In London, there is a skirmish of sorts going on that nobody can see but those involved, a group of antagonist sorcerers led by Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) who has sinister plans of his own which so far have been foiled by The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who does so once again, using her incredible power. But while this is going on, across the Atlantic Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is forging ahead with his career as one of the finest surgeons of his generation, his hands impeccably equipped for the delicate procedures, and doesn't he know it. His colleague Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) tolerates his arrogance but wishes he would tone it down, not realising his humbling will be more terrible than either could imagine...
Marvel were well into their cycle of success after success when they settled on bringing their master of the mystic arts Doctor Strange to the screen. Drawn from the comic books created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko back in 1963, he was not your usual superhero material, not muscular of torso or bulging of biceps, a more cerebral hero who studied to gain his skills rather than having them bestowed upon him by a freak of nature or other form of incredible incident, be that scientific or otherwise. This meant he appealed to the more intellectual fan of the medium, and let's face it, those who wanted to expand their minds through reading about the occult or through taking psychedelic drugs.
This rendered Strange a popular figure for the counterculture who enjoyed taking elements of popular culture and mixing them with the esoteric, whether that be politically, socially or spiritually; in this character they had the ideal melding of those aspects which made it all the more amusing to Lee and Ditko that they were assumed to have concocted the stories while off their faces on LSD when they no more indulged in that than when they wrote Spider-Man, which was, not at all. They simply had a particular knack for the imaginary that granted, was very well applied to science fictional superheroes, especially ones who seemed so much hipper than their rivals back in the sixties, yet with Strange they truly let their hair down and let that imagination run riot.
Special effects technology had developed in leaps and bounds since those two creators had kicked off their comic book revolution so many decades ago, and finally, with this first Strange adaptation for the movies, it seemed as if the circumstances were exactly right for putting their wildest concepts on the screen. The trouble with that was, this was not the only blockbuster to present mind-expansion in its fantasies, and there was a sense that works like The Matrix, Inception and Spirited Away had stolen its thunder by the point that Marvel had gotten around to it. What this had to offer was a far less self-important, more pulpy application of those effects to a template that admittedly the studio had relied on too heavily; this was at the stage Deadpool and Logan were demonstrating how genuinely interesting things could be done with a seemingly narrow format.
But neither of those had quite as much fun with the computer graphics as this did, taking its cinematic cues from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (you know the section) and pushing the boundaries of what audiences were used to from an action sequence, with the backwards destruction of Hong Kong an ingenious highlight, and Strange hurtling through fractals and portals a visual motif that never grew tiring. The plot was your basic martial arts effort from the Hong Kong classic era, where the lead character is taught humility and superb fighting skills by a wise elder all the better to utilise them against the foe come the finale, and Cumberbatch, slightly labouring under an American accent, struck the appropriate poses and served as a magnet for the trapping of the supernatural. He was well supported by a cast who brought a little magic of their own to roles somewhat from stock: Mikkelsen was an implacable enemy, Chiwetel Ejiofor a rigid ally as Mordo who realises more than anyone the cost of the magic, McAdams largely sidelined but shining when she did appear, and Swinton enigmatic but compassionate. Definitely one of Marvel's best introductory movies, and Michael Giacchino served up a soundtrack that finally gave a hero of theirs a worthy theme tune.