Doctor Strange review: Like a Marvel film made by an acid-tripping Christopher Nolan

Inception + Batman Begins + Iron Man

Benedict Cumberbatch as Marvel's Doctor StrangeImage Marvel Studios

Doctor Strange
115 minutes (12A)
★★★

Doctor Strange might be one of the more obscure superheroes to get the feature film treatment, but don’t take this is a sign that the Marvel well is running dry.

After all, they managed to turn the little-known Guardians of the Galaxy into a comic book classic and salvage Ant-Man after the abrupt departure of director Edgar Wright. Doctor Strange is the latest wild card thrown into the mix, and based on this first feature film outing it won’t be the last we hear of him.

The character, who sprung from the mind of comics genius Steve Ditko in the 60s, is a brilliant egotistical surgeon thrown into crisis after a car crash robs him of the use of his hands. Played by Benedict Cumberbatch in Scott Derrickson’s film, he’s the centre of a mind-melting adventure that boasts the trippiest visuals to grace a blockbuster in 2016.

Cumberbatch’s Stephen Strange rebounds from his accident by heading to Nepal and stumbling into the path of Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One, a bald Yoda-like figure who teaches him how to manipulate matter and uncork the power of magic.

“Doctor Strange, with its Inception-like visuals, feels like a film made by Christopher Nolan tripping on acid.”

Strange, the Ancient One and Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Karl Mordo battle Mads Mikkelsen’s villain Kaeciliu across London, New York and Hong Kong, bending time and space to their will and creating dazzling visuals that look incredible on an IMAX screen. Cities collapse in on themselves, there’s an inter-dimensional journey akin to 2001’s iconic Star Gate scene and ‘mirror’ worlds that crack the fabric of reality.

Derrickson and his co-writers C Robert Cargill and Jon Spaihts wrap all this around a personal redemption story reminiscent of Dark Knight origin yarn Batman Begins. In fact, Doctor Strange, with its Inception-like visuals, feels like a film made by Christopher Nolan tripping on acid.

It also channels the first Iron Man, tracking its lead character from a life-altering accident through his heroic journey to find purpose. If that feels a little too formulaic, then it compensates with eye-catching spectacle and compelling performances from Cumberbatch and Swinton.

The supporting cast don’t have it quite so good. McAdams has little to work with and Mikkelsen’s bad guy could’ve done with more screen time to expand on his fall from grace. One liners fly thick and fast, although the gag hit rate never quite reaches the level of Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark patter or James Gunn’s Guardians script.

Ultimately, though, this is an entertaining and ambitious blockbuster that takes the Marvel movies into new terrain. If the thought of Tilda Swinton punching Benedict Cumberbatch onto an astral plane intrigues you then Doctor Strange is a film well worth seeing.

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Loaded digital media manager Simon Reynolds has written about film and entertainment for various leading websites since 2008. Follow Simon at @simonreyn