Steven Soderbergh pulls off a cinematic coup. By NINA FOWLER.

Che is an achingly beautiful blend of biography, adventure-odyssey and deep social commentary, with a touch of blockbuster thrown in for good measure. This master work is not only remarkable for sheer scale – two revolutions, two parts, four hours – but because director Steven Soderbergh has managed to successfully bind these disparate components together.

Che is split into two parts. The first, The Argentine, begins with the first meeting between Guevara and Fidel Castro, and ends with Guevara and his triumphant troops en route to Havana. The second, Guerilla, covers Guevara’s final and failed campaign in Bolivia.

No time is wasted in The Argentine. The film is a fast-paced series of firefights, perfectly matched by a sparse and sonorous score from Almodovar-beloved composer Alberto Iglesias. I would pick the battle at Santa Clara as one of the most spectacular action scenes filmed in recent years. Guevara and his jungle men move against pink, gold and pale blue buildings, under pristine sky, carrying out their siege with all the panache and dexterity of a bank heist.

Interludes set in post-revolution New York provide a welcome respite from subtitles, and help round out Guevara’s character as guerilla, doctor, writer, celebrity, and UN orator. We are watching the personification of an icon, but Soderbergh has enough sense to do this gradually. Benicio del Toro is perfectly cast, his stoic portrayal containing few traces of the bookish doctor from The Motorcycle Diaries.

Guerilla will challenge some viewers. The film’s initial pace is slow; Guevara and his men are fatigued, and so are the audience. That said, Guerilla is a necessary counterpoint to The Argentine. Questions raised earlier on the nature of revolution deepen as it becomes clear that the Bolivian campesinos will not rise up like their Cuban fellows. The construction of the US-trained Bolivian troops as a faceless, relentless enemy is also extremely well done.

By the end of his time in Bolivia, Guevara’s transformation from man to symbol is complete. Mounted on a skinny white horse, he appears almost Christ-like as he leads his starving followers to water. A large part of Guerilla’s complex success is this recognition of both Guevara’s heroism and his fatal flaw, an inability to ‘retire’ from revolution.

Credit where credit is due: the combination of the new RED camera and centre-row Embassy seat could have carried a far lesser movie. The Argentine and Guerilla are both strong enough to stand alone on the small screen; back-to-back on the big screen, Che is unmissable.