Along with Tom Hiddleston and Eddie Redmayne, Benedict Cumberbatch is a formative part of a relatively new troop of quintessential British actors. Public schooled, charismatic but self deprecating – ready made to tread the boards of the Globe and instinctively recite the best version of Hamlet you’ve ever seen.
Since starring in Sherlock, Cumberbatch has presented himself as a world conquering meme-worthy bastion of Britishness. His deep trademark voice has reverberating through many movies including Star Trek Into Darkness and The Hobbit. You need a big booming voice with menace? Call the Batch. Remember when the first teaser for Force Awakens came out and a large section of internet society thought it was his voice behind it? Remember that? What fools they were. I mean it was obviously Andy Serkis, he was only listed on the IMDB cast page, but nevermind.
In Doctor Strange, Cumberbatch does a raspy croaky American accent which instantly reminds you of Hugh Laurie’s accent in House. So similar are their accents, one can only conclude that Cumberbatch probably binged the entire series before production. Hugh Laurie is obviously another world conquering meme-worthy bastion of the British Empire, a man with the kind of voice that doesn’t need to burden itself with other lesser dialects, at least not those who allow him to say ‘poppycock’ so majestically or string together a bunch of alliterative words beginning with the letter-B. I guess at some point the idea of the actor or person behind the character eclipses the actual character itself.
Couldn’t an arrogant egotistical reality bending sorcerer find some way to give himself a suave commanding British accent? Surely it would be more fitting for elocution for all that spell casting? An American accent would only screw that up. I mean there is no way Dormammu could interpret Doctor Strange’s attempts to barter at the end of the movie. That pig talk would never fly in Hogwarts.
I think I’m being racist.
I blame Brexit.
Doctor Strange is the 14th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Based on the comic of the same name created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko during Marvel’s boom period in the 1960s, it tells the story of Doctor Stephen Strange a gifted but arrogant surgeon who after surviving a car crash loses all feeling in his hands and his ability to surgeon.
Perform theatre. Got it.
Desperate for a cure for his paralysis, Strange journeys to Katmandu, Nepal where he meets The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who after enlightening him by kicking his astral form out of his physical body grants him training in the mystical arts to become a sorcerer.
He also gains a big red levitating cape, just in time to combat the baddie, played by Mads Mikilson who seeks to summon forth an ancient evil known as Dormammu from another dimension, because apparently the world would be better off if the earth was just reduced to rubble. Which after Brexit and the prospect of 4 years of President Trump, I’m inclined to agree to be honest. All hail Dormammu! Surely first in line as the opposing candidate against Trump in 2020. We can only hope.
For a character that is supposed to embrace the weird, the strange even, the inescapable feeling of Marvel’s latest addition to their cinematic universe is that it plays it too safe. You’ve seen this movie a dozen times before. A gifted but all too imperfect white male is forced to accept a degree of humility before gaining superhuman powers so that he may battle evil and defend the planet as a better more improved version of himself. Along the way, there is humour, lots of pop culture references (Beyonce! Eminem!), lots of ‘mind melting’ special effects and a couple of post credit scenes that pave the way for the next fourteen Marvel movies. As with Iron Man, Thor and Ant Man this is a standard Marvel Origins movie with allusions towards the psychedelic and the city folding spectacle of Christopher Nolan’s Inception.
There are a few knowing subversions of the established formula, a familiar scene of utter urban chaos happens in reverse. A point where the hero actually goes up into great big portal in the sky. The resolution with the big bad is clever in its own little way, painting Doctor Strange as a different kind of hero to the usual shooty bang bang punch punch heroes of the existing MCU. There is a tender scene in which the nature of life and existence is discussed in philosophical terms in a hospital in suspended animation.
There is a delicacy at points that elevate Doctor Strange above the average but at the same time, the movie is more interested in moving things forward to the point that proceedings feel a bit rushed. Particularly Doctor Strange’s tuition in the mystical arts.
Marvel have already proven a knack for casting the right person in the right role for their movies. Benedict Cumberbatch is Doctor Strange, at least to a point. He’s charismatic, and sometimes a bit of prick. He’s got a little beard and little flecks of grey around the temples to denote age and wisdom. The only thing wrong is the god awful aforementioned American accent which routinely took me out of the movie because it is Cumberbatch doing an impression of Doctor House.
DECLARE YOUR LINES PROUDLY CUMBERMAN! AS IF YOU WERE SAYING WORDS WRITTEN BY THE GREAT BARD HIMSELF!
Cumberbatch, of course, has played this character before too. A genius level intellect, who considers himself above all others, which makes him something of a chore to be around – even a little sociopathic. An early scene between Strange and the token love interest (Rachel Adams) paints the hero as an A-grade bastard he can scarcely recover from.
Aside from Cumberbatch, Doctor Strange has a great cast. First off, Tilda Swinton plays The Ancient One, who effectively plays the foil to Strange’s cynical know it all persona. Tilda Swinton is practically superhuman as it is and is able to play the role of age old mentor effotlessly with a nice calm Buddhist mentality, which tactfully hides the cracks of an ultimately darker character. As with most Marvel movies, the villain of the week fails to make an impact despite being portrayed by Mads Mikilson, an actor so good, he could easily kill you with a sword if you thought otherwise. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Mordo, effectively Kato to Doctor Strange’s Green Hornet, it’s unfortunate that the character’s arc ends him in a place that feels a little too convenient for sequel baiting purposes. Rachel McAdams is left short changed as the would be love interest for Strange, but the film really doesn’t have time for a romantic subplot. Doctor Strange is just required to have a vague love interest to pine over.
Many have praised the visuals in this movie. They refer to the segment at the end of the first act in which the Ancient One gives Strange a taste of the multiverse. You have the mirrorverse an alternative version of our reality, where cities and building fold out before you. It gives the movie something different to colour it’s action scenes. If I had a criticism of Marvel’s last movie, Civil War, it was that the action was very hastily edited in that modern style, which has a habit of alienating you from the action. Here there is a bit more slow down to take in the spectacle of reality being bent out of shape, there is an emphasis less on physical fighting.
Having read some of the Doctor Strange comics recently, I had perhaps been expecting a big dose of weird, but ultimately Doctor Strange the movie did disappoint by playing things too safe. The latest incarnation of the comic has Doctor Strange literally facing inter dimensional demons via his third eye, that are implied to feed off the souls of you and me, making us feel anxious or depressed. It was a more selfless version of the character that is different to the other Marvel superheroes. Perhaps we may still get that version of the character, but at present the character has some way to go in clearly defining himself apart from the standard players.
After Civil War earlier this year, a surprisingly multi layered fable with all the big screen action you would come to expect, Doctor Strange feels like a step down. They are once again as treading water and perhaps for good reason, we have three movies coming out next year before the Infinity War super team up. With Doctor Strange, they are merely introducing a new character to their franchise, a character that brings all new if slightly headachey implications to the established MCU. There is a very clear problem with pacing, in the vein of the Marvel origin stories that have come before, there has been a better sense of the hero being constructed and learning the ways of ‘the force’ as it were in both the original Iron Man and Ant Man. Whilst entertaining, Doctor Strange is largely forgettable but leaves you anticipating the character’s next appearance in the next Marvel movie.
Recommended CUMBERBATCH voices.
Star Trek into Darkness (2012)
“My name is Khan.” – Now I’ll let that line sit for a moment as I smile menacingly but also knowingly at the camera, instantly confirming to all Star Trek fans that yes I am indeed Khan and yes that is indeed where this film is going.
The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug (2013)
Oh look, now you’ll have to watch this all over again.