Magic is a new territory for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, at least of the kind of pan-Asian mysticism of Doctor Strange. You won’t find any Iron Man style tech or Avengers Assemble sci-fi here: the superpowers take on a much more mystical tone. Luckily, in the glut of Marvel’s recent sequels-upon-sequels and DC’s tiresome gritty reboots, some old-fashioned magic is a welcome new direction.
Doctor Strange isn’t the best known of Marvel’s classic superheroes, so some introduction is needed; most of us know that Superman is from Krypton and Batman’s parents were murdered – we know comparatively less about Steven Strange. A neurosurgeon at the top of his game, Strange is involved in a violent car-crash which costs him the use of his hands. Frustrated that he can no longer practice medicine, he travels to Nepal in search of ‘The Ancient One’ in the hope of being healed and finds a new world of multiverses beyond his imagination. Here, Benedict Cumberbatch is perfectly cast; his history of playing arrogant, intelligent leading men (Sherlock Holmes, Alan Turing etc.) find him well-placed at the centre of this blockbuster. Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One also imparts her classic aura of otherworldly wisdom, and Mads Mikkelsen relishes his classical ‘big bad’ role, here as rogue sorcerer Kaecilius.
Though the performances are good, the casting is somewhat frustrating; a largely white cast in a notably orientalist pan-Asian setting certainly raises eyebrows in 2016. The two actors of colour in the main cast – Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong – give fantastic performances but certainly deserved more screen time. We know by now that the classic studio excuse that white faces make more money for a franchise is demonstrably untrue, so why Marvel haven’t caught up is anyone’s guess.
The plot is also a little messy, and not every emotional beat hits its mark. But this is a film that uses its blockbuster status to full effect, with mind-bending Inception-style twisting cityscapes and a CGI budget that has clearly been put to good use. Doctor Strange has some flaws, but it is a rare thing; a superhero blockbuster that feels genuinely refreshing.
[Clare Patterson – @clarepttrsn]