Doctor Strange a kaleidoscopic trip of mind-bending special effects
A fleet-footed script, a strong performance from Benedict Cumberbatch and dizzying digital effects characterise cinema's latest journey to Marvel land, Doctor Strange – for Damon Smith a satisfying if disorienting trip
DOCTOR Strange, the latest tumble down the rabbit hole of the Marvel Comics universe, is a trip – a hallucinogenic, kaleidoscopic trip of mind-bending special effects that left me with a pounding headache.
City streets and landmarks fold in on themselves, rotate and collapse on multiple axes, rather like Christopher Nolan's Inception or one of MC Escher's disorienting illustrations, only with eye-popping fury in 3D and IMAX 3D.
As a masterclass in dizzying digital wizardry, director Scott Derrickson's film delivers all of the spectacle we have come to expect from a big-budget blockbuster infused with the creative DNA of the Avengers, Captain America and Guardians Of The Galaxy.
The snarkiness and self-deprecation that distinguished those pictures is in evidence in Derrickson's fleet-footed script, co-written by C Robert Cargill, including one scene where the titular medic meets a po-faced librarian called Wong and quips, "Just Wong? Like... Adele?" to uncomfortable silence.
Doctor Strange might be able to train his mind to override the rigid laws of physics, but no amount of study can refine or polish his blunt force humour.
Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a brilliant and arrogant neurosurgeon, with a minimalist Manhattan apartment and an off-limits romance with fellow medic, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams).
Years of meticulous study are jeopardised when Strange foolishly takes a telephone call in his speeding silver Lamborghini. Medical colleagues save his life, but not his career, surgically refashioning his trembling hands with 11 metal pins.
Cast adrift from the world of science, Strange heads to Kathmandu in search of spiritual enlightenment in the company of an enigmatic Celtic shaman called The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who harnesses energy to shape reality.
Two of her Masters, Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong), take Strange under their wing and spearhead his training so he can travel long distances with a swish of his hand.
"Forget everything you think you know," Mordo counsels Strange.
As his confidence grows, Strange learns about a former Master, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), who strayed from the path of righteousness and uses his powers for evil. When Kaecilius threatens Strange's old life, including the beautiful Christine, the medic puts his training into practice to save everything he holds dear.
Aside from the trippy effects, which left me wishing I could turn back time like the title character and pre-medicate, Doctor Strange is a satisfying opening salvo.
Cumberbatch digs deep beneath the bruised skin of his character's overinflated ego, verbalising the inner turmoil of a self-anointed god, who learns that he is flawed and not entirely the master of his own destiny.
McAdams is squandered in an undernourished role as the token love interest, but Swinton imposes herself on scenes so there is at least one strong female presence to undercut the raging testosterone.
Two additional vignettes, woven into the end credits, hint at future plot strands and tease one Marvel Comics spin-off in the pipeline.
"Doctor Strange will return" promises a final caption – a repeat prescription to raise the spirits.
DOCTOR STRANGE (12A, 115 mins) Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Action/Romance. Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen. Director: Scott Derrickson