Well, they’ve done it again. Marvel’s latest, weirdest, addition to the Feigeverse demonstrates yet another refinement to their signature blend of superheroics, laughs and small but deft character notes.
Once you’re through the slightly updated Marvel Studios logo sequence, you’re in broadly familiar territory. It’s undeniably a formula, but why change the recipe when the results are this good?
Doctor Strange is an origin story – egotistic surgeon Stephen Strange becoming the Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme – but director Scott Derrickson (Sinister, The Day the Earth Stood Still) keeps thing clattering along at a tremendous pace.
There’s minimal use of the training montage sequence trope and most of the time we’re just getting used to what Strange’s powers are and enjoying him trying to annoy Wong (played, slightly confusingly, by Benedict Wong).
The main villain job is taken by renegade sorcerer Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen in electroclash eyeshadow) who has, in time-honoured fashion, succumbed to the temptations of the dark side. But what chance has Kaecilius got against Benedict Cumberbatch with his comics-accurate goatee, infinity stone pendant and amusingly Disneyfied cloak?
We know how this turns out, it’s a Marvel superhero movie. But along the way we are magically whisked around the world with an occult knuckleduster, we get to see some dazzling supernatural martial arts, and we are treated to some of the trippiest visuals since Tarsem Singh threw us into The Cell. Trippier, maybe.
Steve Ditko fanatics can rest easy. The psychedelic fantasies of their hero have been done thorough justice here.
There are one or two minor problems. I personally didn’t care for Michael Giacchino’s score, which called back to his work on Star Trek rather too closely. And there’s always the question of whether casting Tilda Swinton as a near-immortal Celtic magician who has found her way to Nepal is an acceptable fudge by Marvel.
If they had stayed true to The Ancient One’s original conception they’d have caught flak from people who found it a patronising Western caricature of Tibetan culture as well as lost any hope of distributing their movie in China.
This way they just catch flak from people who don’t think the leader of a Himalayan secret society should be… well… ginger.
At least this way we get Tilda, who is terrific throughout, plus Marvel get to exploit one of the biggest markets on Earth, which means we get more Marvel movies. Oh. and the foreshadowing with the watches. We get it, Scott. This isn’t our first rodeo. One hint is plenty.
This is a state-of-the-art superhero film that’s accurate enough to the source material for the nerds, funny enough for those of us that are only being dragged along to the cinema because our romantic partner loves the funnybooks, and is cosmic enough for the nation's drug enthusiasts.
Imagine Batman Begins but faster, funnier, and with mescaline instead of misery. This one’s definitely worth the price of admission.