Ah the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where all of Hollywood’s brightest stars come out to shine. Two or three times a year, every remotely marketable Movie Star from Chris Pratt to Chris Evans to Chris Penn strut their stuff in their finest Halloween apparel, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. Marvel’s latest confection is Dr Strange, featuring Sherlock Holmes as Dr Stephen Strange, the mercurially talented neurosurgeon with the touch of gold (his touch is cold). A tumble off a cliff edge in his Lamborghini leaves Strange miraculously, and ungratefully alive. His hands are mangled beyond the help of conventional Western medicine, and his life is in tatters! Much angst! Such sadness!
Strange leaves his long-suffering girl Friday, Christine (Rachel McAdams) and looks East in search for a mystical cure in Nepal. Before long it’s clear that he’s on the right track, because not one, but two magical Europeans are already there before him, waving their hands and punching souls into the astral plane. He is mentored in the ways of wizardry by the wise and benevolent “Ancient One”, so serenely inhabited by Tilda Swinton that you can’t help but wonder if indeed there’s indeed anything at all wrong with the magic of whitewashing. Together, they must defeat !!KAECILIUS!!, an evil, anthropomorphic jar of eye shadow, wearing the face of Mads Mikkelsen. They’re also aided by Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the Ancient One’s steadfast African pupil, and Wong (Benedict Wong), Strange’s librarian, token Asian and manservant-to-be.
All in all, it’s Origin Story 101. But it’s good fun.
After fourteen films and a stack of Netflix originals, I’m as Marvel-weary as the guy. But for all the (quite valid) criticisms leveled at Marvel for hollowing the movie industry and drying out new ideas, this one movie does deserve a little credit for some of the visual pyrotechnics at work. The Inception-laideskope stuff was overcooked, to the extent that the action was sometimes quite hard to follow. In the final confrontation though, some of the time-warping special effects were new and exhilarating. It’s a small thing, but it made me a little bit happy that this mega franchise contributed something a little bit new to movies.
A few words on the acting. Oscar Nominee Benedict Cumberbatch unfurled his standard high functioning sociopath thing, which is always enjoyable for what it is. Oscar Nominee Rachel McAdams had even less to work with, but was also doe-eyed and lovable, as she always is. You can make similar comments for Oscar Nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor, Oscar Winner Tilda Swinton and Cannes Best Actor Winner Mads Mikkelsen. Point is, there’s a lot of acting power packed into a film about a guy who flies around in a red velvet cape twirling his finger around.
Alternative plot: A biopic about renowned neurosurgeon and future Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson.