From Marvel comes Doctor Strange, the story of world-famous neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange whose life changes forever after a horrific car accident robs him of the use of his hands. When traditional medicine fails him, he is forced to look for healing, and hope, in an unlikely place – a mysterious enclave known as Kamar-Taj. He quickly learns that this is not just a center for healing but also the front line of a battle against unseen dark forces bent on destroying our reality. Before long Strange -- armed with newly acquired magical powers -- is forced to choose whether to return to his life of fortune and status or leave it all behind to defend the world as the most powerful sorcerer in existence. Join Strange on his dangerous, mystifying, and totally mind-bending journey.
"You're a man looking at the world through a keyhole."
Marvel Studios is a machine. A smooth, well-oiled machine that churns out two to three new feature-length films each year while also working to expand their ever-growing presence on television. As each new hero is rolled out, one starts to wonder when and where the Marvel Machine will grind into a sabot and the whole thing will come apart? Will the Marvel Machine ever go bust? While the quality of the films can waver from one to another, they're all at the very least, entertaining and contribute to the goal of a never-ending expanding universe. 'Doctor Strange' starring Benedict Cumberbatch and directed by Scott Derrickson remains true to the Marvel mold. Introduce a new hero, show him get his powers (or fancy suits), have him run up against a middling sort of villain and move the franchise a notch closer to the big showdown with Thanos. However, this time around the extra mystical visual punch allows the audience to experience something fresh and exciting from a multiplex chock full of superhero movies.
Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a bit of an arrogant ass. He's charmingly dismissive of other doctors - including his one-time lover Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). But, considering he's probably the best neurosurgeon in the world, he can afford a little vanity. His hands can literally save lives - so long as the case in question can give Stephen a little more time in the spotlight. When Stephen ends up in a catastrophic car accident that destroys both of his hands, leaving permanent nerve damage - Stephen goes on a quest to heal his shattered fingers so he can once again get back to making himself look good. What he doesn't expect is his quest to take him to an entirely new realm of possibility - including becoming a better version of himself.
After hearing about a paralyzed man being able to walk again, Stephen finds himself in Katmandu looking for the elusive shrine Kamar-Taj. After a chance encounter with Master Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Stephen is taken to meet The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). The Ancient One is able to break down Stephen's hardened cynical exterior and introduce him to an entire universe of mysticism and infinite possibility. As Stephen hones his abilities, he's put onto a path with facing off against the traitorous Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) and his followers who aim to give control of Earth over to the dark lord Dormammu. With little training, Doctor Stephen Strange will have to learn the hard lesson of setting aside his own ego if he hopes to stop Kaecilius and his deadly zealots from ending all life on the planet.
'Doctor Strange' is a combination of Marvel Studios' best and worst tendencies. At their best, the Marvel Machine can introduce a new hero, one most folks may not be too familiar with and find a way that gets butts in seats and provide a couple hours of entertainment. At their worst, Marvel can shovel a bit too much expanding universe building blocks onto the shoulders of a film that is also under the strain of convincingly introducing a new hero. Thankfully, 'Doctor Strange' manages to sidestep the worst landmines and keeps its hero with the flying cape afloat long enough to establish himself. It's not perfect, but it's pretty darn good.
Throughout much of the run of 'Doctor Strange,' it becomes apparent that the bulk of the supporting cast such as Rachel McAdams' Christine, Chiwetel Ejiofor's Master Mordo, and Benedict Wong's librarian Master Wong are being saved for later adventures. Even great character actors such as Michael Stuhlbarg and his character Dr. West or Benjamin Bratt and his character Pangborn all feel sort of shoehorned in. Why hire these actors if only to feature them in the smallest ways possible? In truth - that looks to be exactly what is going on. Much like so many other Superhero films, this is a true-blooded Origin Film where the character learns who he is while side characters and future villains are introduced for later films. In the final version, Kaecilius isn't much of a villain, in fact, some of his best scenes were cut - as you'll see in the deleted scenes reel. Dormammu may be a bit like Galactus in 'Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,' a sort of non-threat that doesn't do much to be afraid of, but if you know your comic book lore, you can expect to see more from this guy as well. Even Master Mordo offers up a brief vision of things to come during the final post-credits sequence. These characters may feel a bit short-changed, but at least everything else you're getting is well worth it!
While the guts of the story and our main character's journey of self-discovery is entertaining in its own right, it's the film's visual panache that sets it apart from other Marvel entries to date. Up until now, with maybe the exceptions of 'Ant-Man' and 'Guardians of the Galaxy,' the Marvel line-up as a whole has been fairly routine-looking. Even the two 'Thor' outings managed to spend far more time on boring old Earth than they did in the more interesting Asgard realm. But here, we get to see a universe of infinite possibility come to life as sorcerers bend and reshape reality to serve their own means. We may have seen action scenes set around twisting, turning hallways and bending buildings before in 'Inception,' but don't let that stop you - 'Doctor Strange' takes that little idea and makes it their own. The chase sequence that features New York City twisting and turning and bending and breaking apart put me in the back of my seat with my jaw slack and eyes wide open. I'm glad I saw this in 3-D in theaters the first time I saw it, 2-D just doesn't give the visuals the punch they demand. In 2-D they're still cool looking, but in 3-D, the excitement of the moment really comes to life.
Special Effects aside, I was pleasantly surprised by 'Doctor Strange.' If there was ever a movie that could run the Marvel Studios boat aground, this would have been it. It's not full of the well-known guys like Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man or our lone female hero to date Black Widow. I feel like we've seen so much from them, particularly after 'Captain America: Civil War' that they've become routine. Doctor Stephen Strange, his cloak of levitation, and his spells offered up something unique and exciting to see. As we get to set see Doctor Strange in action in the upcoming 'Thor: Ragnarok,' we'll just have to wait to find out how many tricks the good Doctor has up his sleeve. If it's all bendy buildings and bad guys dressed like Dragon Ball Z rejects, that will become old hat fast. However, if they figure out some way to keep his powers and spells fun and interesting, Marvel has a hell of an entertaining new hero on their hands and 'Doctor Strange' was a great way to introduce him.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Doctor Strange' arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Marvel Studios/Disney in a two-disc Blu-ray and DVD set with a Digital HD voucher card. The film is pressed onto a Region Free BD-50 disc and comes housed in a clear Blu-ray case with slipcover artwork. The Blu-ray loads to a language option menu before segueing to the new fancy Marvel Studios logo followed by the 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2' trailer before reaching an animated main menu featuring standard navigation options. Note: Best Buy has an exclusive Steelbook packaging option for this release and Target also offers an exclusive that comes with additional digital bonus features not found in this standard release.
For this Blu-ray presentation, Disney offers up another high-end 2.39:1 1080p transfer. While the image may suffer from some softness and darker contrast levels, the image as a whole is very impressive. I mention the softness and contrast at the outset because this is a very dark and shadowy film that also plays with a lot of fantasy elements and sometimes some of those finer details we all bask in can suffer a tad. However, I did notice the same phenomena during my theatrical viewings so I would err on the side that this is indicative of the digital photography source rather than this particular transfer. To that end, fine details do come to life in terrific ways - especially during the big spectacle moments and any outdoor scene whether they be the streets of New York, London, or Katmandu. Colors are bright and bold with greens and yellows getting a lot of play. Purples and reds also have some importance throughout - without giving away spoilers. Flesh tones appear accurate and healthy. Black levels are a bit of an oddity - but they serve a purpose. As I mentioned at the outset contrast levels tend to be a bit on the darker side of things so black levels can range from deep and inky to various shades of brown. This intermittently can flatten the image or provide a terrific sense of depth depending on the scene in question. Again, this was more or less the experience I had theatrically so I would have to argue that despite some slight flaws, this is a faithful and still very impressive transfer.
This presentation of 'Doctor Strange' packs a thunderingly beautiful English DTS-HD MA 7.1 audio track. This mix really pumps up the LFE tones. I really wish my apartment had better sound proofing as I really wanted to crank this track - it's damn beautiful. Dialogue comes through crystal clear throughout as there is plenty of separation between the elements to avoid any sort of cacophony of sounds. Sound effects and imaging are terrific here as there is a near-constant immersion quality to the mix. Even during the quieter moments at the opening when Strange is in surgery, it's kinda fun to hear Chuck Mangione intermixed with the beeping and electronic whirling of the medical equipment while the dialogue continues to roll unencumbered. Michael Giacchino delivers a solid score that melts into the rest of the mix punching up the excitement and mood when and where needed without dominating the track entirely. All around, this is a perfect audio mix which only could have been made better if the fantastic Dolby Atmos track had been included as well - perhaps the eventual UHD release?
Audio Commentary: Writer/Director Scott Derrickson offers up a pretty terrific commentary track. There are a few quiet spots here and there, but he provides plenty of relevant scene-specific information without simply describing what's happening on screen. A lot of this material is covered in the various Featurettes, but Derrickson goes into greater depth here and
Featurettes: (HD 58:05) Combining A Strange Transformation, Strange Company, The Fabric of Reality, Across Time and Space, and The Score-cerer Supreme segments. While there are certainly some segments with the traditional EPK-style cast and crew interview bits, the A Strange Transformation is particularly heavy in this way, but these segments taken together provide a ton of terrific information. The amount of behind the scenes details of how they achieved certain effects is particularly interesting - especially the blend of practical and digital effects during the action-heavy sequences.
Marvel Studios Phase 3 Exclusive Look: (HD 7:28) This is your routine look back, where things are, where is Marvel going sort of promotional material. It's brief, but it's also kinda fun to look back at their humble beginnings considering 'Iron Man' is closing in on its tenth anniversary.
Team Thor: Part 2: (HD 4:38) Thor enjoys some time away from saving the world to enjoy normal life telling stories to kids, sharing an apartment with a lovable bloke named Daryl. The mockumentary format for this is hilarious - if they ever needed to do a "Hellcat" or a "Squirrel Girl" movie on a lower budget, this may be the route to take.
Deleted Scenes: (HD 7:52) Consisting of Strange Meets Daniel Drumm, Kaecilius Searches for Answers, The Kamar-Taj Courtyard, Making Contact, Lost in Kathmandu. Some of these moments like the scene where Strange meets the New York sanctum master Daniel Drumm was an understandable cut for time, but scenes like Kaecilius murders a priest to prove a point and later when he attempts to make contact with Dormammu and kills a doubting member of his zealots offered up some genuine character development and gave him a genuine sense of evil. Would have liked some of those scenes kept in the film.
Gag Reel: (HD 4:12)
I honestly wasn't expecting much from 'Doctor Strange' when I bought my ticket to see it. I was going more out of obligation than a genuine need to see it. I'm glad I did see it in theaters. That was one hell of a first impression and it's more or less colored my approach to appreciating this Blu-ray. This is a big screen movie of the finest order with out-of-this-world visuals coupled with a grounded character-driven origin story. If you have a large screen or a projector, you're in good form. Those watching on tablets or phones are going to miss out on a lot of the fun. Marvel/Disney has done a terrific job bringing 'Doctor Strange' to Blu-ray. With a solid visual presentation and a terrific audio mix, the film looks and sounds fantastic. Coupled with an array of great bonus features, Marvel's latest superhero 'Doctor Strange' is a highly recommended Blu-ray release.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.