comic-book movies

The Cloak Is the Best Character in Doctor Strange

Photo: Jay Maidment/Marvel

Remember vests? Ah, were we ever so young? Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice presented a vision where everyone wore a vest for some reason, and oh, how it made us merry. Then along came The Magnificent Seven (I checked, it did indeed come out), where several bored but highly compensated actors also wore vests. It was a sartorial trend of sorts, hampered by the fact the films these vests appeared in ranged from “Bad” to “Did I actually buy a ticket to The Magnificent Seven?”

But now the leaves have changed, the movies have gotten better, and fashion has come to the forefront once more. And to my mind, two significant films are about to come out that present style trends worth emulating.

First, there is Annette Bening’s 1979 jumpsuit from 20th Century Women, which we will hopefully get to when the film arrives at Christmas. I am a normal man who is 30 [cough] years old and if I don’t wake up tomorrow as a 58-year-old Santa Barbara mother in a sensible jumpsuit I will be very upset. It’s comfortable and stylish!

The other notable garment of the fall is the cloak from Doctor Strange, and it is with this article of clothing, dear reader, where we lay our scene. As you may have discovered by now if you caught an early screening, Doctor Strange is a Marvel superhero movie about a straight man who learns to wear layers and accessorize. The plot, fittingly, is a mere coat hanger: Like Gwen Stefani before him, Doctor Strange travels to the Far East to appropriate Asian culture, where he soon comes upon Tilda Swinton in a monastery (pretty much the person I’d seek out for a Couture 101 class, too). She gives him a midnight-blue robe cinched with chunky belts that he never takes it off for the rest of the movie — truly, the only way to honor a gift of clothing from Tilda Swinton — and later, Strange descends to the basement, where he must answer a question that has far-ranging ramifications for the universe as we know it: Can he pull off a statement necklace? The answer is yes, but as in the real world, it ought to be used sparingly.

Eventually, Strange makes his way to the Sanctum Sanctorum, a cute and expansive Greenwich Village boutique that I have to assume Tilda was Airbnb-ing. They only have one of each item and they definitely don’t have it in your size, but Strange is most intrigued by a levitating red cloak encased in glass that turns to follow him as he walks past it. This coat wants to get on Benedict Cumberbatch even more desperately than a Sherlock slash-fic author, and it won’t take “No” or “You’re an article of clothing, I can’t technically have sex with you” for an answer.

Let me tell you, this cloak has real personality. It’s like Aladdin’s adorably wiggly flying carpet, but so much hornier. Eventually, the cloak pulls an Anderson Cooper and breaks free of its glass closet, making a beeline for Strange and proving to be a boon in the ensuing battle. It helpfully tugs its owner over to a useful weapon, and later, mauls a hunky bad guy for way, way too long. Seriously. Strange leaves the Sanctum, heads to the other side of the planet, and returns to Greenwich Village a fair bit later, and this cloak is still getting frisky with Mads Mikkelsen’s dashing henchman. It’s the handsiest thing with no hands I’ve ever seen.

The cloak has a canonical name — it’s technically called the “Cloak of Levitation,” though I’m pretty sure that’s shortened to “Levi” on its Cloakstr profile. And while it may have less to do as the film goes on, when the cloak does choose to interject, it steals the scene while doing so. One of the biggest laughs in the movie comes when Strange’s face is streaked with blood, tears, and sweat, and the cloak sort of softly dabs at the angular planes of Cumberbatch’s face, trying to clean him up. Director Scott Derrickson told me that the joke was actually Cumberbatch’s idea, and I’m not surprised: Benedict Cumberbatch, who has made his career on horny weirdness, simply gets this cloak.

A lot of people have praised the special effects in Doctor Strange, but they reserve most of their ink for the folding cityscapes the film presents in every major set piece. They’re fine, I guess. Oooh, a building is sideways now, wow. Like, have people never seen Inception, or laid down in the middle of the street out of despair for the 2016 election? Take your jumbly Manhattan, but leave me the cloak. I know that it’s mostly CGI, and the only thing that makes me sad about that is that Andy Serkis didn’t perform the role by hanging onto Benedict Cumberbatch’s shoulders every day, Curious George–style.

So Tilda, please accept my apologies. Rachel McAdams, take the day off. Chiwetel, I appreciated you in that one scene where you wore a sleeveless shirt, but you’ve still been bested. In a cast full of Oscar winners and art-movie faves, the best performance in Doctor Strange was given by a cloak. Sign this thing up for The Avengers, and its first dry cleaning is on me.

Doctor Strange’s Best Character Is the Cape