Writer: Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, Benedict Wong
Running time: 115mins
What’s the story: After a serious accident, brilliant but arrogant neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange embarks upon a quest to heal his shattered body. But, he discovers the universe has many more exciting and dangerous things to offer.
What’s the verdict: Watching Doctor Strange is similar to observing Alan Partridge ordering a cinema ticket over the phone.
“Inception. IN-ception. IN-SEP-SHUN. Inception…?”
Or is it Matrix, Matrix, Matrix? Or Batman Begins, Batman Begins, Batman Begins? Or Avatar: The Last – oh God no, not that one.
What Doctor Strange definitely is, is another Marvel’s superhero origins movie.
Dr. Stephen Strange may have been created by comic legend Steve Ditko as a “new, different kind of character for variety in Marvel Comics”. Yet, director/co-writer Scott Derrickson has delivered a Tony Stark clone, the difference being his expertise is in medicine rather than technology (though there’s some of that too).
Strange also has a long suffering flame-cum-kind-of-assistant in Christine Palmer, gamely played by Rachel McAdams, attempting to invest a semblance of character into her scenes.
After his accident, Strange journeys East to the Himalayan temple of Kamar-Taj, where he encounters The Ancient One (Swinton) and her lieutenant, the straitlaced Mordo (Ejiofor). Here Strange witnesses the mystical secrets of the universe, learning how to harness energy for astral projection and, basically, magic.
But, trouble looms in the shape of Kaecilius (Mikkelsen), a dark warrior to the Ancient One’s light, looking to bring about the enslavement of the world, chaos and the usual supervillain MO.
Ironically, the Marvel spell breaks with Doctor Strange. The much-touted introduction of magic to the MCU feels little different to what Kenneth Branagh did (far more successfully) in Thor. Rules here are established so hastily come the final act’s multiple showdowns there is the suspicion stuff is being made up as they go.
The film also suffers from being both a minor entry into Marvel’s grand cinematic plan while also presenting massive world-imperiling threats. Infinity War’s Thanos should be a mere after-dinner mint compared to what Strange faces at the climax of this movie.
All this would be fine if there was sufficient wit and charm, something that rescued Ant-Man from total cookie-cutter anonymity. But, despite Benedict Cumberbatch’s best efforts Strange emerges as a weak splice of Tony Stark and Thor, with FX-augmented hand-wavium silliness in place of character.
Cumberbatch proves he can do comedy (often assisted by his sentient cape) and a passable mid-Atlantic American accent. Difficult though to see how his Strange will make an impact beside Downey, Jr’s Stark, Hemsworth’s Thor, Evans’ Captain America or Holland’s Spider-Man.
Or Ryan Reynold’s Deadpool over at Fox, whose debut film was stranger than this.
Topping off the general disappointment are promising set-piece concepts poorly executed. The New York Inception/ Escher-painting battle featured heavily in the trailers is an incoherent mess, all done much better years ago in the climax of Monsters, Inc.
A Hong Kong based finale has a potentially spectacular time-shifting idea spoilt by Derrickson’s limitations as an action director. He’s better with suspense, see the chilling Sinister for details.
Mikkelsen, Swinton (whose casting has been accused of whitewashing the comic’s Tibetan character to appease China), and Ejiofor bring class to underwritten roles, as does Benedict Wong in a thankless extended cameo as another of Swinton’s underlings.
So, Marvel fumbles the opportunity to deliver something fresh and exciting and Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is guaranteed to operate within this same narrow framework.
We order an urgent transfusion of originality, daring and real magic if we are all to make it to Infinity Wars with any interest remaining.
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