Doctor Strange: Sorceror Supreme
by erick von erich
It was definitely an experience to view the Marvel animated feature, "Doctor Strange" at the San Deigo Comic-con last week. While the film itself was entertaining, the real experience portion was seeing it in a conference hall packed with sweaty fanboys who would whoop and holler at every fight scene. Imagine a live-action Mystery Science Theater 3000... only it wasn't funny... and it was loud and there were no Mads...and okay, so it wasn't quite like that. It was probably closer to the last day before Christams Break in grade school-- when all the kids would assemble in the gymnasium so they could show us stuff like "Herbie the Lovebug" and old "Our Gang" shorts.
Oddly enough, I actually found out about the screening while I was tying my shoes. I was wandering the main hall of the convention and pulled away from the crowds to tie up the laces. On the ground was a big shiny postcard, telling me I should show up at 7pm tonight for the "World Premiere" of the new Doctor Strange cartoon. My tenative plans for the night had been "wait in line for a t-shirt" or "leave early and hit Jack-In-The-Box", so I adjusted my busy schedule to accomdate the flick. I had a bag of Walgreens trail mix in my bag, so I already had my movie snacks, in hand!
The movie started promptly, with very little introduction. "Dcotor Strange" is the latest entry in Marvel's direct-to-DVD animated features, which thus far have included two "Ultimates" movies and an Iron Man flick. But "Strange" is a small divergence from the previous films. Mainly, it feels more like a video game cartoon-- like "Mortal Kombat" or something-- instead of the typical superhero cartoon. As the story begins, we're introduced to Dr. Stephen Strange, a cold and seeminngly un-caring surgeon, who is called in to examine a child stuck in a mysterious coma. On his way home from examining the kid, Strange witnesses a mystic shoot-out between giant "shadow hounds" (or they might've been "Shatter Hounds") and a group of sorcerors. The members of the troop all look like the cast of "Dynasty Warriors 2", or characters from 90's indy comics. Strange is freaked out, but tries to go about his business the next day.
The next half hour or so is spent on building up Strange and his back-story. Through a series of flashbacks, we see how he became so emotionally detached. There's also his contemporary, a female doctor named Maria Atwater. It's hinted that the two may have had some sort of romantic connection in the past. During this time, if you're a Marvel geek, pay attention to one of the pages over the hospital's intercom. It's a little crossover and nod towards another long-running Marvel hero.
After a car crash, Strange loses the ability to properly use his hands. This leads him to both financial and emotional ruin as he desparately searches around the globe for a cure. Eventually, he ends up in Tibet, where he enters the mountain city of the Ancient One. The Ancient One is a walking talking Yoda and even resembles Pai Mei from "Kill Bill". Strange also meets those crappy indy comic characters he glimpsed that night, all of whom have been training under the Ancient One and protecting the world from mystcial menaces. Wong (with hair) is a prominent participant. Oh yeah, another member of the crew is grumpy headstrong guy named Mordo.
Strange undergoes a training ritual that appears physical, but is actually more mental. The movie kicks into its final act as Strange overcomes his handicap and joins the Ancient One's group, right as a certain flamey-headed monster begins to reveal himself. The big Climactic Battle Scene takes place and Strange ascends to the title of "Sorceror Supreme".
The plot flows quite well and ties up nicely. I may have missed something, but it appeared that the movie was intended to take place in San Francisco, not the usual Marvel sandbox of New York. The final battle scene is well done and that flamey-headed monster has a great, uprgraded re-design. Strange's actual costume, with its green hues, seems more similar to his "1602" outfit rather than his modern blue n' red garb. Strange also doesn't have the the gray temples, rather he has gray bangs. But overall, the character is still recognizable.
Also along the lines of character design-- this movie didn't seem to have any Steve Ditko influence. It may upset some hardcore fans that one of Strange's distinctive comic book artists has essentially ignored... but I'm not a big Ditko fan, so I didn't seem to mind.
My only real problems wth the plot were with the unnamed flunkies of the Ancient One's "Super Mystical Strike Team Alpha". They all seemed to have one power, lots of tattoos and very little dialogue. I was racking my brain to figure out if they were based on anybody significant from the Dr. Strange mythos and I came up with nothing. Didn't matter, as they were all eventually weeded out of the story.
Not to give too much away, but the ending had a peculiar conclusion that ruined Doc's romantic subplot with Maria Atwater. One of the final scenes has Strange meeting her at an outdoor picnic. At that point, it seems that the couple has a rosy future. But the very next scene has Strange and Wong discussing the build-up of their own "Super Mystical Strike Team". Wong mentions a certain name that is very familiar to any Dr. Strange fan....and this mention wipes out any chance of Dr. Atwater ever getting some Strange-Sausage in a sequel. I know the name mention was one of those little "geek continuity" things that we seem to like, but it weakened the story's conclusion.
Why'd You Tape This?
Well, I didn't...but I fully intend to pick up the DVD when it's released later this month. "Doctor Strange" was satisfying as a standalone feature. It's open-ended enough that you don't have to be a comic geek to enough it-- something that wasn't possible in the "Ultimates" DVD's. They breathe a little humanity into the usually abrasive Strange and for the most part, it works. It has more action than I expected and I actually give it a good recommendation. By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth, see it!