So, ‘Dr Strange’ opened this week, and its effects-filled, jaw-dropper of an opening sequence involving Tilda Swinton, in what I can only assume to be a significantly visually-impairing hood, made me wonder whether the film had blown its load early, and I was neveretheless about to sit through another superhero movie pushed out of the usual mould. But then, Benedict Cumberbatch appeared, channelling a flashier version of Gregory House, designer watches spinning in their trays for the advertisers, and the spectacle continued, with a pretty clear lesson not to diagnose and drive.
Rachel McAdam’s nail varnish-wearing Doctor displayed some pretty impressive face-acting, particularly in her arguments with Cumberbatch. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton and Benedct Cumberbatch were on form and the whole thing had a rather English stagey-ness despite the american accents.
There were some pretty beautiful psychedelic sections with clever sound design, making the viewer feel like Swinton’s voice was an all-encompassing force, before hearing it flit around like a flying insect. Sequences inside the ‘mirror dimension’ were sometimes indescribably beautiful, with the fall through the looking glass drawing the physical world into fragments whilst being supposedly safer, contained places. The fragments of churches and triumphal arches, modern sometimes recognisable city buildings, created kaleidoscopic mandalas, ever moving, ever contracting and fanning out and into each other. Layer on layer of architectural features sometimes looking like an incredibly complicated hybrid of inception-esque effects and the channel four logo snippets you get between the programmes, where floating bails of hay or electricity pylons come to resemble the logo itself as the camera moves in.
There was some uncomfortable ‘go to an Eastern land of myth and wisdom and get enlightenment and power’ stuff, but I assume that may have been in the original source material (having admittedly not read the same, I can’t say how well that might have been handled in comic-book form).
However, the magical cloak worn by our hero has character in the same way as the magic carpet from Disney’s Aladdin, managing to seem alive and characterful without having any human characteristics other than sometimes forming the shape it would if it were worn, like the bandaging around the invisible man. The cloak is used effectively for slapstick comic-relief; which, it turns out, was the most effective form of comedy in the film. Some of the one-liners and supposed comedy riffs were a little off-target, but the physical comedy was strong, particularly during a fight between astral bodies when a vending machine gets in the way.
Huge themes about bills coming due, or the darkness of the ages feeding the light, and sequences in which people move with forward momentum whilst time reverses around them, were made breezily palatable with boat-trip-from-Charlie-and-the-Chocolate-factory-looking colours and images that resembled those close-up images of diseases in petri dishes you got in GCSE textbooks or science programmes.
All in all, better-than your average Marvel fare; don’t believe the adverts.