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Cumberbatch brings magic to Marvel

Dr Strange reviewed

Kim Taylor-Foster

Reporter:

Kim Taylor-Foster

Cumberbatch brings magic to Marvel

Doctor Strange (12A)
Running time 1hr 55mins
Rating: ****


DOCTOR Strange is the latest addition to the ever-expanding Marvel movie canon – and if you’ve lost track not only of how many films have been released to date but also how many characters have featured in starring roles within the franchise, it’s probably best not to trouble yourself with the numbers. It’s a lot, and the scope for more going forward is exponential.

In Doctor Strange, Marvel begins to mine its cache of lesser-known comic book characters – which in some ways gives the team responsible for bringing it to the screen more freedom and flexibility. Partly because there are fewer expectations and less pressure.

Director Scott Derrickson and the wider crew have embraced this, with a bold script, adventurous approach to its look and impressive casting – acting heavyweight Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelson, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benedict Wong and Rachel McAdams make up the incredible supporting cast.

Benedict Cumberbatch, meanwhile, stars as the titular Doctor Strange, a highly-skilled but arrogant neurosurgeon who enjoys the trappings of his success. One day, while speeding along treacherous roads in his flashy car, he’s involved in a devastating accident, and ends up having his hands – the tools of his trade – completely reconstructed using metal pins. Seeking alternative ways to heal, he hears about a spiritual centre in Nepal that achieved miraculous results with a similarly afflicted individual and heads to Kathmandu to try it for himself.

Strange is nothing if not persistent, and his dogged determination persuades The Ancient One
(Swinton) and her team of monk-like mystics to take him on and teach him what they know. Soon, he’s able to switch between planes of reality and use his mind to shape things to his will.

He quickly becomes proficient but he doesn’t bank on having to fight former student Kaecilius (Mikkelson) who is intent on destroying the protective stations – or sanctums – positioned around the world that safeguard reality and the natural order of things, so that he can seize power.

Strange is among the most powerful and least plausible of Marvel characters. While Black Widow’s skill is to fight really well, and Hawkeye’s is to fire arrows with pinpoint precision, Strange can, in actuality, do just about anything within and without the realms of possibility. He can re-shape reality; he can bend time; he can magic weapons out of thin air; and he has a magic cloak fighting the fight right alongside him.

As outlandish as it all sounds, the story is anchored in reality, with ordinary humans, recognisable locations and pop culture references all in the mix. This sets up a fun and engaging ride for the audience, bringing Marvel fans an origin story where effects take centre stage, but not at the expense of script and characterisation.

Doctor Strange doesn’t take itself too seriously, and this is perhaps best reflected in Cumberbatch’s irreverent performance. It’s self aware enough to poke fun at itself without subverting the comic book-movie genre, and gets away with spouting a lot of nonsense by way of exposition as a result.

While some films take unnecessary time introducing the events leading up to the incident that triggers a superhero’s powers, Doctor Strange gets quickly to the nitty gritty, plunging us swiftly into the Inception-influenced graphics and story of good versus evil. It also ensures we fast forward to Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One – a cinematic treat – and the scene-stealing Benedict Wong.

With action sequences slightly over-stretched, Doctor Strange is perhaps 10 to 15 minutes too long but with the requisite Stan Lee cameo, a post-credits sequence cementing Strange’s position in the wider Marvel universe and a fresh approach from a director with a horror background, Doctor Strange sits up there with some of the most enjoyable in the franchise.

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