Part of the fun with the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t just the constantly expanding roster of heroes, but how the world expands – from Earth to Asgard to the comic and now the mystical realm with Doctor Strange. In bringing to life the creation of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko to the silver screen, director Scott Derrickson has opened up a new gateway for a variety of wild and crazy stories in the mystical corner of the MCU. While there’s nothing within Doctor Strange that will change the minds of Marvel detractors and its weaknesses are the same found in most Marvel movies, it does feature what fans of the MCU have come to expect from Marvel Studios – fun.
At this point in the decade-old superhero craze, origin stories have become passé. And yet despite the fact that Doctor Strange is an origin story that tells us how Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) became the Sorcerer Supreme it still works because its robust cast of immense talent and visual and verbal wit employed Derrickson. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Doctor Strange opens new doors to the ever-expanding MCU and features the most eye-popping visuals that have ever appeared in a Marvel movie. Now as Doctor Strange is summoned up on Blu-ray, the world behind the mysticism is revealed in a number of special features that go beyond the surface realm of the film itself, adding layers to what was already an incredibly entertaining film.
The story of Stephen Strange is the story of an immensely talented surgeon. His hands are his life and are capable of performing amazing feats of medical science. The arrogance that defines Dr. Strange may be part of his professional success but it does irritate his colleague and former girlfriend Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). But one fateful evening Strange is involved in a car accident that irreparably damage his gifted hands. When medical science provides no hope, Strange seeks out the mystical place of Kamar-Taj, where he’s been told he can find the powers to cure his ailment. In Kamar-Taj, Strange finds the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), a centuries-old sage with powers beyond those of a normal person. After a bit of negotiation, the Ancient One agrees to teach Strange the mystical arts, and the wounded doctor is given help from Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong).
As Doctor Strange is finding his mystical mojo, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a former student of the Ancient One, is seeking to summon the dark forces of Dormammu, a mystical being from a dark dimension. Kaecilius and his gang of goons have a number of clashes with Doctor Strange in some of the most stunning action sequences that Marvel has ever put together. Cities and streets twist and meld together in a kaleidoscope of wild imagery that would’ve made Doctor Strange an acid classic in the ‘60s. When it comes to the film’s unusual climax between Strange and Dormammu, the mystical realm where this battle of wits takes place closely resembles the psychedelic pages of those early Steve Ditko illustrations with no shortage of colors swirling about; it’s this majestic collision of new technology enable a retro style that was impossible in the past.
The heroes of Doctor Strange have an array of personalities that shine through in the performance of its A-list cast. Those who had doubts about Cumberbatch’s ability to headline a Marvel movie must be eating crow, as the British actor bring both charm and gravitas to the Sorcerer Supreme. Tilda Swinton, who has always had a certain ethereal quality, lends a sense of wisdom and mystery to the Ancient One, although the attempts of Derrickson and company to avoid creating another wise old Asian sage seem to have opened up an entirely different can of worms. (I’ll allow my colleague to comment on that particular controversy.) The biggest problem with Doctor Strange is the biggest problem that has been facing the MCU in every movie without Loki – the villains aren’t captivating. Mads Mikkelsen is a fantastic actor but Kaecilius is a character of great depth and his motivations are weak and never go beyond the surface. However, it could at least be said that Doctor Strange is laying the groundwork for the next great Marvel villain in Baron Mordo, though we first have to witness his fall from grace before he can become a foil for Doctor Strange. It very well may pay off in the near future, but the lacking of a great villain is what prevents Doctor Strange from entering another realm.
Among the special features on the Blu-ray for Doctor Strange are a number of documentaries that explore the making of the film and the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Within the documentary on the making of Doctor Strange, the long path to the screen for the Sorcerer Supreme is explained in great detail. The patience of producer Kevin Feige, the enthusiasm for the character from director Scott Derrickson, and the all the wrangling of talent and computer technology gets its moment in the spotlight in this fascinating look at how the movie came together. In the broader look at the future of the MCU, Feige and the expanding roster of talent working on films such as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Black Panther, and Avengers: Infinity War explain their goals for the Phase 3 of the MCU. Of course, there are deleted scenes and a gag reel to round things out. However, the real gem on the Blu-ray for Doctor Strange is the short directed by Taika Waititi which explains what Thor was doing during the events of Civil War and leading up to his next adventure Thor: Ragnarok. It really highlights the sense of fun that Marvel brings to their movies, and only amplifies my excitement to see what Taika Waititi can bring to the MCU.
If Marvel keeps churning out movies that are as wildly entertaining and feature groundbreaking special effects like Doctor Strange, there’s no reason to believe that their domination of pop culture will wane in the near future. Kevin Feige and company have assembled a crew of A-list talent in front and behind the camera, making the roster of writers, actors, and directors working on the MCU like the cinematic equivalent of the Avengers. The MCU keeps expanding and expanding as it finds more and more unusual corners to explore, and yet it hasn’t run into any serious problems in terms of delivering highly entertaining movies that stay true to the nature of the characters without being restricted by specific stories from the comic books. Doctor Strange may be another superhero origin story, but I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
The latest Marvel hero to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Doctor Strange features an A-list cast working at the top of their game and some of the most eye-popping visuals ever committed to the screen in a wild, trippy ride.