Two elements distinguish the better superhero films from the rest. One is an actor who understands the genre and brings a fresh interpretation to the comic book source character, such as Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man and Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk in The Avengers films. The other is a focus on crusaders and vigilantes with strange powers and peculiarities, such Guardians of the Galaxy.
Doctor Strange appears to have hit the sweet spot between these two factors. Scott Derickson’s long awaited adaptation of a cult superhero with mystic powers has a mouth-wateringly good cast that includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen and the flavour of the month every month since he starred in the British television series Sherlock – Benedict Cumberbatch. The casting has not met with uniform approval. The casting of Swinton in the role of a character of Tibetan descent is being seen as another example of Hollywood whitewashing.
Doctor Strange will be released on November 4, and a 15-minute curtain raiser of the 14th film in the Marvel cinematic universe was shown in the IMAX format in Mumbai.
Doctor Strange is the origin story of Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), an egotistical surgeon who loses his hands in an accident. What follows is a search to regain his limbs in a mystical place at the other end of the world, where he learns magic, acquires extraordinary powers and becomes well-versed in martial arts.
The preview footage jumbles together sequences from different parts of the movie to showcase the capability of the IMAX format. A bulk of the footage is about characters explaining things to each other. The romantic sub-plot with Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) will not feel out of place in a sappy television show. There are also one liners, versions of which we have heard before, that are lifted by the innate charm and charisma that Cumberbatch possesses.
What really works is the fact that Doctor Strange’s powers offer filmmakers the chance to play with surreal and psychedelic visuals. The surgeon-turned-superhero is able to bend time, explore multiple dimensions, manipulate space and the objects around him.
In the best sequence in the preview, which appears to have been inspired by Inception (2010), buildings collapse into each other, the planes constantly shift and the superheroes comes crashing down from way up above into a glass skyscraper laying the stage for a battle with Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius.
The last few years have seen Marvel films move away from science fiction. In a 2014 interview, Kevin Feige, President of Marvel Studios, said that Doctor Strange was a “doorway” into Marvel’s “mind-trippy” side. Feige added in another interview that the adaptation needs to be a “Ditko/Kubrick/Miyazaki/The Matrix mind-trip”. A tall order, but not impossible.