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Doctor Strange review: Marvel shoots its formula all over your face

If, like me, you’re unfortunate enough to find yourself watching Doctor Strange in 3D, you’ll notice that taking off your glasses makes absolutely no difference to most of the visuals. If you’re going to watch Benedict Cumberbatch’s astral form slip out of his body, fall through the iris of his own eye, see his hands sprout hands that sprout even more hands, and then tumble endlessly through multiple dimensions, you might as well do it with double vision. I’ve never been off my tits on acid before, but I imagine the effect is something similar to this. Visually, this is Marvel’s most ambitious film yet – a psychedelic extravaganza that looks like a cross between Inception and Barbie’s arse spray after consuming a crate of Skittles.

Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) is a gifted and highly arrogant surgeon who drives his Lamborghini recklessly on mountain roads, so is therefore unlikeable. When he crashes said Lamborghini and somehow only mangles his hands, he decides to become a wizard monk. ‘Sorcerer’ is the appropriate word to use when discussing this particular character, but I’ve decided ‘wizard’ sounds better. Anyway, he seeks spiritual enlightenment from a bald Tilda Swinton so he can heal the nerve damage in his hands and finally have a wank that doesn’t result in torn muscle tissue. What he doesn’t count on is a rebellious magic user (Mads Mikkelsen) who wants to plunge the world into a dimension devoid of time and death. I mean really, Strange, how did you not see THAT coming?

Actually, considering this culminates in one of Marvel’s formulaic ‘fight the massive threat in the sky’ denouements, he probably should have seen it coming. Cities folding into themselves is impressive to look at, but it didn’t take me long to spot the studio’s tiring tropes, like the audience-hypnotising safety pins they are. Substitute Tony Stark’s Iron Man costume for spells and a magical cloak and it’s essentially the exact same film.

What it does have going for it is a cast that has no shame in jumping from Oscar-nominated roles to supporting characters in a mainstream, crowd fellator. Rachel McAdam’s is solid as Strange’s colleague and love interest (although even I had more screen time than her), Chiwetel Ejiofor brings gravitas to his role as a sidekick, and Tilda Swinton does something with her eyes that makes her impossible to stop watching. Mads Mikkelsen’s villain is an undeveloped idea that’s probably still being penned on a concept board somewhere.

But what really angers me about Doctor Strange is the humour. Marvel are now known for injecting funnies into their films, and director Scott Derrickson has clearly clocked on to that. That doesn’t mean he should taint every single moment of heroism with face-shrivelling one-liners or physical comedy that would leave even the Chuckle Brothers cold. When Strange’s cloak stroked his face and everyone burst into laughter, I remembered how easily entertained Marvel audiences are. They could make a film about a massive green monster and a Norse god teaming up, pack it with jokes about the size of a hammer, and people would get on their hands and knees and graciously welcome it all over their face. Oh yeah, they are making that.

Doctor Strange is in cinemas today (October 25)

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6.5
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6.5

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