If the new supernatural spectacle from the self contained world of Marvel Comics were to be described in one word, it would have to be ‘strange’. If we stretch it – as the film does its spindly wiry spiralling narrative that goes effortlessly onward with its dazzling display of alternate reality – to another word then it would be ‘strange and stirring’. The film lays out an elaborate supernatural plan for its surgeon-hero, a plan so steeped in mythology and esotericism that it takes Dr Strange all the way from London to Kathmandu with a stopover in places that are not on any map. Nepal is filmed like a crowded cosmos of mystery and mysticism, the way Dev Anand shot ‘Hare Rama Hare Krishna’ 45 years ago. It’s that continuity in a rapidly-changing world that ‘Doctor Strange’ purports to capture in rapidly moving images that are staggering in their temerity. ‘Dr Strange’ has some heart-stopping narrative points where time does the opposite of stopping still. Events move simultaneously in the real and an alternate world to show how the healing of the body and the mind can be achieved through a transcendental transposition of the consciousness to a dimension beyond the physical.
Director Scott Derrickson, who specialises in supernatural sagas, unravels the mysteries of the universe accompanied by a growing sense of wonderment. The imaging of the visuals where ground-reality clashes with an otherworldly reality is so splendid as to freeze all scepticism about the future of Hollywood’s large-screen spectacles that seems jeopardized in 2016 after a series of crippling failures in the genre. ‘Doctor Strange’ dazzles but never to deceive. The special effects generate a kind of implosive illumination that lights up the film’s theme of travel, knowledge and wisdom. In effect, the more we know the less we seem to know about the mysteries of the universe. In delivering the dazzle to the realm of the dark, the film manifests a cinema of austere majesty, more remarkable for holding back than flaunting the spectacle. A lot of the narrative’s ongoing effectuality depends on Benedict Cumberbatch’s central performance. He conveys the character’s exploratory curiosity with a magnetic blend of confidence and curiosity. No matter how extravagant the excursion into the unknown, Cumberbatch looks like a man in charge. And even when he is swept into a reality that has no connection to the real world he looks like man in control of his destiny. It’s a confident performance where tenets of existence and beliefs of continuity in the cosmic chaos are constantly shaken and questioned. While the supporting cast is effortlessly able, some characters don’t convey the energy that they promise. Tilda Swinton in a role originally written for a male Tibetan character seems lacking in kinetic energy which is otherwise obtained in abundant measure throughout the film. It all adds up to an experience that is more satisfying than most of the recent screen adaptations of comic books.