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Featured Blu-ray and DVD Review: Doctor Strange

February 20th, 2017

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Doctor Strange was the first time that magic was really strongly introduced into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and some thought the film was a bit of a risk as a result. Instead, the film became the second biggest introductory film in the MCU, behind only Guardians of the Galaxy. Is it as good as its box office numbers would suggest? Or has the MCU become self-sustaining generating hundreds of million of dollars regardless of quality?

The Movie

The movie begins with a 35 second long Marvel Studios logo. ... Civil War’s was 22 seconds long. These logos are getting longer and longer for each movie. At this pace, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2’s logo will be over a minute long, while next year’s Black Panther will have an opening logo close to five minutes. By the time Infinity War ends, these logos will be longer than the movies themselves are. Something has to be done about this before it is too late! ... On a serious note, while the length of this single logo has reached the self-parody mark, at least it’s the only logo you see at the beginning of the movies. Some movies have four or five logos from various studios / distributors / production companies.

Doctor Strange is an origin story that jumps into the magical world before the main character, Doctor Stephen Strange, is even introduced. It is a little confusing at first, because we are dropped into the story in medias res, but we get treated to a cool wuxia-like fight between a as of yet unnamed character and Kaecilius and his followers. I really like how magic is used here. Instead of pointing a wand and having a beam of special effects shoot out, the magic users create weapons and use those in martial arts fights.

We then get to meet Doctor Stephen Strange performing brain surgery while showing off his knowledge of 1970s flugelhorn music when Dr. Christine Palmer asks him for a second opinion on a gun shot victim. He gets to show off medical knowledge, save another patient, and humiliates a fellow brain surgeon. Doctor Strange has a speaking engagement that night and asks Doctor Palmer to go with him. They used to date, but Doctor Strange is too self-centered to really be in a relationship.

While driving to the speaking engagement, Doctor Stephen Strange gets a call from his assistant who wants to discuss possible patients. He gets distracted and ends up in a horrific car crash. When he wakes up, he learns nerves in his hands were damaged in the crash and he will likely never operate again. His ego doesn’t allow this to be true, so he spends all of his money and burns a lot of bridges trying to find an experimental therapy to fix his hands. Nothing works, but he does learn of one person who seems to have recovered, Jonathan Pangborn. From Pangborn, he learns of a place called Kamar-Taj and someone who helped fix his broken spine. With that, he spends the last of his money and travels to Kathmandu to see if he can be healed as well.

Once there, Strange meets Baron Mordo, who introduces him to The Ancient One. At this point, he still thinks the Ancient One is a doctor using, as he puts it, bleeding edge medical technology. When he finally realizes she’s talking about magic, he goes off on her. She responds by showing him the mystical realms first hand in a scene that expertly mimics Steve Ditko art. Strange begs to be taught, but he reminds the Ancient One too much of Kaecilius, so she says no. Later, Mordo points out a war with Kaecilius could be in the near future and Doctor Strange could be a valuable ally in that war. The Ancient One agrees and begins training.

At this point, we get to spoiler territory, although we haven’t been introduced to one of the more important characters in the movie, Wong. Wong and Strange have excellent chemistry together.

Doctor Strange is an excellent movie with plenty of selling points. The cast is fantastic and they all have great chemistry with each other. The film cost $165 million to make, so it should come as no surprise that the magical effects are also excellent. It is arguably the best looking magic done in a live action movie. There was one point where Baron Mordo jumps over Doctor Strange while training and it doesn’t look right. One of the big problems with CGI is the difficulty getting the physics right. Objects tend to not have the right weight and this is the case here. ... Then I realized he was wearing the Vaulting Boots of Valtorr and that’s how those boots work. They make the wearer less effected by gravity. The climactic battle uses magic in a way to give us something we haven’t seen before, while the climactic confrontation is more of a battle of the wits, which is something magical battles should resolve with. Like other films in the MCU, it has a great mix of drama, action, and humor and if you like the franchise so far, then you should really enjoy this one as well.

That’s not to say it is perfect. Like I mentioned above, Doctor Strange is an origin story. Unfortunately, it suffers from some of the same issues most origin stories have. The film goes from pre-magic Doctor Stephen Strange to his introduction to magic in about 20 minutes to 24 minutes. It depends on whether or not you stop at his introduction to The Ancient One, or when she first pushes his astral form out of his body. We will take the average and say 22 minutes. That’s roughly the length of one episode of a sitcom to establish his personality, strip him of the one thing he feels defines him the most, have him hit is lowest point and lash out at his only friend, and then travel to Kamar-Taj for what he thinks is the last hope to fix his hands and get back his old life. That’s a lot of plot to try and squeeze into such a short period of time and that does mess with the pacing. Again, this is a common problem with origin stories and there’s not much that could have been done, not unless they added half an hour to the film’s running time, which would have created a different set of problems.

There are a couple of other issues that a lot of people brought up that I don’t think are serious issues. Firstly, there are some who accuse Doctor Strange of whitewash casting and using the white savior trope. While it is true that the Ancient One in the comics is Asian, that character was also an Asian stereotype. You couldn’t put that character in a movie these days without making at least some of the audience really uncomfortable. It’s the same reason they had to change The Mandarin in Iron Man 3, or why they could make a hundred Wonder Woman movies and they will never use Egg Fu as the villain. Marvel Studios was in a tough spot here and I think gender-flipping the role was a good choice, but maybe there were some better choices to avoid this controversy. A related complaint is an accusation that the film uses the white savior trope. The simplest way to explain this trope is with an example. In The Last Samurai, Tom Cruise travels to Japan, meets a bunch of samurai, and soon becomes a better samurai than the Japanese people who trained for this their entire lives and saves their cause. In this movie, Doctor Stephen Strange travels to an ethnically diverse place, where there are people from all over the world training. He’s not coming in to rescue another group, but is part of the group.

The second main complaint I’ve heard is the weakness in the villain. A lot of people point out that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has really weak villains, but I don’t think that’s really an issue. Kevin Feige, the producer of the MCU, recently stated this was by design. They want the heroes to get the big character moments, while the villains are mainly there to be obstacles for the heroes to overcome and reasons for the heroes to grow. In that regard, Kaecilius works exactly as intended. We understand his motivations, he’s well-acted, and has enough presence to be menacing. Frankly I prefer this to films that develop the villains at the expense of the heroes. You could do both, but that would result in a three-hour movie, which again brings its own set of problems.

On a side note, I think the villains of the MCU are, on average, better than the villains of the DCEU, even if you include the Nolan Batman Trilogy. I think most people who make the claim that the MCU has a villain problem really only focus on Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker, which is arguably the best performance in a comic book movie, ever. Yes, the villains of the MCU are worse than Heath Ledger’s Joker, but even the weakest MCU villain is better than the villains in BvS or Suicide Squad.

The Extras

You can watch the movie with a short intro, as well as with an audio commentary track featuring the director, Scott Derrickson. Up next is a five-part, nearly hour long making of / behind-the-scenes featurette. There is a seven-minute look at Phase Three of the MCU, as well as a short look at what Thor has been up to between movies. There are five deleted / extended scenes with a total running time of eight minutes. And finally, there are 4 minutes of outtakes.

The Verdict

Doctor Strange suffers from a lot of the usual problems origins stories have and the beginning is too rushed, but overall it is yet another enjoyable installment in the MCU. There have been more than a dozen films in the MCU and not one of them is bad. Not all of them are great, but none of them are objectively bad. The extras on the DVD / Blu-ray Combo Pack are enough to lift it to a Pick of the Week contender.

Filed under: Video Review, Doctor Strange, Batman, Marvel Cinematic Universe, DC Extended Universe, Tom Cruise, Benjamin Bratt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Scott Derrickson, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Chris Hemsworth, Ben Kingsley, Heath Ledger, Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen, Christopher Nolan, Maggie Q, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tilda Swinton, Benedict Wong, Michelle Yeoh, Kevin Feige
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