Current Issue #488

Film Review: Doctor Strange

Film Review: Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange, the latest, “trippiest” installment in Marvel’s chain of superhero film franchises, throws Benedict Cumberbatch into the astral plane.

One of the stranger, sorry, more difficult-to-film of the Marvel stable of characters, there have been attempts to make a movie about Doctor Stephen Strange virtually since he was created by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee in 1963, and at various times directors including Wes Craven and Guillermo del Toro (but of course) were attached.

However, as Marvel Studios (here with a brand new logo) are having such gargantuan success with their Avengers series and solo superhero blockbusters, the time was certainly right, and chances are English star/heart-throb Benedict Cumberbatch didn’t take much convincing.

Cumberbatch’s Strange is a brilliant and egocentric neurosurgeon who treats everyone, even would-be girlfriend Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), with sometimes sneering disdain, but a serious car accident leads to severe damage to his hands and a fair few lessons in humility. With current medical techniques unable to help him work again, he’s encouraged by a mysteriously healed paraplegic named Jonathan Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt) to travel to Kamar-Taj, Kathmandu and seek out ‘The Ancient One’.

She, of course, turns out to be played by Tilda Swinton (a controversial casting choice as it should, supposedly, have instead been portrayed an elderly Tibetan man, but Tilda is fine, so no harm done), who introduces Strange to a world of magic, alternate planes of the ‘multiverse’ and some psychedelically CG sequences straight out of the 2001 playbook (but still pretty awesome).

Strange then naturally finds himself forced to defend New York, Hong Kong and this world itself, when bad student Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) returns to usher in “the end… and the beginning”, and they have some cool comedy highlights, as cityscapes morph in Inception-like fashion and a Lovecraftian ultimate power looms.

With one of Marvel’s most indie-scene, idiosyncratic casts (including Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo, an Ancient One colleague) and co-writer/director Scott Derrickson managing to keep the wilder, trippier aspects of the plot under control (mostly), this is certainly more fun than another Iron Man adventure, although Strange and Tony Stark have more than a little in sarcastic common.

And please note: as this is a Marvel movie, there are, as usual, not one but two important extra scenes, one halfway through and one at the very end. A strange practice, but fans of the form now know that they need to wait patiently, don’t they?

Rated M. Doctor Strange is in cinemas now.

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