I’ve had mixed feelings about Marvel Universe’s line of animated direct to video films, and I do admit that the DCU animated universe has the edge over Marvel when it comes to this medium. Some were decent, such as the animated films “Planet Hulk” and “Thor: Tales of Asgard” but the two “Ultimate Avengers” and the abysmal attempt at a mere promo" “Hulk Vs.” were just major disappointments. Well, this is where I decided to take another chance with “Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme”, despite the fact that I tried to stay away from it ever since it first came out in 2007. Frankly, while there were things that bothered me about it, I have to say that it proved to be one of the more entertaining Marvel animated features thus far. (remember I said 'one of the more entertaining', not one of the best ones overall)
Staying true to the way other animated films work out, the film first introduces us to Stephen Strange (Bryce Johnson), a brilliant neurosurgeon who is seen as brilliant, yet seen by others as an indifferent, arrogant, self-centered little twat. The man only takes cases where expensive fees can be acquired or his name can be included in the medical records. However, after Strange gets into an accident that ruins his hands, he spends all his money trying to find a cure. Now homeless, and hopeless, Strange tries to commit suicide only to be stopped by a man named Wong (Paul Nakauchi) who offers him some hope and gives him a map to get to a place in Tibet. Borrowing money from an old colleague, Gina Atwater (Susan Spano), Strange travels to Tibet and comes face to face with an old man known only as the ancient one (Michael Yama). Strange is now part of this mysterious group, given chores of physical labor, finally his mind becomes free and is able to learn the mystical arts of sorcery. Things are finally working out, but there is also a war going on with the dread Dormammu (Jonathan Adams) and Strange must join the fight alongside the ancient one and perhaps realize his destiny….
First off, the film stays close to Dr. Strange’s origin story as told by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. It was nice to see the story re-told with very little variations from the original story. It was an origin done well, as an arrogant man learns humility and thereby attains enlightenment. It was a nice origin as it carried a simple yet effective message about the flaws of materialism, and how we can be better once we lose everything. What bothered me is the fact that the writing by Greg Johnson didn’t leave it alone and tried to incorporate other details about Strange’s sister who had an incurable illness that gave the movie somewhat of a sour taste in my mouth. I also had issues with the fact that Strange had a touch of mystical powers as he seemingly had visions when he touched a child in a coma. The latter change I could accept, since it was an obvious ploy to create groundwork that sorcerers have that certain quality but the bit about the sister was something that felt sore and underdeveloped.
Now, as for the other things I did like, despite the fact that it was a little cliché, was the way the relationship between Wong, the Ancient one, Strange and Baron Mordo were developed into the script. The direction was tight and the transitions were smooth, sure, I thought the other characters in the story were a tad underused as the details of their powers and personalities were undefined. I was kind of hoping for a much longer film than 75 minutes to further develop its story, but I guess for a short animated film, this was at least solid and remained focused on Strange. Slight metaphors and symbolism were used to make the viewer read more into the script, Asian mysticism were widely used as overtones, and I clearly enjoyed Strange’s exchanges with the Ancient one and Wong.
The character designs were more of a mixed bag and were a departure from the classic silver age comics. While I enjoyed the look of Dr. Strange as a mix of his classic look and how he presents himself in the title “New Avengers”, I thought the appearances of Wong and Baron Mordo had a lot to be desired. The Dread Dormammu’s designs were also a departure from the classic look, and felt more like Japanese anime. His realm felt like nothing from the books, and carried the staple of what we’ve seen in doomsday realms. I could understand, that the film was meant for everyone and not just for the fans of the comics, but really, why change something without improving them?
Be that as it may, the film was well animated and the voice-acting was competent. The effects of sorcery and the battles were pretty fun to watch and it was a treat to see the Ancient one go into battle. The film just left a lot of areas for improvement, (I missed the incantations such as "the Flames of Faltine", "Crimson Bands of Cyttorak" etc.) but thankfully, the direction was smooth and the film was edited well that managed to keep up its forward momentum that the feature was entertaining. I considered it to be a decent direct to Dvd offering, but not the definitive film about Dr. Strange. It had enough good parts that it was able to cover up the weak parts, but I really had issues with the way they tried to add unnecessary devices (the sister subplot, Mordo with a sword etc.) just because the filmmakers wanted to prove that they could. This film would’ve benefited in being a little longer, with a lot more tighter development with its many characters. Still, it was entertaining, and a lot better than the other animated Marvel films I’ve seen.
Timid Recommendation. [3 Out of 5 Stars]
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