Getting it right: Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Stephen Strange

Getting it right: Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Stephen Strange

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The money-powered scramble for every superhero studio to outdo its competitors in budget and effects seemed to have hit a wall. Yet here Marvel Studios churns forth a stunning, death-metal parable of good’s attraction to evil — with a startlingly professional cast and even silences in which sub-tales unwind. Like a Terminator, it’s likely to crush any opposition.

Recent films such as Interstellar and The Martian have almost primly asserted their scientific credentials. To thrust viewers into virtual unreality, Dr Strange throws in such quantum phantasmagoria as multiverses, wormholes, time loops, and overmuch E = mc².

Yet such quasi-realistic hallucinatory swerves are as nothing to the supernatural pastiche into which the improbably weird narrative is permitted to curdle. We might almost be back in the dumb-old-days of Fu Manchu and the wily Oriental criminal.

Culturally correct

However: it’s 2016 and the film-makers are very conscious of not committing cultural or other offences. So Strange’s quest (and Benedict Cumberbatch gets his sneers just right) to the Mystic East means his primary foe, the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), is female, bald and as defiantly immortal and sexy as a creature from Freud’s steaming, immoral, primeval mind: the Id. Alas, Strange’s assistant (Rachel McAdams) is a wisp.

The essential fact about Strange is that, a world-famous surgeon, he has lost the use of both hands in an accident. Then, hearing of a man whose shattered form was somehow healed by alternative methods, he follows the trail through the West across to China.

Once in this retrograde dreamworld of fantastic shape-shifting and distorted parallelograms of crazed logic, he insidiously discovers its secrets through Swinton’s records, a doubting assistant (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and librarian (Benedict Wong); and has to face both moral and physical choices embodied in Mads Mikkelsen.

Sequels (one with Thor) are promised in the final credits.

To irrevocably bend minds, Marvel has taken an idea from 2010’s Inception – the integration by Christopher Nolan of dreamscapes into realism. Here cities crawl into the sky, different eras collide. Big Cinema is beginning to channel lunacy.