"inventive and fun journey that throws out some mind-bending scenarios and CGI that, for the most part, is executed very well"

Scott Derrikson’s debut Marvel flick is possibly the studio’s riskiest in terms of deviating from the well-known, ‘traditional’ type of superheroes and setups fans have been familiar with even since Iron Man graced the big screen in 2008.

Until now, Guardians of the Galaxy had been considered their biggest gamble; introducing a gang of misfits that not a lot of mainstreamers were aware of, let alone fans of, but it worked spectacularly well under the guise of James Gunn.

With Guardians love firmly in the bank (and ahead of its anticipated sequel), Benedict Cumberbatch’s arrogantly awesome surgeon Stephen Strange could have been something so ‘out there’ in terms of the studio’s formula it may have alienated the very audience it was aimed at. Thankfully this isn’t the case.

In fact, it looks like Marvel and Disney have played this one even safer than usual in terms of its script and storyline. There’s the usual punchy wit of a Marvel script that, at times, proves extremely funny with its pop culture references and snappy retorts; so the tale feels very modern in this respect.

Yet while Doctor Strange visually stuns with the zaniest of CGI set pieces and Inception-esque action, we have seen this fantastical imagery before in the 2010 Nolan sci-fier. But let’s not cheapen Derrikson’s vision because it’s still a thrilling, often inventive, and largely awe-inspiring feat that works brilliantly at points.

Combining striking visuals with moments of exquisite, well choreographed fist fights are something of a treat; especially during its high octane opening. In truth, all battle coverage has more clarity than we’re used to in Marvel movies, with a clearer view of what’s actually going on mixed with its slick style of martial arts that’s very satisfying.

With its all-star cast Cumberbatch slips into the role of Strange well: he portrays a man with an over-inflated ego to a tee and also manages to convey a humble side as his character begins to shift into the hero mould. Support-wise, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Mads Mikkelsen are solid and so they should be – they’re both superb actors and have a lot to offer in what could’ve otherwise been flat, uninteresting roles. Tilda Swinton is wonderful as The Ancient One who gets the most screen time as she trains Cumberbatch’s overzealous pupil in the mystic arts, as Benedict Wong provides some of that comic relief and assumes a sort of realm protector role much like Idris Elba’s Heimdall in the Thor series. Sadly Rachel McAdams gets barely any time to shine but during the brief scenes she does appear she absolutely stamps her mark. It’s a shame her character appears underwritten and shoehorned in to serve as a weak narrative device rather than feeling like a proper, organic element of the world.

Doctor Strange has everything we associate with Marvel’s consistent output and surprisingly adheres to a very safe structure and conclusion. Still, it’s an inventive and fun journey that throws out some mind-bending scenarios and CGI that, for the most part, is executed very well. And it’s fair to say that Mr. Cumberbatch has firmly established himself just in time for Avengers: Infinity War.