Can Benedict Cumberbatch cut it as a superhero in Dr Strange?
Doctor Strange is one of Marvel’s battiest creations: a dimension- hopping, new age aphorism-spouting shaman with a sentient cape and unnerving facial hair. Now he comes to the screen in a eye-popping production that must overcome several daunting challenges, not least the loopiness of the source material and Benedict Cumberbatch’s creaking American accent.
For Cumberbatch, a first time foray into comic books represents a particular risk. He has always been a buttoned-up screen presence – the British stiff upper lip rendered into human form. Even amidst the hokum of Star Trek: Into Darkness, his poise was unshakeable. Can it survive a leap off the deep end of the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
The answer is a definitive yes.
Dr Strange is by no means perfect and it is dispiriting to see Marvel once again fob us off with a cookie-cutter origin story in which a selfish individual suffers a cruel reversal and, in addition to acquiring super-powers, learns the value of humility. Yet Cumberbatch is magnetic as egotistical neurosurgeon Stephen Strange, who, seeking to reverse the disastrous effects of a car accident, is plunged into a trippy Neverland of parallel dimensions and cosmic conflict.
Indeed, far from being diminished by the silliness, he brings gravity to what could have been a cartoonish misstep by Marvel. There’s humour too, with Cumberbatch recalling his Sherlock double act with Martin Freeman in his interactions with Benedict Wong’s “Wong”, one of the masters of the mystic arts who, under the guidance of Tilda Swinton’s “Ancient One”, ushers Strange into a world of magic and transmutation.
Doctor Strange is elsewhere exceedingly formulaic with Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius upholding the long-standing tradition of undercooked Marvel villains and the dimension-traversing special effects derivative of Christopher Nolan’s Inception. And yet, with Strange stomping about with cape and beard, such flaws are easily overlooked.
Doctor Strange has confirmed Cumberbatch as an actor around whom one can construct a blockbuster and given him his most fascinating role since Sherlock. As fledgling superhero, he effortlessly soars above our expectations. Ed Power