In the latest Marvel film (notably now available with the snazzy new Marvel production logo at the start) Benedict Cumberbatch (“Sherlock”, “Star Trek Into Darkness”) plays the titular hero: a neurosurgeon with exceptional skills, an encyclopedic knowledge of discographies and an ego to rival Donald Trump.
After an horrific car crash (topically addressing the dangers of mobile use while driving) Strange loses the ability to practice his craft, and descends into a spiral of self-pity and despair. Finding a similar soul, Jonathan Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt, “24: Live Another Day”) who’s undergone a miracle cure, Strange travels to Katmandu in search of similar salvation where he is trained in spiritual control by “The Ancient One” (Tilda Swinton, “Hail Caesar”, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”) ably supported by her assistant Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave”) and librarian Wong (Benedict Wong, “The Martian”). So far so “Batman Begins”.
As always in these films though there is also a villain, in this case a rogue former pupil turned to the dark side (have we not been here before Anakin?) called Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelssen, “Quantum of Solace”). The world risks total destruction from spiritual attack (“…the Avengers handle the physical threats…” – LOL) and the team stand together to battle Kaecilius’s attempts to open a portal (“Zuuuul”) and ‘let the right one in’.
Followers of this blog will generally be aware that I am not a great fan of the Marvel and DC universes in general. However, there is a large variation in the style of films dished out by the studios ranging from the pompously full-of-themselves films at the “Batman vs Superman” (bottom) end to the more light-hearted (bordering on “Kick-Ass-style”) films at the “Ant Man” (top) end. Along this continuum I would judge “Doctor Strange” to be about a 7: so it is a lot more fun than I expected it to be.
The film is largely carried by Cumberbatch, effecting a vaguely annoying American accent but generally adding acting credence to some pretty ludicrous material. In particular he milks all the comic lines to maximum effect, leading to some genuinely funny moments: yes, the comedy gold extends past Ejiofor’s (very funny) wi-fi password line in the trailer.
Cumberbatch also has the range to convincingly play the fall of the egocentric Strange: his extreme unpleasantness towards his beleaguered on/off girlfriend (the ever-reliable Rachel McAdams (“Sherlock Holmes”)) drew audible gasps of shock from a few of the ‘Cumberbitches’ in my screening. (As I’m writing this on November 9th, the day of Trumpagedden, we might have already found a candidate able to play the new President elect!)
In fact, the whole of the first half of the film is a delight: Strange’s decline; effective Nepalese locations; a highly entertaining “training” sequence; and Cumberbatch and Swinton sparking off each other beautifully.
Where the film pitches downhill is where it gets too “BIG”: both in a hugely overblown New York morphing sequence (the – remember – human heroes suffer skyscraper-level falls without injury) and where (traditionally) a cosmic being gets involved and our puny heroes have to defend earth against it. Once again we have a “big CGI thing” centre screen with the logic behind the (long-term) defeating of the “big CGI thing” little better than that behind the defeat of the “big CGI thing” in “Batman vs Superman” (but without Gal Gadot’s legs unfortunately to distract the male audience).
Music is by Michael Giacchino, and his suitably bombastic Strange theme is given a very nice reworking over the end titles. By the way, for those who are interested in “Monkeys” (see glossary) there is a scene a few minutes into the credits featuring Strange and one of the Avengers (fairly pointless) and a second right at the end of the credits featuring Pangborn and Mordo setting up (not very convincingly I must say) the potential villain for Strange 2.
Not Shakespeare, but still an enjoyable and fun night out at the movies and far better than I was expecting.
Fad Rating: FFFf.