There’s a moment during Marvel’s Dr. Strange when the titular Sorcerer Supreme, while discussing the (spoiler) sometimes dubious motivations of The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) with Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo, thinks for a moment and says, “She’s… complicated.”
Complicated is a pretty good word for Dr. Strange, too. It’s characters are layered, it’s action set pieces are frickin breathtaking, and it boasts a level of political and social awareness and I, for one, am coming to expect from Marvel. But first things first. Let’s reign it in for a sec and talk about the Cumberbatch of it all. If you’re not a fan of England’s finest import since Posh, Scary, Baby, Sporty, and Ginger, you’re either not female or not a fan of marine mammals. If such is the case, this might not be the post for you. So… scoot. Yep. Go watch the new XXX trailer on repeat.
Are they gone? Oh good. Now that it’s just us Cumberbitches, let’s get to it.
Even as someone who expects only the very best from Benedict Cumberbatch, I found his performance impressive. His interpretation of Stephen Strange (a Marvel Comics deep cut) is part Dr. House, part Tony Stark, and part Hilary Swank from The Next Karate Kid. It’s a zag for Cumberbatch, who’s characters tend to be varying degrees of austere. Dr. Stephen Strange is a celebrated neurosurgeon who loses everything when a car accident causes permanent nerve damage to his hands. He wanders the globe in search of a cure, only to stumble upon a secret order of sorcerer ninjas in Kathmandu who take him in and teach him their ways. He’s thrust into a world of magic, inter-dimensional evil, and Danish bad boys. That last one, of course, refers to Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), zealot follower of a malevolent force hell-bent on forcing the Earth into submission.
Dr. Strange doesn’t subvert superhero tropes by any means, but because the source material is so unknown and the film itself so visually arresting, I sort of didn’t care. We still had an unfailingly loyal girlfriend (Rachel McAdams), a conflicted BFF (Ejiofor), and a reluctant teacher (Swinton). No, what made this movie interesting wasn’t it’s humor or complex characters or it’s new, mystical approach to superheroism, but it’s uncanny timing.
Stephen is given a choice between two opposing, but equally fanatical, factions. One is lead by a woman forced to make difficult, and often morally compromising, decisions that she believes will facilitate the greater good. The other is driven by a radical who, while claiming to be acting in the best interest of the world, actually seeks to acquire eternal life and make the human race as miserable as he is himself. Sound familiar?
And THAT is what I love about the superhero genre, and why it will never bore me. Because almost without trying, they manage to reflect our own experiences back at us, in a way that encourages and rewards bravery and self-sacrifice in the face of overwhelming tyranny. Also, the muscles.
I really like the muscles.