It's too much to ask that a studio money-maker/sequel-generator like Doctor Strange actually be strange, much less flaunt doctoral levels of weirdness. Instead, it's Strange 101 in super HD, its lavish pop-art psychedelia in service of 1963 comic-book story beats. The attractions this time are Benedict Cumberbatch, haughtily Randian as a surgeon of self-willed greatness, and the most extravagant superhero trip-outs that Marvel can buy.
These prove familiar, too, a diverting jumble of action-fantasy and head-shop screen saver. Cityscapes fold in on themselves, à la Escher and Inception; we gush down an umbilicus of light, as in 2001 or Contact; too many hands from nowhere seize the terrified protagonist, as in Repulsion. But here blockbuster hugeness for once pays off. Those cities keep folding, as if Manhattan were some bored god's squeezable stress toy, while the characters vault from one skyscraper to the next. Here are kaleidoscopic visions of the everyday gone fractal, their geometry splintering and then endlessly replicating themselves. The history of the superhero movie has been, in part, a history of the breakdown of filmmakers' interest in spatial geography -- Doctor Strange wittily literalizes this.
The story's the same-old, though, based on an Orientalist pastiche whipped up by Atlas Shrugged devotee Steve Ditko. Doctor Strange is another movie about a white man braving a garishly mysterious East, where monks who have devoted lifetimes to a discipline will train him in a couple montages to be the Best Ever. It's almost like Marvel is trolling with this: That monastery's master of all masters is Tilda Swinton, whiteness' Platonic ideal. Still, it's the fleetest superhero movie since Deadpool, and Cumberbatch, that posh geek pinup, embodies the role with a dashing imperiousness.