In the matter of “Doctor Strange,” two words: Big. Fun.
How big is this latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? It’s gargantuan.
It’s as close to a theme-park ride as a theatrical feature can probably hope to get. Imagine being strapped into a roller coaster while wearing virtual reality goggles. Or being sucked inside a gigantic kaleidoscope full of images of folding cityscapes like that famous scene in “Inception,” only expanded and amplified by several orders of magnitude. Geometric patterns glide and morph and bedazzle the eye. Portals to other dimensions open and close in showers of CG sparks. Time is warped. Space is made malleable.
It’s enough to send a guy screaming through the pulsing multicolored, multidimensional multiverse (there is such a place, the movie asserts). And sure enough, there’s the title character doing exactly that in an early scene.
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Meet Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), once an arrogant brain surgeon until his hands are shattered in a terrible car wreck. A trip to Kathmandu in a desperate search for some kind of miracle spiritual cure puts him in contact with the Ancient One, a bald sorceress played by Tilda Swinton (a gender switch from the comics where the character is male), who by turns torments and trains him in the arcane ways of the mystic arts. Magic, produced by thousands of computers, results.
The dialogue is loaded with metaphysical mumbo jumbo. Sample: “What if I told you the reality you know is one of many?” But Cumberbatch and Swinton, great actors that they are, deliver the lines with such conviction that you have no trouble going with the flow of the movie.
There’s humor here too, in the form of the doctor’s iconic Red Cape of Levitation, a garment that has a mind of its own, battering bad guys with abandon. And in lines like one in which Strange tells a disbelieving woman that there’s a dimensional gateway in a mop closet. He opens the door, and sure enough, there it is, sparking and sparkling.
The movie is hardly light on its feet. It has its klunky moments, particularly whenever it’s spider-web-eyed villain-from-another-dimension played by Mads Mikkelsen comes clomping into view. But director/co-screenwriter Scott Derrickson generally keeps the massive enterprise moving smoothly along.
The trip’s the trip here, and it’s well worth taking.
☆☆☆☆ out of 5
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong.
Director: Scott Derrickson.
Running time: 2:00.
Rated: PG-13, for sci-fi violence and action throughout and an intense crash sequence.