Brace yourself for a drug-free mind bending lesson in spirituality, sorcery and magik with Doctor Strange, the latest Marvel movie to hit our screens, and a character who seems so very different from others in the Marvel multiverse.
Benedict Cumberbatch plays Doctor Strange, an award winning neurosurgeon who is respected but ultimately disliked by his peers something of which he feeds upon. After a devastating car accident, he’s left without the use of his hands. This is a crucifying blow for the doctor whose life depends greatly on his groundbreaking surgical skills. After hearing about another patient who made a full recovery from paralysis he hunts him down, discovering the secret to his healing in Nepal where he meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) along with other students Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong).
Having arrived as a true skeptic and reprimanded by Mordo, Strange has to learn to let go of his ego and open his mind to the possibilities of the universe and cosmos beyond the flesh. It’s a tough deal, but it seems that after mastering his mandala-skills he’s actually quite good at it. Trouble soon brews in paradise and the Ancient One realises that she may need Strange to help defeat a fallen student called Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) who was lost to the dark side, but is consumed with immortality and serving the master of darkness Dormammu.
Strange finally gets what he’s been waiting for: solid grounding and teaching in the mystical arts, Karate-Kid style with a touch of dimension-hopping, wizarding weaponry and martial arts, all very important qualities to fight battles of a cosmic-ancient kind, along with the Eye of Agamatto medallion in tow swinging from his neck as if he were a gangster. Actually, Mr Strange is a healthy fusion of Che Guevara with his radical physician skills, leadership qualities, with the dead pan characteristics (and beard trim) of Derren Brown.
Strange’s first battle takes place in one of the four sanatoriums in London, where Kaecilius attempts to start his destruction in the name of Dormammu, an entity of which much like the comic we don’t get to see until further on the film. Home is home, as the London sanatorium and its relics including a magical red cloak welcome Strange aiding him in his fight against a desperate Kaecilius and his poisonous disciples.
The ensemble cast are a diverse mix highlighted by an new-age couture wardrobe that incites an interesting sense of Buddhahood as the characters fight in all major cities giving way to the mysticism around them with what feels like a timeless period. In fact the Soho Hare Krishna’s would probably advocate their vivacious attire. Tilda Swinton couldn’t be more suited as the Ancient One, although it seems like type-casting, adhering to her androgynous nature as seen before in Constantine where she played a slightly demented Angel Gabrielle. She’s oddly versatile and plays a convincing teacher-yogi both regal and untouchable. Her relationship with Strange is complex because although Strange is gifted, he lacks experience and humility, issues which the Ancient One is aware of, yet she still needs him all the same. They both develop a mutual respect, coasting on the edge of each other’s conscience.
Doctor Strange is a visual masterpiece; a lesson in the macrocosm and awakening of ones Kundalini. I haven’t been on such a mind-bending journey since The Spongebob Movie or Beyond The Black Rainbow, both psychotropic inspiring films that catapult you into spaces where you can access without having to take any drugs. It’s also calming for children, the eight-year old child next to me ogled just as I did in awe at the glowing yantras and dimensional portal travel. It takes generative art to the maximum giving you as clearer view as possible of the ways in which the subject of energy, matter and time can be virtually illustrated. But it also brings the concept of Doctor Strange close to how it was represented in the comics by artist Steve Ditko and writer Steve Lee, who were both the epitome of psychedelic comic book art in the 60s and 70s. They also created a character who was able to manifest himself in other existing Marvel universes as well as appearing alongside Marvel stalwart characters and groups like The Avengers.
With his roots set in the horror-genre director, Scott Derrickson’s latest work proves he has epic capabilities, after all he’s translated decades worth of material so beautifully that much has been gained.
Doctor Strange must be seen, twice if you can and at the IMAX.