It took a few years, but Doctor Strange has finally entered the Marvel Cinematic Multiverse by way of a self-titled origin story. Though saddled with mandatory elements, the story offers enough ingenuity and excitement to keep viewers engaged. For those unfamiliar with his story, when we first meet Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), he is a skilled but arrogant neurosurgeon in New York City, with little time for social graces. His life changes in an instant when a car accident injured his hands beyond repair. Severe nerve damage guarantees he won’t practice medicine again.
Clinging to hope, Stephen travels to Nepal, where he trains under the tutelage of a bald mystic known as the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and her disciple Morrow (Chiwetal Ejiofor). They teach Stephen that his hands still have value. He learns spells to transport himself across time and between dimensions; to create weapons out of thin air; to manipulate time and zap the bad guys. The main enemy in Doctor Strange is Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) A former assistant to the Ancient One.
Strange is a typical narcissist, convinced of his invincibility. In Nepal, he’s broken down and built back up, literally and figuratively, in a way that go against everything he’s ever understood about himself and the world. Begrudgingly at first, Stephen comes to accept this new view of the world and the sense of harmony his life now enjoys. Similar to a Jedi in training, it’s fascinating watching Strange learn the various spells and later, harness his abilities.
Given the inherent limitations of an origin story–much of the film’s runtime is spent introducing us to Stephen Strange and preparing him for the mystical world–much of the excitement is created by first rate special effects. Likely inspired by Christopher Nolan’s Inception and to a lesser degree, Blade Runner and the TRON films, The filmmakers have created some truly mind bending moments. Standard battles are visually stunning. I found myself drawn into it, but the effects won’t be enough to hold everyone’s attention.
The cast of Doctor Strange is strictly first rate. Benedict Cumberbatch is clearly invested in his role and carries the film well. He does a great job of fleshing out a complex character. Tilda Swinton captures an inner strength that’s counter to her cool, detached exterior. As the villain, Mads Mikkelsen captures the essence of a man whose lost his sense of balance, not his powers. If the cast has a weak link, it’s Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer and that’s because the script gives her little to do.
A fascinating character, it will be interesting to see how Doctor Strange fits into future Marvel films, now that his origin story has been told.
Presented in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio, Marvel has provided a solid transfer. Sharpness is impressive, with very slight softness in a few wide shots. There are no print flaws, or instances of edge enhancement to report. The stylish color palette is replicated as intended and blacks appear inky. Shadow delineation is impressive throughout.
The DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack handles this action oriented film very nicely. The soundfield is rather wide and involving. Environmental elements have been given fine localization, while music has an appropriate level of bass, localization and involvement. All the channels are used in a satisfying manner that brings a real sense of life to the proceedings. Dialogue is clean, clear and concise throughout.
English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Audio Commentary with Director Scott Derrickson: Recorded the day before the film’s premiere, he provides a running, screen-specific commentary. He touches on how he came to be involved with the project, his approach to the material, the influence of the original comics, the visual design, casting, performances and much more.
- Optional Introduction (HD, 1:06) Derrickson appears again with an optional introduction to the film. Nothing substantial, but it’s here.
- A Strange Transformation (HD, 9:42) A look at the story, locations, sets and crating the action, with particular emphasis on the car accident. We also get a closer look at the character’s history and Benedict Cumberbatch’s preparations for his role.
- Strange Company (HD, 12:37) A closer look at the support characters on the comics and in the film, as well as the actors who portray them. There’s also some discussion about what qualities director Scott Derrickson brought to the film.
- The Fabric of Reality (HD, 12:32) A detailed look at the film’s costumes, set design and construction.
- Across Time and Space (HD, 13:21) Fight choreography, the blend of styles, movement art, wire work, the mixing of practical and digital effects, crafting key elements and more.
- The Score-Cerer Supreme (HD, 9:51) A discussion about Michael Giacchino’s music for the film.
- Marvel Studios Phase 3 Exclusive Look (HD, 7:28) A look back at the MCU’s beginnings, story themes, Doctor Strange’s place in it and a peek at some of the upcoming films.
- Team Thor: Part 2 (HD, 4:38) Thor enjoys some time away from battle.
- Deleted & Extended Scenes (HD, 7:52 total runtime): Strange Meets Daniel Drumm, Kaecilius Searches for Answers, The Kamar-Taj Courtyard, Making Contact, and Lost in Kathmandu.
- Gag Reel (HD, 4:12)
- Digital HD