Created by artist Steve Ditko and writer Stan Lee, Doctor Stephen Strange debuted in Strange Tales #110 (July 1963) and Marvel Studios introduced the character and the magic of the Mystic Arts into their Cinematic Universe with last year’s Doctor Strange, now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
As the film opens, a rogue group of sorcerers led by Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) have stolen parts of a magic book, intending to bring forth the evil Dormammu from the Dark Dimension. They battle with the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), revealing to viewers that some are able to bend reality as seen when buildings fold in defiance of physics in effects reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s Inception.
The story then cuts to our hero, who is hardly heroic, setting up his eventual transformation. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a conceited genius, much like, actually too much like, Tony Stark. Strange is an outstanding neurosurgeon, but that all gets taken away when his hands are damaged after a brutal car accident caused by his reckless driving. When Western medicine fails him, he heads East unaware of what fate has in store. Upon meeting the Ancient One, he must ignore all he thinks he knows about the way he believes the universe works in a marvelous, psychedelic sequence as he takes a quick trip through the Multiverse.
Due to Strange’s intelligence and thirst for knowledge, he progresses quickly and strays farther than he should. He is caught using the Eye of Agamotto to manipulate time by Baron Mordor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong) and warned against it, but Strange is told by the Ancient One he must break the rules in order to defeat Dormammu. Yet at what price?
While Doctor Strange covers some familiar territory in the superhero genre, the film succeeds in a number of areas. The script does a good job introducing a new character and a new aspect into the ever-expanding MCU, and it was good to see Strange’s resolution in defeating the villain required his brains more than his brawn. The story’s main weakness was the lack of a strong female character. Rachel McAdams’ Dr. Palmer had little to do beyond helping Strange in a manner not much different than the Cloak of Levitation The visual effects were impressive. They had an extra dimension to the action sequence, especially the city-bending chase sequence.
The Blu-ray delivers a satisfying high-def experience. The video has been given a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio 2.39:1. Color brightness varies, vibrant hues in some scenes while in others quite dull. Objects appear with solid clarity, but some scenes are intentionally low lit by cinematographer Ben Davis, such as within the Ancient One’s temple or darkened hospital rooms, or have something extra in the air, purposely affecting image sharpness and depth of field. The audio has a robust DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track. During the fight in the opening sequence, the subwoofer gets overworked as the bass in Michael Giacchino’s score and in the sounds of the shifting buildings rattle and distort. This repeats during other loud moments. Dialogue is clear and is balanced with the other elements. The track makes great use of the surrounds. The effects help immerse the viewer, making great use of the soundscape by positioning effects and having them move through channels.
Extras include an introduction by co-writer/director Scott Derrickson (HD, 1 min) and an engaging, thorough commentary track. Available individually or all together, there are five featurettes (HD) about the making of the film. “A Strange Transformation” (10 min) is a focus on Cumberbatch. “Strange Company” (13 min) is about the rest of the cast. “The Fabric of Reality” (13 min) looks at the costumes, sets, and production design. “Across Time and Space” (13 min) showcases the fight choreography and visual effects, and “The Score-cerer Supreme” is about the music.
Marvel Studios Phase 3 Exclusive Look: (7 min) offers a brief look at Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War. Team Thor: Part 2: (5 min) – A silly bit of Thor, who is currently living in Australia with a roommate named Daryl. There are five Deleted & Extended Scenes (8 min): “Strange Meets Daniel Drumm”, “Kaecilius Searches for Answers”, “The Kamar-Taj Courtyard”, “Making Contact”, and “Lost in Kathmandu”. There’s a couple of good character moments but otherwise the right call was made cutting these. Not much to see in the Gag Reel: (4 min).
Doctor Strange is an entertaining blockbuster on its own and as yet an other chapter in the MCU, and the Blu-ray presentation is good for what ails you.