Review for Doctor Strange
I like superhero movies, and comic book movies, which is probably obvious given the title that I’m reviewing. But the snag is that I’ve fallen out of love with Marvel and DC, which pretty much puts a capper on the whole thing when it comes to Hollywood features. It’s the whole ‘shared universe’ thing, where stories are ongoing, and movies are interconnected. I just want a movie that stands alone. If I watch a Spider-man movie, I don’t want to have to worry about how events in this film affect five other movies, two TV series and ten other characters. I don’t want to collect them all, and I have very little interest in seeing those massive character mash-up movies like the Avengers films, which have such extensive casts that I suspect that the whole film is just a series of cameos. And don’t get me started on the whole Phase 1, 2 and 3 thing; just another marketing ploy to get 50% tat that you’ll wind up hating on your DVD and BD shelves.
Now when it comes to the Marvel and DC movies, I just wait for a decent sale to justify watching an instalment in the hope that it works as a standalone movie as well as catering for the hardcore fans. That way I’m not too disappointed if it turns out to be Iron Man 2. One particular genre of superhero movie is pretty much guaranteed to work despite all that though, and is easier to take a chance. It’s the origin movie, the one that introduces the characters in a franchise in a previously unexplored corner of the shared universe, and explains how they get their powers. These tend to stand alone pretty well. It’s only later on in the franchise that things get complicated. That’s why I felt a little more assured picking up Doctor Strange.
Doctor Stephen Strange is a brilliant neurosurgeon and researcher, whose ability to save lives is second only to the size of his ego and arrogance. As they say, pride comes before a fall, or in this case a car wreck. When he inattentively drives his supercar off the road, he suffers crippling nerve damage in his hands, effectively ending his career. And when Western medical science fails him, in desperation he turns to Eastern mysticism instead, and winds up in Kathmandu.
It’s there that he encounters the Ancient One, who proceeds to teach him about the mystical forces that can alter reality and access other dimensions. Strange is seeking a way to heal his hands and regain his position as a surgeon, but this new knowledge starts to alter his outlook. But The Ancient One has ulterior motives, wanting to train a mystical warrior that can guard the world against dark powers. It’s a more than immediate danger, as one of the Ancient One’s previous disciples, Kaecilius has stolen a forbidden text, and seeks to perform a ritual that will grant him eternal life.
Doctor Strange gets a 2.39:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on this disc which is hard to pick flaws in. The image is clear and sharp, detail levels are excellent, and if you want better than this to show off this special effects extravaganza, this Inception on acid, then you’ll have to look up a 4k presentation. You’ll be most interested in the DTS-HD MA 7.1 Surround English track, and once again it’s a really effective track, immersing you in the story, putting the surrounds to good use in terms of action and effects, while keeping the dialogue clear. You also have DTS 5.1 Spanish, and DD 5.1 Hindi, as well as a DD 2.0 English Audio Descriptive track. Subtitles are available in a smattering of European languages as well as HOH English.
You get one disc in a BD Amaray case, and if you’re unlucky, you get the “New Collectible Sleeve” compelling you to buy your collection all over again. The disc plays a trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy 2 before booting to an animated menu.
You can play the movie with an optional 1:06 intro from the director, and this is a disc that holds position in player memory after being ejected.
You get five featurettes on the disc, delivering the usual behind the scenes content.
A Strange Transformation (9:42)
Strange Company (12:37)
The Fabric of Reality (12:32)
Across Time and Space (13:21)
The Score-ceror Supreme (9:51)
Marvel Studios Phase 3 Exclusive Look is a 7:28 trailer.
Team Thor: Part 2 lasts 4:58, and is probably the best thing on the disc, as the Norse God moves in with his Aussie roommate.
There are 7:52 worth of Deleted and Extended Scenes, five in all.
You also get a Gag Reel lasting 4:12.
Finally there is the audio commentary from director Scott Derrickson.
Let’s get the important stuff out of the way. I enjoyed Doctor Strange; it’s a nice bit of escapism that can kill a couple of hours on a rainy day when you have nothing better to do. It’s a nice blend of action, comedy, a whole lot of special effects and maybe a little interpersonal drama too. There are no missteps along the way, no obvious goofs and plot holes. It’s all entertaining fun. It’s not great though, and certainly not up there with the best of the Marvel canon. That may be down to my unfamiliarity with the title character though, and his particular world.
It really does feel as if this film will be best appreciated by existing fans of the character rather than someone encountering Doctor Strange for the first time. There are so many moments of import, so many significant characters that went straight over my head, that it’s only when I saw the extra features that I realised what a big deal they were, and of course by then it’s too late. I really need to know this stuff while I’m watching the movie.
Mind you, there was another reason why I didn’t fully click with Doctor Strange. It only takes one overused cliché to throw me out of a movie these days, and this time it’s the genius surgeon operating with a jukebox in the theatre to keep him on top form. Every scene in an operating theatre I seem to see these days in movies, has the surgeon at work with music blaring out of some speaker somewhere to show just how much of genius he really is. Don’t these people realise that speaker grilles are germ magnets, and all it takes is one bopping neurosurgeon boogieing when he should be woogieing and instant lobotomy followed by lawsuit. I have to admit that my eyes rolled so much at that scene that by the time they’d settled down in the sockets, I’d missed ten minutes of the movie.
It’s not just Inception that seemed to have been aggressively homaged by this movie, there were other films I could see echoed in Doctor Strange. Certainly his origin story seemed to follow Bruce Wayne’s in Batman Begins a little closely. There were elements of the Matrix in the visuals as well as Inception, and as an anime fan, I kept being reminded of Karas. Still, there was one moment in the climax that made me sit up and take notice, something that I hadn’t seen before, the fight sequence while time was reversing, which looked spectacular, inventive and utterly original.
For me though, what really let Doctor Strange down was how dramatically pedestrian it was. At no point was I at the edge of my seat, I never really got any sense of peril, and for the title character, it all seemed to come a little easy. Sure enough, Doctor Strange had its action and its comedy spot on, but it really needed more drama to work. As a result, it’s fun, but hardly memorable.