Doctor Strange

Year: 2016
Production Co: Marvel Studios
Studio: Disney
Director: Scott Derrickson
Producer: Kevin Fiege
Writer: Jon Spaihts/Scott Derrickson
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt, Scott Adkins

It wasn't long before seeing Marvel's latest effort that I was finally able to put into words exactly what I dislike about Marvel films as a rule, despite the inherent quality in the filmmaking arts in everything from scriptwriting to visual effects.

It was the analogy that every new Marvel film is a like a well built roller coaster you go on every year (it's got the thrills, spills and spectacle, but it's overly familiar), and it gave me an invaluable new perspective from which to watch this film.

Every – and I mean every Marvel movie so far has a solid structure the story must play out in, a certain very distinctive tone to follow and the extent to which Doctor Strange impressed me could only ever be the interesting things it did and said within those constraints.

So it had all the usual hallmarks, action and even the jokes in the right place (despite it being in the trailer, the wi-fi password one still made me laugh out loud), but it surpassed the usual constraints in two areas – the visuals and the set pieces.

The first is the metaphysical Manhattan chase (more below) and the second is the depicting of Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) carefully spooling time backwards after a destructive attack on a Hong Kong street scene, the aftermath of the violence slowly winding back around he and his colleagues.

Under the undoubtedly watchful eye of Kevin Fiege and Disney's corporate marketing apparatus, director Scott Derrickson seems to have realised that even something as visually arresting in scope like two fighting superheroes or a giant reptile levelling a city is kind of passé nowadays. In scenes where the characters manipulate the very nature of matter, the visuals are as visceral and thrilling as they are trippy.

Think of the incredible sequence of Paris folding over on itself from Inception and you're on the right track as city blocks and buildings fold over on and twist throughout each other. The chase scene amongst it all is the first big set piece and one of the most impressive aspects of Doctor Strange is that even for a big tentpole CGI blockbuster, it manages visuals we've never seen before.

As talented as he is arrogant, pioneering brain surgeon Strange suffers nerve damage in his priceless hands after a car crash and his career is over. Wandering the world in search of purpose, he comes across a small band of mystics in Nepal led by The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who agree to teach him incredible powers of the manipulation of matter and travel between dimensions.

(One fatal flaw in the movie, and a big surprise given how clearly scripted and structured Marvel films are – why exactly they decide to train him isn't made very clear, and why exactly we're supposed to care what happens to him after the way he's treated everyone around him is a big stretch).

Once initiated, he becomes a soldier in their fight against a former member of their group, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), which sets in motion the same Marvel hero-finds-powers-and-must-defeat-threat-yada-yada storyline we've already been sitting through for eight years now.

Despite the usual complaints you can level against Marvel and Disney for churning out marketing widgets with which to stuff corporate coffers, they repeatedly confound that stereotype by consistently making movies that are as (objectively) good as they are tiresome. But if you only see one on a big screen, Doctor Strange is the one to make the effort for.

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