Director: Scott Derrickson
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen and Chiwetel Ejiofor
Running Time: 115 minutes
Release Date: October 25th
It’s right there in the title. Strange. This was Marvel’s chance to let loose and have a little fun by doing something a little different, but aside from some trippy visuals and one or two original twists in the third act, there’s very little to make this Doctor stand out from the crowd of Marvel movies dealing with their heroes’ origins.
Cumberbatch plays Strange as a mix of Tony Stark and Dr. House, a genius prone to sarcasm, antisocial but hiding desperately a need to be accepted, and his accent even has shades of Hugh Laurie’s slightly lisping David Carradine-esque tone he adopted for the hit show. When a car accident mangles his hands and stops dead his career as a world-renowned surgeon, he travels around the world to find The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton, revelling in her own anti-blockbuster weirdness), who introduces him to the world of magic, spiritualism and infinite universes.
(Let’s pause here for a second and deal with an issue Marvel needs to drop ASAP. Cumberbatch’s – and, later in the movie, Rachel McAdams’ – reaction to these new powers is one of incredulity. In a world that’s already been exposed to giant green monsters, hunky thunder gods and however we’re supposed to describe Vision, surely there can’t be much disbelief left? Sure, Iron Man’s coming out party was a bit of a shock back then, but at this point the number of superpowered folk must be substantial enough for Strange not to be shocked by something as trivial as a magic sword? Ranty sidenote over.)
Strange then gets schooled in the way of the mystic arts, and finds out about Mads Mikklesen’s (another charismatic weirdo folded into the MCU) plans to do what every D-List villain wants to do in these movies… open a gateway to allow something to come through to Earth and destroy it.
Screenwriter Jon Spaiths previously wrote the atrocious sci-fi The Darkest Hour and co-wrote the Marmite-y Prometheus, while director Scott Derrickson is best known for his horrors (Sinister, The Exorcism Of Emily Rose, Deliver Us From Evil), and his only attempt at a blockbuster was the snoozefest remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still. Whatever happened to the interesting behind-the-camera choices Marvel was making? There’s practically zero personality on display here, coming off just as bland (if not quite as formulaic) as Ant-Man was, with nothing to help it stand out aside from the psychedelic visuals once everyone starts universe-hopping.
The city-folding-in-on-itself trick we’d seen in Inception is pushed to the max here, but that’s just the tip of the eye-popping iceberg, with the CGI artists going full LSD at certain points. The third act plays out smartly with the good guys arriving to save the day after the requisite city-destroyed-from-above action-scene has already played out, and how Strange defeats the big bad guy does show a higher IQ than the usual “punch it until it’s dead” modus operandi.
Throughout the rest of the movie, there are momentary flights of fancy, scenes when you can see the potential in the inevitable sequel once the shackles of world-building have been dropped, but other persistent MCU problems remain. McAdams is essentially Natalie Portman’s character in Thor in a slightly different outfit, and the movie has no idea what to do with her. Mikklesen could make ordering brunch sound menacing, but his devious scheme has been played out countless times in other movies, as Loki remains Marvel’s only truly impressive cinematic villain to date. Chiwetel Ejiofor is decent as The Ancient One’s number two, but his character goes through so many sudden arcs that he’ll need a neck brace to recover.
For a movie dealing with infinite universes, it’s sad to think that in some parallel timeline out there, there exists a version of this movie with original choice Joaquin Phoenix in the lead role – a casting choice that is truly thinking outside of the box. That’s the problem with Marvel lately, they haven’t taken a risk since putting then Hollywood outlier Robert Downey Jr. front and centre of their universe, and ultimately you end up with a perfectly entertaining movie, but one that is disappointingly a very safe version of Strange.