The first seven minutes of Doctor Strange, Marvel’s first cinematic foray into its magical universe full of sorcerers, relics, and dark dimensions, are a punch in the mouth. It’s a fight scene; Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) and his goons are taking on the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), and to get the upper hand, they begin folding the buildings around them like origami.
It’s vaguely reminiscent of that scene from Inception, you think to yourself. But you don’t know half of what’s about to hit you.
The buildings gnarl and twist like segments of a Rubik’s Cube. Balconies become conveyor belts. An adjacent edifice buckles over and starts spinning, threatening to smash down on various characters like a maniacal rolling pin. Gravity flips and shifts with each camera angle as the goons look like inebriated hamsters on a wheel. The basic physics concepts you’re used to no longer work in the way you’ve been taught. It’s like watching reality tear itself apart.
By the time you catch your breath, a realization dawns: That opening sequence is the most stunning seven minutes of footage Marvel has ever created. And Doctor Strange is, without a doubt, the best Marvel movie in history when it comes to looks — a movie whose ambition and creativity is matched by its execution. If there is justice in the world, Doctor Strange will win an Oscar for its visual effects.
But even though the film is Marvel’s crowning aesthetic triumph, even though all four of its stars — Swinton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Rachel McAdams — have their game faces on and act their hearts out, even though it’s got great humor and spirit, Doctor Strange isn’t close to being Marvel’s best movie.
Here’s why that’s okay, and why you should definitely see it anyway.