In a time where "superhero movie fatique" is a real phrase Hollywood is throwing around, especially admist a big screen battle for audiences' allegiance between Marvel and DC, it's almost surprising that we continue to receive exciting new superhero themed films. While DC has yet to find their cinematic golden goose, Marvel has been consistently releasing one worthwhile superhero venture after another. The latest is Doctor Strange, a film that makes good on the name-drop of "Stephen Strange" in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and introduces a new hero who will help open up the world of Marvel in their ever-expanding cinematic universe.
To recap a bit, Marvel launched a very ambitious four-year-long journey to making Avengers a reality on the big screen, starting with Iron Man in 2008. After a second Avengers entry and this year's impressive-yet-bittersweet hero brawl, Captain America: Civil War, we're introduced to the game-changing Doctor Strange, a former neurosurgeon who goes looking for physical healing and finds himself entering into an unimaginable world of the mystic arts. Strange's powers involve being able to manipulate time and space, and this leads to the realization that there are all manners of dimensions and powers existing in the Marvel universe. With how grounded 2008's Iron Man was, 2016's Doctor Strange is about as out-there as you could possibly get.
2014's Guardians of the Galaxy took us into space, showing us a lot of different worlds and aliens. That film alone expanded the reach of the Marvel universe to great lengths. Doctor Strange keeps things on Earth and shows us just how much more there is to life on this planet. Before words like "mystic arts" and magic get too many readers' proverbial "knickers in a twist," I have to say that the story here makes these "mystic arts" so outrageous, it all seems like no more than fantastical fiction, similar to The Force in Star Wars. Sure, Eastern culture and mysticism are real beliefs in our world, but Marvel takes it way past the realm of believability to the point where it's something else entirely. The Ancient One, for example, is far more like The Matrix's Morpheus with Doctor Strange being more like Neo than anything recognizable in real human culture. There may be elements of reality that some of the fantastical lore is built upon, but it's hardly recognizable. The film pokes fun at itself too. There's a moment where Christine asks Stephen where he's been and when he describes his journey to Kathmandu in Nepal, she teases him that he's joined a cult. He resists that description before just admitting that it is like a cult. I've seen films where I've been very uncomfortable with its New Age-y approach to spiritualism, but the way it's presented here never feels more than a comic book style exaggeration of otherworldly powers. Still, if even that would make some viewers uncomfortable, than those viewers should probably avoid this one.
Sherlock's Benedict Cumberbatch slips on the surgeon gloves of Doctor Strange, cementing himself as a Marvel cinematic superhero. Benedict disguises his native British accent with an American one here, and it's amazing how well he can pull it off. Strange is like a distant cousin to Benedict's Sherlock Holmes, with the self-centered, cerebral kind of reluctant hero. We do see a significant character transformation for Strange through the course of the film, though, and it makes the man he is at the end of the film that much more endearing. Marvel also continues to line their films with incredible acting talents, and having Cumberbatch supported by the likes of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton and Rachel McAdams only helps strengthen the end product. The studio just continues to keep these films entertaining and well-made, and director Scott Derrickson deserves some credit as well (even if he's not quite off the hook yet for 2008's subpar The Day the Earth Stood Still remake).
The special effects in Doctor Strange are mind-blowing. I would describe the film as sort of a blend between Inception and The Matrix (with maybe a little Jumper mixed in). The dimension-bending scenes are jaw-dropping -- if for no other reason than wondering how on Earth they got this effects-heavy film done in time. But from hurtling Stephen through multiple dimensions to buildings shifting and sliding and rolling and fragmenting... it's pure eye candy. But fear not; the movie does not sacrifice story and character development for these visuals. As a good movie should, they enhance the experience instead of being its main draw. And by the time the credits roll, I'm more than ready to see Doctor Strange on the big screen again--and ready for him to appear alongside the Avengers. (Speaking of... there are TWO end credits scenes. One helps set up a 2017 Marvel movie and the second one, which is after the credits, sets up a possible villain for the next Doctor Strange film.)
The content is a bit rough at times when it comes to violence mostly. Stephen's appearance after his car accident is pretty intense. His eye is swollen shut and there's blood all over his face. His hands are also not for the faint of heart. We see pins sticking out of them after the accident and scars all over them for the rest of the film. There's also a scene where Stephen has a bloody wound on his bare chest and we see it close up briefly as it is being stitched closed. There's also a scene involving brain surgery and we see flashes of bloody gauze, but nothing too explicit. The surgery is shown in x-ray form on a black-and-white screen, but not up close in actuality. There is plenty of other violence present, including the very first scene which shows a monk in a library get strung up by his hands and legs and then beheaded. We only see the beheading as a shadow on the wall (with the head's shadow falling from the body's shadow), but it's still a pretty intense moment. There is a little bit of other language, too. There is an implied "F" word when a character is about to get smashed and they say "Oh..." with just the start of the "F" sound (so it kind of sounds like "Oaaaf"). Other language includes a couple uses of the "S" word and few exclamations of "Oh G-d" and 1 "Oh my G-d." For the most part, I think it's safe to say this isn't a movie for all ages.
Doctor Strange is a welcomed addition to the Marvel cinematic family. I've become a sucker for these films and I can honestly say that this studio keeps churning out entertaining feature films each year. It's a very different superhero film than what we're used to from Marvel, so it's a nice change of pace. And when all is said and done, I'm looking forward to next year's trio of Marvel films: Spider-Man: Homecoming, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, and Thor: Ragnarok.
- John DiBiase (reviewed: 11/6/16)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
Marvel's Doctor Strange is available on single disc DVD, in a Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital HD combo pack, and in a 3D Blu-Ray/2D Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital HD combo pack. It was also released two weeks early via the usual digital movie providers.
The 3D Blu-Ray combo pack comes with a cool, bonus lenticular insert (and the case is clear instead of blue, allowing the silver underside of the DVD discs to become part of the cover art).
Doctor Strange 3D is the perfect movie for the 3D format. We caught it on the IMAX when it was in theaters and watched it again in 3D at home and it's still quite impressive. The film's aspect ratio shifts many times throughout its duration, filling the screen for the more effects-heavy moments, but it's never distracting. Scenes like Strange's introduction to the wide world of other dimensions, or any number of the mind-bending action sequences (especially in New York City), are just tailor made for three dimensions.
In addition to the film in 3D are the following extras on the 2D Blu-Ray disc and the iTunes Extras:
Marvel Studios Phase 3 Exclusive Look (7:28) talks about all that comes before Doctor Strange and where the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is going. It briefly touches on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Thor Ragnarok, Black Panther, and Avengers: Infinity War, showing concept art and some brief on-set footage (Oddly enough, it does NOT touch on Spider-Man: Homecoming at all!).
Team Thor Part 2 (4:39) is a continuation of the spoof that tells a mock story of where Thor was during Captain America: Civil War. It shows Thor in Australia rooming with a normal guy named Daryl. At one point, he hires a servant to help him earn an income, and is shown complaining to a classroom of children about not being called to help the Avengers during Civil War.
Movie with Intro (1:07) shows a one-minute introduction preceding the movie from director Scott Derrickson who talks about the film and the mystical side of the story. (Honestly, I don't think the intro adds anything to the experience, especially after seeing the other bonus features.)
Through the Keyhole: The Science of the MCU (10:03) celebrates the focus on science throughout all of the Marvel films since the first one with Iron Man 9 years ago. It takes a look at how Doctor Strange broadens this.
Gag Reel (4:13) - The gag reel is one of the best I've seen in a while, showing the cast goofing around, scaring each other, dancing, messing up scenes, etc. It's funny - and rather unexpected - to see how much of a goofball Benedict Cumberbatch actually is. The reel contains some bleeped F words and a middle finger playfully flashed at the camera at the end.
Deleted and Extended Scenes (7:49) - There are 6 deleted or extended scenes. "Strange Meets Daniel Drumm" (1:02) is a brief moment of Strange meeting the man in the Sanctum. It's hard to tell what the point of the scene was, however (1 "h*ll"). "Kaecilius Searches for Answers" (1:36) is an interesting scene that's a little disturbing and one that Christians will be glad was cut from the film. Kaecilius and his zealots are shown walking around in a large church and Kaecilius goes head to head with a priest, questioning the Christian faith and saying the Bible doesn't hold much truth. He then kills the priest, splashing blood on a nearby bible. "The Kamar-Taj Courtyard" (1:54) is an extended version of Strange entering the courtyard. "Making Contact" (1:59) features a nervous member of Kaecilius's team who doesn't receive the magical mark on his forehead, so Kaecilius slices him down. Lastly, while Strange is "Lost in Kathmandu" (1:17), he finds a hurt dog and helps it.
Images - Here is a gallery of concept art, production stills, and behind the scenes photos.
A Strange Transformation (9:43) focuses on the character of Doctor Strange and how they desperately wanted Benedict Cumberbatch to play the role. They wanted him so badly that they delayed the film's production to get him the day after he finished playing Hamlet on the stage.
Strange Company (12:38) is dedicated to the ensemble cast in the film and we get to hear them talk about the movie. It also touches on the director and how Doctor Strange was always his favorite comic book series.
The Fabric of Reality (12:33) - This one is all about the character wardrobe, the production design, elaborate sets that were created and filming on location in the real Kathmandu and in New York City.
Across Time and Space (13:22) - Here, they focus on the special effects in the movie, how they used a dance coordinator to help come up with the "magic hands" movements, etc.
The Score-cerer Supreme (9:51) is all about composer Michael Giacchino's score for the film and it gives us a behind the scenes look at him working in the studio. Michael talks about creating musical themes for different things, like characters, the training sequence and the Sanctum Santorum. The featurette then shifts from the music to talking about the tone of the movie.
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 2/25/17)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: Strange briefly teases Christine about her love life; In a fit of frustration (about his condition), Stephen makes a remark to Christine that she's not his friend and was barely his lover.
Vulgarity/Language: 3 "S" words, 2 "*ssh*le," 1 "h*ll," 1 "a" word, 3 "Oh G-d," 1 "Oh my G-d"
Alcohol/Drugs: A character is drinking beer in a post-credits scene where they drink from a stein and then it magically refills.
Blood/Gore: As Doctor Strange is performing surgery, we see some blood on some gauze on the operating table, and some blood on the instruments and surgeon gloves. One surgery is shown on a monitor that is black-and-white like an x-ray. We see tweezers pull a bullet out of a brain; After a severe car crash, Stephen has a lot of blood on his face and his eye is swollen shut; We see a slow motion shot of broken glass crushing Stephen's hands (but not too graphic); Stephen's hands have blood on them after the accident and pins sticking through them during recovery. They have varying degrees of scars on them for the rest of the film; Stephen is stabbed in the chest and we see the bloody wound on his bare chest when he's on an operating table. We then briefly see a closeup of the wound as it's being stitched closed; Stephen has some blood on his face during the action scenes; A character falls from a building through an awning onto the ground (There may be some blood, too); We see a couple characters get dragged into the air and shrivel up into skeletons.
Violence: Lots of action violence. The opening scene shows a monk being strung up by his hands and ankles and we see the villain pull out swords to kill him. We then see his shadow on the wall and hear a slice and see the shadow of his head fall down; Strange performs a couple surgeries, but we don't really see the bodies as they're being worked on. We do, however, see one surgery on a monitor that is black-and-white like an x-ray. We see tweezers pull a bullet out of a brain; Stephen's car races recklessly through traffic and his car goes off the road, flipping many times before landing upside down. We see slow motion of breaking glass with a lot of it cutting into his hands; After a severe car crash, Stephen has a lot of blood on his face and his eye is swollen shut; We see many surreal images, like Stephen flying through various dimensions. In one of them, tiny hands grow out of his fingers and then thousands of hands reach for and grab at him (it's unsettling); We see Stephen through all kinds of fight training; A man is ensnared in some kind of mechanical trap; Stephen is stabbed in the chest with a spectral shard. He's then stitched up on an operating table while his spirit battles another spirit; A magical cloak grabs a man's head and slams him around repeatedly, killing him; A person falls through a building's awning and onto the ground with glass everywhere; We see massive destruction in a city, with people being killed from a building falling and all kinds of other devastation; A time loop occurs which allows us to see a character die multiple times over. A couple of these instances involve them being impaled by spikes and crushed beneath things; We see a couple characters get dragged into the air and shrivel up into skeletons. And lots of other comic book violence.
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.