Marvel has once again dipped into its seemingly bottomless bag of superheroes to forge yet another epic comic book adventure in Doctor Strange.
The Production: 4/5
Magic and mysticism come defiantly into the Marvel cinematic universe in Scott Derrickson’s often mind blowing and optically expansive Doctor Strange. The origin story of one of the comic’s most popular sorcerers is a familiar one to fans of the Marvel superhero universe, and it’s been brought to the movies in such stunning visual style that one must simply sit back and stare in amazement that such effects miracles of modern cinema continue to advance the state of the art in service to an entertaining tale of transition for its title character.
Miraculously gifted surgeon Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) may be able to do remarkable things in the operating room, but his enormous ego and inward focus on his own abilities do not win him many friends apart from former lover Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). A horrific car accident leaves the pompous doctor with hands that can no longer perform in the operating room, and after Western medicine and physical therapy fail to rejuvenate his manual functionality, he turns to Eastern mysticism which has brought about remarkable total recovery for others with similar debilitating injuries. In Nepal, he is taken by the hooded Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to Kamer-taj, home of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who is proficient in the art of sorcery. Through painful lessons in mysticism that destroy the last vestiges of ego and narcissism in Strange, he’s transformed into an apprentice sorcerer just at the moment when the Ancient One’s former pupil Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) begins carrying out the destruction of the three sanctums of magic on Earth located in London, New York, and Hong Kong so he and his master can begin their takeover of the universe.
Director Scott Derrickson shares screenplay credit with Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill, and the trio have written a spirited, wryly humorous origin story with interesting characters carrying out a rather standard doomsday destruction story which seems to be the go-to scenario for so many of these superhero epics. Still, a cast this distinguished brings real gravitas to these expected comic book heroics, and the film’s special effects are so mind-altering and spectacular (alternate dimensions, space warps, time bending, and gravity manipulations are only some of the effects wonders on display) that one can accept the narrative’s predictability in light of its continually inventive visual treats. Scott Derrickson keeps things moving at a rapid enough clip so that the many showdowns between various characters aren’t protracted to the point of tedium. Explorations into the astral dimension, the mirror dimension, and especially the climactic face-off between the heroes and villains as the time frame around them reverses simply have to be seen to be believed.
This must be the most distinguished cast in the history of the Marvel films. Of the five principals, four of them have earned Oscar nominations or wins for their film work: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, and Tilda Swinton, and all of them etch memorable performances of these singular characters. Swinton’s casting as the Ancient One was the most controversial, and yet she’s so other-worldly and eccentric that she fits in snugly into this mystical universe that has been created for the movie. Benedict Cumberbatch nails the haughty egotist of the Doctor in the early going, and it’s enormously gratifying to see him learn humility and rebuild his self-confidence as the film runs and his character gains more knowledge and is able to more adeptly handle the intricacies of magic which had been eluding him in the earlier scenes. Mads Mikkelsen is a heartless villain, less sneering and stereotypically savage than some previous bad guys have been in the Marvel films (though he doesn’t lack for ruthlessness), and Scott Adkins is physically imposing as Kaecilius’ henchman Lucian. Benedict Wong makes an appealing librarian in several scenes, and Benjamin Bratt has an early role as the recovered paraplegic Jonathan Pangborn that has a big payoff in one of the film’s two codas hidden among the closing credits.
3D Rating: 4/5
The film’s 2.39:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully rendered in this 1080p transfer using the MVC/AVC codec. Sharpness is always spot-on, remarkable with the amount of digital effects especially in backgrounds which are a necessity as the characters spin through multiple dimensional spheres. Color isn’t overly rich and bold, but it’s certainly solid throughout (and wildly colorful when it needs to be) with accurate and appealing flesh tones. Black levels are reference quality with the blacks of the dark magic dimension blending effortlessly into the letterbox bars. The movie has been divided into 16 chapters.
The 3D implementation certainly gives you its money’s worth with the enormous depths of space and time that various characters teleport through, and while this 3D conversion doesn’t really find places for forward projections (though with shattered mirrors, thrusting weapons, and an impressive car crash in slow motion where shattered windshields and windows spray glass everywhere, there were certainly plenty of opportunities for pop-outs), the 3D does make for interesting if not exceptional visual dexterity.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound mix offers all of the surround envelopment one expects in these superhero epics. Michael Giacchino’s busy background score with distinct themes for characters and realms gets the full multi-channel treatment, and ambient effects are split wonderfully for maximum impact as the movie unfolds. Dialogue has been excellently recorded and is mostly in the center channel except when it’s directionalized in various front and rear channels as Doctor Strange goes through his various training sessions trying to master the magical arts.
Special Features: 4/5
There are no bonus features on the 3D disc in the case. The following bonuses are contained on the Blu-ray disc also included in the set:
Audio Commentary: Director Scott Derrickson proudly describes in depth his philosophy about making a Marvel superhero film and uses each of the sequences to discuss choices made throughout. All of these comments were recorded on the eve of the film’s premiere so he had no idea what the critical and public reception of the movie was going to be.
Production Feature (58:05, HD): five mini-documentaries (which can be watched separately or in one big gulp) which cover the entire range of the film’s production from story writing to casting, production design, costuming, and set building, carefully chosen locations, and scoring of the movie. Speaking about these varied elements are writer-director Scott Derrickson, producers Kevin Feige, Victoria Alonso, Stephen Broussard, and Charles Newirth, production designer Charles Wood, costume designer Alex Byrne, composer Michael Giacchino, special effects supervisors Stephane Ceretti and Paul Corbould, and actors Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton, and Scott Adkins.
Marvel Studios Phase 3 Exclusive Look (7:28, HD): an early introduction by the directors of the next four Marvel Universe adventures including Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War.
Team Thor: Part 2 (4:38, HD): a tongue-in-cheek throwaway sketch with Thor sharing living quarters with Earthly roommate Darryl.
Deleted Scenes (7:52, HD): five scenes which may be watched individually or together in montage.
Gag Reel (4:12, HD):
Promo Trailer (HD): Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
DVD/Digital Copy: disc and code sheet enclosed in the case.
Marvel has once again dipped into its seemingly bottomless bag of superheroes to forge yet another epic comic book adventure in Doctor Strange. Visual effects and wry humor give luster to this otherwise fairly standard superhero origin story, and the bonuses will be welcome for fans of the film. Recommended!