Doctor Strange, the latest entry in Marvel’s pantheon of superheroes is the love child of The Matrix and Inception. It’s a trippy, psychedelic, out-of-body experience; it’s also a two-hour cautionary tale of the dangers of driving your Lamborghini and texting at the same time. In a word: don’t.
Stephen Strange M.D., neurosurgeon par excellence, finds this out the hard way. A genius-level doctor very much in the mold of House, sans cane and pill addiction, he’s a rakish metrosexual with a bloated ego and a thing for expensive timepieces and fancy cars. Since he is one of those people who demand that everyone call them doctor he’s not an easy man to like – gorgeous New York penthouse be damned. We know a guy this self-involved is headed for a catastrophe of major proportions where he will… LOSE… EVERYTHING dun dun dunnnnnn! So far, we’re adhering to the Marvel playbook for origin stories.
(Warning: here be spoilers. Read on at your own risk.) So one rainy, moonless night, Strange is drifting fast and furious, when decides to use his phone while rounding the bend at top speed because geniuses like to multitask. Distracted, he loses control and his expensive supercar careens off a mountain road, tumbles down a cliff and ultimately comes to rest fender first in a ditch. Predictably, the good doctor wakes to find that his hands, once his pride and joy, are now next to useless. He can barely write his name, much less shave or perform complicated brain surgery. His days as the hospital alpha male have come to an end. Desperate to regain his abilities, he squanders his fortune trying to find a cure, only to come up wanting. Bad things happen when you text and drive; you’ll eventually end up destitute and unwashed, getting mugged in a dark alley somewhere in the bowels of Nepal.
Tony Stark did it first and did it better. Still, where Robert Downey Jr. used his dry wit and excellent comic timing to charm us, Benedict Cumberbatch is no slouch. To form his own brand of arrogant, tortured superhero, he utilizes that sonorously velvety voice, piercing gaze and cheekbones that can cut glass to devastating effect. We have to remember that this is a man who effectively became the internet’s boyfriend without needing to take his clothes off. But this is the Marvel cinematic universe, and taking one’s shirt off is likely written into the contract of every actor who plays a superhero. (Item One: Pecs must be in prime physical shape at all times.) So yes, to the joy of everyone seeking a certain kind of return on their movie investment, Doctor Strange takes his shirt off and makes the most of it. It’s refreshing, since Cumberbatch plays covered up characters for the most part. Now we all know Captain America and Thor own the pec game, but one can never have too much beefcake. (I wait with bated breath to see how Jason Momoa brings his Khal Drogo realness to Aquaman.)
A few more things: Tilda Swinton channels otherworldly strangeness better than anyone on the planet. She did it as a vampire, as the angel Gabriel, as the White Witch of Narnia, and now she’s doing it as an ancient monk – a character who was supposed to be Asian and a man. Team Tilda for life. Why do they always do weird things with Mads Mikkelsen’s eyes? He wept tears of blood in Casino Royale and here he has eyebags that glow like coals. The Cloak of Levitation is not just sentient, it has a sense of humour, much like Aladdin’s carpet. Finally, Strange may utilize magic and sorcery, but his main superpower seems to be the ability to so annoy the crap out of anyone, living, dead or demon, that they literally beg him to shut up and go away.
I saw the movie stone cold sober with absolutely no background knowledge of the comic book character. I often found myself wondering what in the hell was going on. It’s just that weird. That’s the point of the comic book, the character and, by extension, the movie. Steve Ditko envisioned a guy who uses magic and sorcery to fight other sorcerers and demons in completely far out astral planes and alternate dimensions. It’s fun, but one gets the sneaky feeling that like the decade that spawned the comic, Doctor Strange might be best enjoyed with mind-altering substances.
Go see the movie. Come for the lesson on distracted driving, stay for the crazy sequences and Benedict Cumberbatch in all his Alien Lizard King glory.