Director: Scott Derrickson
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton and others
Rating: * * * *
Benedict Cumberbatch, who has a fan following as TV’s Sherlock Holmes (among other works), must be currently the most popular British actor; so landing a part as a Marvel superhero in a new franchise could only have added value to his portfolio.
The character of Doctor Strange is not new, but after half a century in limbo, he needed a film worth pulling him out on to the movie screen, and Scott Derrickson delivers the goods with flair. What’s even more noteworthy, is that for a major film out of Hollywood, the casting veers more towards solid actors, than saleable stars—besides Cumberbatch, there are names like Tilda Swinton and Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Doctor Stephen Strange (his real name!) is an arrogant neurosurgeon, whose life is turned upside down when an accident leaves his hands with severe nerve damage. He turns to Eastern mysticism to help him cope with the tragedy mentally when modern medical science cannot help, and lands up in Kathmandu.
Here, a woman called the Ancient One (a delightful Tilda Swinton), who says giggle worthy lines like “I know how to reorient the spirit to better heal the body,” and sends Doctor Strange through a “trip through inner and outer space. Despite his white man’s skepticism of eastern mumbo-jumbo, he quickly acquires sorcery skills, and other superpowers that follow. All this space and time bending and tracing some crucial pages from the Ancient One’s holy text stolen by Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) obviously involved breathtaking special effects, which Derrikson’s team does brilliantly. And hidden in the end credits are hints of what is to come.
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Bejamin Bratt play supporting characters with more seriousness than a film based on comic books call for, but then Doctor Strange thrives and mostly succeeds in avoiding fanboy juvenilia. Young males may be the target for Marvel superheroes (and the occasional heroines) but some directors do manage to add some depth to the proceedings, while also retaining the primary purpose of providing a dazzling visual spectacle.