The latest entrant in the Marvel superhero franchise walks on the weird side. Armed with a heavyweight cast and a lesser known superhero, the stage is set for writer-director Scott Derrickson to create the perfect fun blockbuster.
Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a cocksure genius neurosurgeon who has it all, until a car accident destroys his hands. No one and nothing in Western medicine can improve Strange’s condition, so he sets off on a journey to the mystical East, where Tilda Swinton’s bald guru, The Ancient One, opens the gates to worlds and powers that Strange did not know existed. These powers come handy when Strange has to face off with Mads Mikkelson’s disgruntled Kaecillius in a “mirror world”, in which anything and everything can be manipulated.
It’s only when the 115-minute movie frees itself from its overloaded back story that Doctor Strange finally kicks into high gear. In the action-heavy climax that seems straight out of Inception, buildings split apart and wrap themselves around each other against a constantly rotating skyline. The sky and the ground swap places. Glass-panelled skyscrapers shatter into nothingness and from far above, Strange and his partner Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) make a sheer headfirst dive into further chaos.
By hitting all the beats synonymous with the superhero genre – an arrogant and talented man eventually learns to let go and embrace the powers that were his birthright – the 115-minute film feels too familiar in parts. Strange gets his powers almost instantaneously, so when the eventual transformation into the cape-wearing superhero with luscious locks and a perfectly-trimmed moustache occurs, the payoff seems unearned. The series of reveals comes a little too late. There is more to Swinton’s enigmatic character than meets the eye, and there is a deeper reason behind why Kaecillius went over to the dark side.
An endless supply of pop culture references and a swagger similar to Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark character from the Iron Man films allow Doctor Strange to showcase Cumberbatch’s talents. But the filmmaking isn’t bold enough to fully revel in the strangeness of the source material. Co-writer C Robert Cargill had said in an interview that an early version of the script was rejected by producer Marvel Studios for being “too weird”, which is exactly what the film needed to be.