Marvel goes metaphysical in Doctor Strange, with Benedict Cumberbatch taking the role of the Sorcerer Supreme in style, and director Scott Derrickson out-Inceptioning Inception with a barrage of reality bending visuals. On the whole, it’s an enjoyable mystical brew with just the right amount of humour to offset the multi-dimensional goobledegook.
Cumberbatch fits the Stephen Strange character like a glove, with his brilliant but arrogant brain surgeon maimed in a car crash, leaving him unable to use his hands. A search for a cure brings him to Nepal where he is trained in the magical arts by Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and the mystical Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). Along the way Strange learns one of her fallen pupils Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) has joined forces with the regulation all-powerful-dark-entity-from-another-dimension-that-wants-to-take-over-the-Earth.
Frankly this element of the story – ie the villain – is the weak link in an otherwise pretty satisfying movie. Performances are all good, with the supporting cast rounded out by Strange’s one time love interest Christine (Rachel McAdams) and comedy deadpan librarian Wong (Benedict Wong). The special effects are stunning. In fact, this is easily the most visually inventive of all the Marvel films, with Derrickson really pulling out the stops and generating something genuinely eye-popping. Yes, said visuals borrow heavily from Inception, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Matrix and even Monsters Inc, but they do nonetheless feel fresh and exciting cropping up here in the Marvel Universe. Another big plus is Michael Giacchino’s exotic and epic score.
Strange’s character arc is very akin to that of Tony Stark in the first Iron Man film, journeying from arrogant selfishness to and selfless heroism. It is also interesting that Derrickson, a committed Christian, has smuggled elements of his faith into this mystical, magical world. Some Christian audiences may be put off by the occult trappings, but amid New Age mumbo jumbo themes of discipleship, deception and destiny are explored, as well as the idea of surrendering control (essentially to God) when one has hit rock bottom. There is also an implicit condemnation of the atheist worldview. For example, Strange’s belief in a cold, indifferent, determinedly un-spiritual universe is later echoed by the villain, once Strange knows better.
When all this spiritual soul-searching threatens to get too serious, there are some fine gags to leaven the portentousness, including a comedy cape that reminded me of the rug from Aladdin. Quite honestly Doctor Strange is worth seeing for the cape alone. Oh – and as usual, stick around for two post credit stings.