I had fun at Doctor Strange, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s fourteenth picture, mostly because it was a trippy outing, kind of a prolonged trip to an occult items store. But two days after seeing it, I’ve kind of lost the thrill, and in the long run it still had Marvel’s typical strengths and weaknesses–a great sense of humor, but a fondness for mass mayhem and bludgeoning.
Doctor Strange the character has been around since 1963, but he was never a major player in the Marvel Universe. He had his own book, but mostly he just popped up in other superheroes titles when they encountered magical villains. But I always liked that he existed–it provided a counterpoint to the mostly scientific and technical angle of Marvel heroes–he didn’t need adamantium, or Jarvis–he was just a fucking sorcerer.
This film is an origin story. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Stephen Strange, an extremely arrogant neurosurgeon. He is speeding along a road in a sleek sports car when he crashes and loses the use of his hands. He tries everything, but when medicine fails, he goes to Nepal, where of course everyone goes when they seek spirituality (actually, that would be Tibet, but the makers did not want to offend the Chinese–lots of money there, you know). He meets a woman called The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who eventually teaches him about the other worlds of existence.
He’s a fast learner, and will cross paths with a rogue sorcerer played by Mads Mikkelson, who wants to learn the secret of immortality (although this somehow gives him eye crud). Cumberbatch will fight him and his minions and eventually outwit some godly creature called Dormammu. With a doohickey that can control time, he will also save Hong Kong.
This is all good and exciting and held my interest, but it seemed superficial. Just like the Iron Man films throw around technical jargon, Doctor Strange uses metaphysical buzzwords. I hope a second film gives us more insight into just how you can make a sword of light out of thin air. Some scenes are very amusing in that Marvel sort of way–such as when Cumberbatch uses his astral body to fight bad guys while his friend (Rachel McAdams) operates on his corporeal body. I also hope the next film has him using his usual oath–“By the hoary hosts of Hoggoth!”
It’s a good cast, also with Chiwetel Ejiofor, who I fear will be a villain in the next movie (his character, Baron Mordor, is an enemy of Strange in the comics). Cumberbatch, who I like because though he’s a British actor with serious Shakespearean chops, takes on all kinds of roles, from Sherlock Holmes to the voice of Smaug, makes a terrific wizard and looks good in the Cloak of Levitation (comic geeks may get a nice little rush when he first puts it on, or rather, when it first puts itself on). The Sanctum Sanctorum looks great, too. Kudos to the productions design.
The special effects are very much like those that were in Inception–cities folding in on themselves, and shifting like rotating a picture in Photoshop. Frankly they didn’t do a lot for me–but it takes a lot for special effects to be impressive, since it’s just about all been done.
A tease tells us that Strange will interact with other Marvel characters. I would love to see him in a Midnight Sons film, that would include other supernatural heroes like Hellstorm, Morbius, Werewolf by Night, and Ghost Rider (but not Nicolas Cage, thank you). Doctor Strange was a member of that team and it would rock.