Doctor Strange movie review: Nothing about the film seems real


Doctor Strange movie cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen
Doctor Strange movie director: Scott Derrickson

From the turned-up collar of his ‘Cloak of Levitation’ to the slightly upturned twinkly eyes, from the well-earned snobbery to the fact that he is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock Holmes informs many frames of this latest Marvel offering. Fans of Arthur Conan Doyle will also recall Holmes wasn’t averse to Eastern mysticism, while newer ones know he can be a surgeon as obnoxiously ingenious as Dr. House. What’s there not to like about this superhero then?

Well, how about the fact that he is a superhero?

Here is a film providing a dazzling, actually psychedelic, stage to a hero who operates in a “multiverse”, crosses between “mirror dimensions” and “dark dimensions”, safeguards “sanctums”, and fights villains in the “mystic world”, while almost nothing gets affected “in the real world”. It didn’t need to co-opt a genius like Holmes fighting very real demons, within and outside, in a very real world with its very real problems. Doctor Strange tries very hard to ride that horse and only breaks into a trot when it finally decides to be what it is.

There is much to like about Doctor Strange from then on, particularly Tilda Swinton’s The Ancient One as the Sorcerer Supreme preserving the world from the dark powers. Her almost eyelash-less gaze, under a bald pate crisscrossed by two sinewy nerves, is enough to still your world — let alone Dr. Strange’s. A celebrated and arrogant neurosurgeon who only takes up intellectually stimulating cases, Dr. Strange lands at her doorstep after a horrific accident (captured in shocking impact) leaves his nerves severely damaged and his hands useless. At home, Dr. Strange leaves behind a fellow doctor, Christine Palmer (McAdams, who incidentally also played a prominent character in Robert Downey Jr’s Sherlock Holmes), nursing a broken heart.

The Ancient One runs her center in Kathmandu, and while in the original Marvel comic, she is a he and a Tibetan, here she is given Celtic origins (delicate Chinese sensibilities matter, particularly when one of the stages of the final battle in the film is Hong Kong). Before Dr. Strange sweeps everyone off their feet at the Kathmandu center, The Ancient One’s senior-most pupil is a grim-faced Mordo (Ejiofor), and the wisest one is the caretaker of her library that holds the secrets of the “multiverse”, Wong (Wong).

The unlearning and re-education of Dr Strange is done nicely, though don’t go around looking for any sensible logic. Both Swinton and Cumberbatch know how to work with this material, and lend it just the right amount of levity. The script itself (with director Derrickson also the co-writer) lets the film down at many places, with lame jokes trying hard to draw out laughs. The constant, unnecessary chatter also does its intelligent cast no good. A lot of talk deals with time — it being the ultimate villain and “an insult”; the quest for eternal life; and how time is moved back and forth, is caught in a loop, and surfaces in a space-time continuum of the sort you better not ponder over.

Almost everything is forgotten, however, in the brilliant Inception-like reimagining of cities, streets and buildings that the film deploys, as The Ancient One and her pupils battle out Kaecilius (Mikkelsen) and his lynchpins in different dimensions. A former pupil of The Ancient One, Kaecilius has crossed over to the dark lord. It is difficult to get us to care, though, given that this re-arrangement of backgrounds doesn’t spring from any thought process, or leads to any real consequences.

In fact, but for the main characters, nothing about the film seems real. Doctor Strange could do with a little normal.