Mikkelsen plays Kaecilius, a former student of the Ancient One who has turned evil and provides Strange with his key opponent. It’s difficult to take Mikkelsen too seriously as the villain if you end up wondering how much time he had to spend in make-up every day, having his eyes slathered with kohl and red sparkles to make them look like a pair of volcanoes getting ready to rumble.
Doctor Strange could descend into a clutch of clichés, but director/writer Scott Derrickson has injected plenty of wit. The visuals, especially in the modern-world sequences, are stunning. Vast cityscapes roll up like three-dimensional chess sets; dizzying fight scenes among ever-shifting skyscrapers are what one would imagine MC Escher would have designed if he’d been working with powerful digital software rather than a pencil.
Stan Lee’s obligatory cameo is worth watching out for - chuckling over Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception. Sitting through the endless credits with the diehard fans is rewarded by not just one but two teasers. These taster scenes also hopefully make sense of why Chiwetel Ejiofor is so underused in Doctor Strange as the Ancient One’s protégé Mordor, and hint that there may be more interesting conflicts to come in the sequels.
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