Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton, Benjamin Bratt, Scott Adkins. Directed by Scott Derrickson. (2016, 115 min).
I couldn't care less about the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Most of the movies are enjoyable enough, but the best ones are less immediately-concerned about their characters' place in the MCU than providing a good, solid stand-alone story. For example, the first two Captain America movies worked so well because they focused primarily on its title character and his ongoing battle with Hydra. However, Captain America: Civil War was top-heavy with superheroes and spent so much time setting up the MCU's future that it forgot to be a Captain America sequel. And, no, I don't care if that's how things played out in the comic books. The overall narrative success of one film should not hinge on the viewer having seen a half-dozen others.
For those who may not be up-to-speed on who's feuding with who, Doctor Strange is a breath of fresh air. Like Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel adapts a relatively obscure comic into an entertaining and amusing action film that doesn't depend on knowledge of a pre-existing universe or the myriad heroes defending it (the title character may be even more obscure to general audiences than Ant-Man). It's unmistakably a Marvel film, so of course the fate of the world is at stake. And yeah, it's loaded with some overly-ambitious CGI spectacle that, while elaborate, distract more than enhance (not-to-mention being highly reminiscent of Inception). Obligatory character origins are a necessary evil, I suppose, meaning the first forty minutes or so tread awfully familiar ground (and bare more than a casual resemblance to Neo's Matrix training).
|Benedict and Chiwetel participate in the annual Run Like Tom Cruise Marathon.
However, like Guardians (as well as the original Iron Man), amid all the whiz-bang fireworks are interesting characters, a cast of truly great actors and a clever script to work with. Benedict Cumberbatch embodies the title character as effectively as Robert Downey Jr. once did, meaning his newly-acquired abilities haven't completely stripped him of his personality (or his ego). One criticism often leveled at Marvel movies is their weak villains, but as Kaecilius, the great Mads Mikkelson is suitably menacing, even empathetic & funny sometimes. And personally, I didn't even have a problem with The Ancient One being gender-swapped. While I certainly understand the criticism over whitewashing a traditionally Tibetan character, any decision to stick Tilda Swinton in your movie is ultimately a good one.
|"Damn...where the hell is Waldo?"
Once the film takes care of the preliminaries and introductions to focus on the story proper, Doctor Strange gains momentum like a runaway boulder, building to a climax that includes a surprising amount of intentional humor along with all the sensory overload. Though hardcore fans might be disappointed, references to the MCU are largely (and wisely) kept on the down-low, with no real baring on the story itself. One of the standard post-credit sequences does suggest Marvel has big plans for some of these characters in the MCU, but Doctor Strange works nicely enough on its own merits. Call me silly, but that should be priority-one with any movie.
"Team Thor Part 2" - Another amusing little reality TV-style spoof featuring Thor and his roommate;
"A Strange Transformation" - Making of featurette with plenty of behind-the-scenes footage;
"Across Time and Space" - Featurette focusing on visual effects and fight cherography;
"The Fabric of Reality" - Costume & set design;
"Marvel Studios Phase 3" - For those of you keeping score, a look at upcoming films in the MCU;
"Strange Company" - Interviews with the cast & crew;
"The Scorce-cerer Supreme" - Interview with composer Michael Giacchino;
AUDIO COMMENTARY BY DIRECTOR SCOTT DERRICKSON
OPTIONAL INTRO BY DIRECTOR SCOTT DERRICKSON
DVD & DIGITAL COPIES
PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS