So. I don’t normally do film reviews, and especially not when I’ve watched the film just once. Films are such fickle beings, greatly using sound and visuals to stun the wits out of the watcher. Beautiful films cleverly disguise their vacuity behind stunning imagery, and many are the films that look rather flat when stripped of off their sound-track.
Doctor Strange is, in some ways, one of those. With the volume cranked up to ear-wrenching, and with effects bending the laws of physics even more than what you’ve come to expect from a super hero movie, I went in expecting something quite… flat. Something that would not last beyond the glitzy veneer. A Bulgari jewel. Boisterous but empty of value to anyone who want something more elaborate, delicate, multi-layered.
And yes, it is a rather derivative hero origin story, starting off by telling us who the incumbent hero began as (brilliant but self-centred neurosurgeon), the downfall (nearly fatal accident, total loss of everything that defined him, in his own eyes), the search for healing, coming into new meaning (reluctant spiritual journey), complete with seemingly out-of-this-world powerful adversary/villain (Master Kaecilius, follower of the Lord of the Dark Dimension) challenging the hero before he’s.
But. Part of the success of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is that the studio for some – not all – of their heroes have found an actor with the ability to imbue their given cartoon character with credibility.
I balk a bit at saying that about Cumberbatch’s version of Strange. The risk of being put aside as a swooning fangirl, not to be taken seriously, is almost too big. But – he manages to take this cartoon hero, (dis)placed in a psychedelic new age parallel version of our universe, and make him into a believable human being. Cloak of Levitation, astral bodies and rearranging of atoms aside. Or – despite all of that, if you’re like me and more than a little bit scientifically minded.
That is no mean feat.
Because let’s face it. This is , like all MCU films, a comic book fantasy. A cartoon. Of this world, and not. But, and this is another reason for the success: the Marvel Cinematic Universe is, in many ways, filling the role of the Greek pantheon of gods; inhabited by half-human, half-gods, with their faults and virtues – their greed and vanity; their loyalties, empathy and morals. It opens up an arena for telling stories about us humans – our society, our short-comings, the consequences of our actions. A mirror. But it has also the ability to simply entertain us.
And now Doctor Strange, the arrogant bastard, by way of a visually stunning magical system and some tight acting and choreography, is inaugurated into that pantheon, onto that arena, adding another dimension. I find I rather like that dimension, what with its swash-buckling wielding of flaming magic and mind-bending quantum physics.
It gives hope to us misfits that there’s a place for us, too, somewhere. Even if it’s just a fantasy.
Just the kind of boost that I needed, right now.
(Added afterwards: It feels unjust to only mention the main character when Chiwetel Ejiofor also was worth watching, as was Benedict Wong, Rachel McAdams and, despite the extreme stereotyping – Mads Mikkelsen. Felt a bit let down by Tilda Swinton, but that might be my high expectations.)