I've always been into the more hands-on of the superhero crowd, so you might see why Dr. Strange isn't one of my comic book favorites. Nevertheless, there were times when I looked in on him and relished his wacky adventures and trippy forays into funky looking dimensions, as creatively rendered by artist Steve Ditko. Given that my interest in the Sorcerer Supreme is anemic, I must mention that stories about Strange were never better than when Stan Lee was writing them waaay back in the '60s. I've always thought one of the coolest things about the Dr. Strange mythos were the wonderfully exotic sounding invocations (as imagined by Stan) which Dr. Strange would righteously toss out: "By the all-seeing Eye of Agamotto!" or "By the hoary hosts of Hoggoth!" Or how about "By the shades of the shadowy Seraphim!"? But nary a one is uttered in this animated film, however, as we witness Dr. Strange's origin, a stage in which he probably wasn't that familiar with Agamotto, Hoggoth, or Seraphim.
To the plot now: Stephen Strange is a talented neurosurgeon. But he's egotistical, callous, and uncaring. He's even big enough of a jerk that he rejects a plea for help regarding a brain-diseased child who sees in her nightmares a dreaded countenance swathed in flames. One evening, while driving, Stephen careens off the road and hurtles down a cliff, which results in irreparable damage to his hands. Despairing, having lost his fortunes, and having exhausted all treatment options for his injuries, he bleakly reaches the end of his rope. But fate intervenes in the presence of Wong, a sorcerer who senses potential in Strange. Wong sends him to a remote Tibetan monastery, to possibly become a student of the Ancient One. However, Strange, being not much into Eastern mysticism, merely seeks to unearth a cure for his mangled hands.
No surprise then that it takes Strange a while to "accept the unacceptable," but once he does, he graduates from the grasshopper routine and begins to learn the arcane arts at a prodigious pace. In time, he comes to learn of the Sanctum Sanctorum which houses the Nexus, the center of all dimensions. It is the Nexus which the Ancient One and his disciples continue to safeguard from the Dread Dormammu. Dormammu, a malevolent, otherdimensional being formed of absolute magic, has repeatedly sent his eldritch creatures to storm the Sanctum. And, with each successive attempt, he gets ever closer. Dr. Strange figures out that Dormammu's plan is somehow linked to the widespread epidemic of comatose children which has overran many hospital wards. As he sets out to help the children, Dormammu launches an all out final assault on the Sanctum. Now will the true Sorcerer Supreme please stand up?
This being the origin story, parts of the film are naturally slow going. We learn of Strange's tragic backstory and how he came to be so cold-hearted and materialistic in his former civilian life. The flashbacks work to flesh out the character and to further engage the viewer. I'm not sure if the version in Marvel's mainstream continuity had a kid sister. But young April and her plight make Strange a more sympathetic person.
When not focusing on Strange, the film shifts to the exploits of the Ancient One's disciples, in particular to Wong and the surly, arrogant Mordo. Mordo takes it for granted that he is the Ancient One's successor to the title of Sorcerer Supreme. Wong is quite dissimilar to the manservant version from the comics. Here, he's more a colleague and even mentor to Strange. And he has hair. Wong is devoted to the Ancient One and mistrusts Mordo and his lofty ambitions. Meanwhile, they and the other disciples continuously take on Dormammu's ever encroaching minions in heartstopping magical scraps.
With the show of magic being generated to mostly craft weaponry out of thin air, there's no room for the classic Dr. Strange incantations, as I've said (but two more classic phrases I just about forgot are "By the Vishanti!" and "By the Crimson Bands of Cytorrak!"). It would've nice to see more esoteric mysticism going on. It's a bit odd seeing the good doctor engaging in a strenuous physical activity like sword fighting. At least, we get to see him make use of astral projection, a staple of the Dr. Strange comics. Dr. Strange does have over 40 years of published history to draw from. But, to reiterate, I'm not a Dr. Strange connoisseur, so I'm not sure exactly how much was altered in this film. One thing that's been changed for sure are his duds as this incarnation has him sporting a new costume that seems austere but is nevertheless very stylin'.
DR. STRANGE: THE SORCERER SUPREME is the fourth direct-to-dvd collaboration between Marvel and LionsGate and decidedly improves on the stinky animated The Invincible Iron Man dvd which it succeeds. We get very nice animation, explosive and well-choreographed fight sequences, and a decent story with enough soap to tug at the heart and enough tussles to keep content the adventurer within you. People die in this one, thus lending the film more depth and high stakes relevance than, say, your average Saturday cartoon episode.
DR. STRANGE: THE SORCERER SUPREME is presented in wide screen. Special features include: Marvel Video Game Cinematics; the 14-minute-long segment "The Origin of Doctor Strange," featuring interviews with comic book writers Stan Lee and Steve Englehart; A First Look at the promising upcoming "Avengers Reborn" (which is set in the future and features Ultron and the Teen Avengers); Doctor Strange concept art; and a trailer gallery. But no film commentary. Which sucks.
I say this one merits a rating of three and a half stars. I wouldn't at all be averse to a sequel. Marvel and LionsGate have something good going here with their direct to dvd animated releases. Keep 'em coming. I'm certainly down with the next project, Avengers Reborn. Now is it too much to ask that someone release a dvd of the 93-minute Dr. Strange / Movie television pilot, which came out way back in 1978?