A sorcerer lights up the screen

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch in Marvel's Doctor Strange.
Actor Benedict Cumberbatch in Marvel's Doctor Strange.PHOTO: THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY

Benedict Cumberbatch is arrogant, then anguished and finally newly confident as neurosurgeon Stephen Strange



115 minutes/Opens today/3.5 stars

The story: Dr Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), star neurosurgeon at a New York hospital, crashes his car. With the help of a colleague and former lover, Dr Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), he regains some use of his hands. He travels to Kamar-Taj to seek the help of The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). Instead of physical healing, he learns to open portals to other dimensions.

Every Marvel superhero has a super power, but not every hero has a power that works on screen.

This is why we have movies with Iron Man in the lead and not Hawkeye.

One character flys and owns shiny tech hardware; the other has a bow and arrows.

Doctor Strange is a natural for the screen and director Scott Derrickson throws every tool in the digital workshop into proving why: Cities fold like origami, skyscrapers flip, their slippery walls becoming theme-park rides.

When Dr Strange self-travels into the astral plane, it is as if he has been dropped into a 3D version of an abstract painting. He flies through a galaxy of pulsating liquid blobs.

The eye-popping animations are dished out in moderation, thankfully.

Derrickson knows when to turn off the weightlessness and move everything back to the real world because that is where the story moves forward and that is where the movie feels more at home.

The world-building - in Kamar- Taj and multiverses - is rich and detailed, but it comes at the expense of Dr Strange's character background.

There is a format to origin stories and here the arc is more conventional, in contrast to the astral plane's psychedelic visuals.

Dr Strange's personality shifts and grows, from arrogant to anguished to newly confident as he gains the powers of sorcery.

It becomes clear why Cumberbatch was sought for the part.

He is perhaps the most gifted of the Marvel recruits (compared to, say, Thor's Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans' Captain America or even Deadpool's Ryan Reynolds).

His only equal in acting facility is Iron Man's Robert Downey Jr.

It is not a coincidence that both actors - known for playing verbal, confident males - have Sherlock Holmes among their other gigs.

Cumberbatch's Dr Strange, for all the freakiness that is going on around him, is an old-fashioned character.

Unlike recent Marvel arrivals Deadpool or Ant-Man, Dr Strange does not rely on snark or edginess to be interesting. He has only pain and the desire to be whole again.

The British actor is more than up to the task.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2016, with the headline 'A sorcerer lights up the screen'. Print Edition | Subscribe