Benedict Cumberbatch steps up another rung in the stardom ladder with his very own superhero franchise, Doctor Strange.
Channeling a bit of Sherlock, a smidge of Alan Turing and balancing arrogance with self-deprecating humour in the way only the most educated actors can carry off, Benedict’s Stephen Strange is ‘star’ surgeon in New York – living like Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne – until a car accident leaves him with crushed hands.
Seeking answers, he winds up in Nepal at a secret sanctuary run by The Ancient One, who’s really Tilda Swinton with shaved head, flowing robes and gnomic phrases. Chiwitel Ejiofor is there too, as Mordor, a shouty minion. And look, there’s Benedict Wong, keeper of the books and the straight face.
Lots of British actors here, because they’re the only ones who can make this nonsense, cod-spiritual script sound good yet also play with the special effects wizardry with right angle of sceptical eyebrow. It all gets pretty trippy as Strange dons a cape (it choses him, actually, so a bit of Harry Potter in there too), opens up portals and space-time continuum loops and reaches deep into levels of consciousness, a place which apparently looks like a 70s prog rock album cover.
I liked it – it’s funny and fun and silly and visually interesting. It’s like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight and, given all the folding buildings and cityscapes, Inception – but with a few jokes. Rachel McAdams is the mortal doctor back in ER, the sort of Lois Lane/Mary Jane figure, destined to love the superhero yet mask his identity. Her scenes with Benedict have a pleasantly screwballish rhythm.
I did think hmm, don’t know if there’s more story in this or should it be a divertingly batty riff, a minor black hole in the marvel multiverse, but no, we’re assured by two (note it, two) mid and post credit teasers , that Doctor Strange will return (like they used to say of James Bond) and that’s reasonably exciting news, especially if you’re Benedict Cumberbatch’s agent.
Does it mean anything, in this I Daniel Blake/Ken Loach landscape? No, not really. If Ken had made Doctor Strange, it would have been about waiting times, misdiagnosed angina and a squeeze on free prescriptions. But if you must see a superhero movie with a lead who looks like Derren Brown, then Benedict and co and their blockbuster reiki will probably do you nicely.