Benedict Cumberbatch channels his inner Gandalf as magic comes into the Marvelverse. Cumberbatch plays Stephan Strange, a brilliant surgeon left without the ability to operate thanks to his own immense arrogance, but thankfully he discovers humility in time to save the day by using dirty tricks during negotiations with an all powerful evil… and yes you’ve read words like this word over and over again during the last five years or so.
Watching Dr Strange is like eating at a Tapas bar in a part of Madrid that’s been so gentrified that the chef spends more time arranging the food to look nice than they do cooking it. You have no doubt that a lot of thought and preparation went into making this meal look nice, but by the time you’ve finished it your stomach feels no more replete than it did with the previous courses. You remember that when the Deadpool course came it was nice and filling, but that’s because the sous-chef’s something of a sleeper agent in the nouvelle cuisine world, quietly working away to give diners some proper sustenance.
With Dr Strange though you’re just left looking at the plate and wondering what might have been if only the chef had been a bit more generous with the ingredients and spent less time trying to win the culinary category of the Turner prize. On the face of it this should be a great film since it combines the talents of Mr Cumberbatch with a strong supporting cast and a story-line that was tantalising from the moment the trailers first brought that screen equivalent of the fresh out of the kitchen smell. Yet this film simply doesn’t work.
This is a film that feels like it’s been put together the way a child would; by joining the dots or painting by numbers. Everything feels too pre-prepared, as if all the chef did was get the dish out of the fridge and warm it up in the microwave. From the moment you see the Marvel sequence rolling across the screen, now full of outtakes from their previous films rather than a quick flash through the comics, you begin to realise that you should have gone to that other restaurant. Marvel has become too caught up in its factory production of films, planned out all the way till 2028, to realise how standardised those films have come to look, and it shows in Dr Strange.
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Strange himself is never fully realised as a character, with Cumberbatch given little to play with. The scenes where his anguished self-destruction see him turning to anyone who might be able to help him, while ignoring the one person who wants to, are fantastic, but the rest of the film sees him going hungry as the Marvel factory grinds him, and Strange, through its cogs. In particular his sudden conversion from self-centered arrogance to utterly selfless paragon of virtue is as believable as the idea of a winged pig.
Had this film just given itself a little room to breathe on this point, with Strange having more than just one scene where he really questions what he’s doing, it would have been a great film, and this review would have had a completely different tone. Unfortunately Marvel no longer seem capable of making films that stand out on their own merits instead of just fitting into the huge jigsaw puzzle that is the company’s ever growing onscreen meta world.
What we are left with then is a film that is the archetype of the modern superhero film, all style and no substance, full of technically impressive cgi that does nothing more than leave you feeling hollow inside. Dr Strange could have been a completely different kind of Marvel film, with a hero whose journey is full of learning and self-reflection; rather than just a series of endless fights interrupted by one small moment of clever thought. Whether you will feel more insulted by the waste of your own time or the clear waste of Cumberbatch’s talent will come down to you, but expect the sequels and crossover movies to be just as bland, and just as wasteful when it comes to Benedict Cumberbatch.
By Gareth Wood