Doctor Strange

Cumberbatch—and his cheek bones—offer a fun Doctor Strange
Cumberbatch—and his cheek bones—offer a fun Doctor Strange

The doctor in question is natty New York neurosurgeon Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a hubristic hotshot who can pull a bullet out of a dying brain and name a Chuck Manigone single only seconds into hearing it. Strange gets humbled when his hotrod hurtles over a cliff—distracted driving can trammel emergent superheroes too, kids—leaving his body battered and his delicate, prized hands nearly useless. Despairing over the possibility of a life devoid of operating room glory, Strange journeys to Nepal to track down “the Ancient One.” This riddle-riffing sorceress—embodied by Tilda Swinton, whose blue eyes are all the more arresting with her head shorn of hair—turns out to be pretty much the only actor in this movie able to strike a balance between the wooden formalities of mystic-master-speak and pseudo-hip modern lingo that vie for dominance in the dialogue.

The Ancient One and her acolytes—among them a fairly stiff Chiwetel Ejifor and a fairly delightful Benedict Wong—train Strange to bore electric holes into time and space and make weapons out of nothing. But there is a price to be paid for learning all this radical magic: Strange’s great powers come with great responsibilities, which means that rather than simply head back home with steadier hands and a cannon of parlour tricks sure to get him laid, our reluctant hero is coerced into helping fight some bad guys (led by a po-faced Mads Mikkelsen) who want to destroy the world as we know it in favour of some other nasty dimension in the multiverse. Which is where things can get convoluted and a little dull, though no more convoluted or dull than your average superhero movie (for those of us not chomping at the bit for the next superhero movie).

Doctor Strange was directed by Scott Derrickson, whose filmography, which includes Hellraiser: Inferno, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and Sinister, would seem an ideal foundation for approaching this kind of material. The film’s battery of special effects, however, winds up overwhelming most attempts at directorial nuance. There are truly impressive psychedelic sorties through trans-dimensional space, but the images of cities folding in on themselves grows strangely humdrum, perhaps because all these transgression against the laws of physics ultimately seem inconsequential to costumed fighters and civilian bystanders alike. By contrast, a scene in which Strange first learns to manipulate time features a mere apple getting eaten and then de-eaten and is so much more captivating for feeling tangible. (The choice of apple is also symbolic: Strange’s apprehension of time-twisting spells is considered verboten by The Ancient One and her cohorts.)

Anyhoo, Cumberbatch. A fine actor and a charming fellow. He smoothly delivers one-liners and bone-crushing astral bowling balls alike. He also happens to have the perfect bone structure for Strange. He looks like a smart person having a good time, which makes Doctor Strange more of a good time for the rest of us.

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