Review: Crazily trippy Doctor Strange not quite a home run

Doctor Strange is in cinemas now
Doctor Strange is in cinemas now

The epic and unstoppable evolution of the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues, owing as much to the bravery of its choices as it does to the breadth and depth of the source material at its fingertips.

Doctor Strange feels brave at every step. In the vein of Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel takes a seemingly marginal superhero, one who makes the leap from modern day into far more complex alternate dimensions, and spends millions serving him up to mainstream cinemagoers.

Once again, they just don't seem to be able to put a foot wrong.

The first thing they did right was to stall the production to wait for Benedict Cumberbatch. He was their man from the get-go, the only actor to embody their vision - and ours as it turns out - for Doctor Strange.

He takes Strange by the throat and doesn't let go - making even his most unlikeable traits (and there are many) accessible and engaging.

Helping him sell Strange and his freaky, trippy story are a host of world class thespians - Oscar-winner Tilda Swinton, Oscar-nominees Chiwetel Ejiofor and Rachel  McAdams, plus Mads Mikkelsen and Benedict Wong. They all join the ranks, adding their own individual nuances to comic book characters with an already inbuilt fan-base.

The Marvel trick is once again pleasing that comic book geek while still managing to take their beloved characters to the great unwashed multiplex masses (me, in other words). I'd argue Doctor Strange was their biggest challenge yet.

Keeping the story simple and digestible is key and they mostly pull it off. When their main man is essentially an egomaniacal genius with a brain the size of a planet and no time for anything except himself and his work, simplicity is a fraught conceit.

This superhero starts out as slightly superhuman, but after a horrible car smash loses everything most precious to him. On his mission to heal himself, he will find himself in Nepal, where The Ancient One will tap into his very special set of skills, access his innermost strengths (and weaknesses) and arm him with some seriously cool mystical accessories to take it to the bad guys.

This is the part where you need to keep up, where the story gets crazily trippy and where some of the most psychedelic visual effects ever imagined and realised will send your sensory nervous system into overload - especially in IMAX 3D.

It's also the part where I lost my way a little. The story felt a little too muddy and mystical in places, especially through the grand finale, and while I was steadfast on his journey, some of the clunkier dialogue and story jumps left me a little cold.

While the humour worked on almost every level - surprisingly so - and delivered by all with a deft self-awareness, Cumberbatch was perhaps too good at selling Strange's less appealing personality afflictions and I didn't love him despite them. Perhaps that was the intention? 

Doctor Strange wasn't a complete Marvel home run for me, but no question this is a big screen outing well worth the ticket price with plenty to please the fans and uninitiated alike.

Four stars.

     Doctor Strange:: Director: Scott Derrickson :: Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Scott Adkins, Benedict Wong, Benjamin Bratt:: Rating: M - Violence:: Running Time: 115 minutes:: Release Date: 27 October, 2016