Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Jofo @ The Movies; Doctor Strange:The Sorcerer Supreme

By The Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth!!... Meh its okay.


I FRIGGIN LOVE DOCTOR STRANGE!!! Anyone who knows me also knows of my undying love for the adventures of the former Sorcerer Supreme and his battles against the powerful and surreal entities threatening Earth. As somewhat of a fantasy nerd I am immediately drawn to magic users in most stories, so naturally a sorcererous super-hero would capture the position of my favorite. But the other reason I like Doctor Strange is because he has probably one of the best backstories out of most of the Marvel characters. His is a tale of redemption from a life as a bitter, money hungry surgeon into the compassionate, and powerful defender of the dimension. Strange embodies everything I idolize in a super-hero with his natural leadership, compassion for others, rapier wit, and of course his awesome magical powers.

BUT sadly Doctor Strange is one of the many Marvel superheroes whom are still very popular in the comics, but didn't get a lot of attention when Marvel got heavily involved with the film and TV business. In television and film Doctor Strange has appeared in one episode of Spider-Man the Animated Series (Doctor Strange), one episode of The Incredible Hulk Animated Series (Mind Over Anti-Matter),a few episodes of The Super Hero Squad Show, and has starred in a laughably bad made for TV movie from 1978. So you can expect my natural reaction to the existence of PG-13 animated movie to involve squeeing like a 7 year old school girl in a candy store....and you wouldn't be too wrong. Was this finally the break Strange needed? Let us gaze into the Orb of Agamotto and take a look at Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme.

Synopsis (spoilers)

The movie opens with two sewer workers being persued and eaten by an unseen creature which then escapes the sewers to begin a rampage through New York City. But it is intercepted by a group of mystics lead by a strangely brutish Mordo, and Wong; who for some reason has hair. Using their amulets they can see the creature and engage it in combat. As the fight nears it end we finally see our main character, Dr. Stephen Strange on his way to morning rounds at Wellhaven Hospital. Despite being a normal human being he finds himself able to see through the enchantments making the mystics and the monster invisible.

Upon arriving at the hospital we are shown that Dr. Strange while being a highly gifted neuro-surgeon is kind of a douchebag as he refuses to operate on or even see anyone who cannot pay his outrageous fees. After some chiding from his co-worker Dr. Gina Atwater he finally decides to examine a young hispanic girl in the coma ward and recieves a vision of a burning face upon touching her and notices that the ward is filled to capacity with children all suffering the same ailment. Frustrated and frightened he storms out of the coma ward declaring the situation hopeless much to the shock of Dr. Atwater and the girl's non-english speaking mother. We are then shown a small flash-back shedding some light on Strange's aversion to working on youngsters as his sister April was plagued by an unnamed terminal brain condition.

On the way home he sees a vision of phantom children in the road, causing him to have a terrible wreck and black out. He awakens back in Wellhaven and quickly discovers that his hands have suffered irrepairable internal damage; effectively ending his career as a surgeon. Desperate to find a solution, Strange spends his vast fortune on several experimental treatments, all of which end in failure and result in Strange becoming destitute and homeless. Unable to cope, and too arrogant to accept a consultant position, Strange hurls himself off a bridge hoping to end his life, only to be rescued by Wong who then gives Strange a map to the home of the Ancient One and the hope of one final solution. With the help of Dr. Atwater Strange makes it to the the Ancient One's monastery in the Himalayas only to find that the solution he was promised was spiritual guidance in place of the instant miracle cure he thought he would recieve. With no where else to turn, Strange begrudgedly agrees to stay.

Meanwhile Mordo and Wong's group is sent to battle another group of monsters known as Shadow-wolves. However this time the fight doesn't go as well and many of the mystics are killed. Strange in the meantime grows frustrated with the many laborious tasks given to him for his "training" such as tearing down a wall only for it to be rebuilt the next day. He learns that his training was never meant to fix his hands and begins to depart the monastery and falls unconcious near the gates. Here we see another brief flashback of Strange begining to operate on April only for her to die on his table. The Ancient One appears to Strange in this dream convinces him to let go of his guilt and return to his training.

Strange's education in magic finally begins as he learns that to the chosen few with a different perception matter can be altered. Upon finally letting go of his guilt and embraces his mystic training the wall he was meant to break down completely vanishes signifying his spiritual rebirth. Mordo however is another story as the Ancient One senses yet another threat on the Sanctum in New York, defying the Ancient One's orders to engage each beast with the full group Mordo orders them to split into two groups resulting in even more casualities. The Ancient One reprimends Mordo for his insubordination and informs him that he was never mean to be the next Sorcerer Supreme and informs him that he is to train Strange whom is the true heir.

Angered by this revelation Mordo savagely attacks Strange during training but is humiliated when Strange absorbs his conjured weapons and fires the energy back. Mordo then attempts to murder Strange, but is stopped by Wong who takes over Strange's training and successfully turns Strange from a broken surgeon to a power sorcerer.

At last, Strange is taken on his first mission to the Sanctum Santorum which houses an interdimensional nexus, in which he is shown the gateway to the Dark Dimension which is the dominion of the dread Dormmamu whom is also responsible for releasing all the monsters into Earth before being sealed away by the Ancient One. Strange then recognizes Dormmamu as the face that he saw in the girl's dream back at the hospital which allows the Ancient One to realize that Dormmamu intends to enter Earth through the minds of the many children whose astral energy he has stolen.

Strange and Mordo go to Wellhaven to find a way to awaken the children while the Ancient One and his remaining disciples protect the Sanctum from the final swarm of monsters. Strange manages to enter the Dark Dimension through the children's minds and retrieve their astral energy. Mordo however still bitter towards Strange slips into the Dark Dimension and makes a deal with Dormammu to betray the Ancient One and help him take over the world in exchange for empowerment.

The Ancient One and his pupils battle bravely, but all of the remaining apprentices are consumed by the monsters and the Ancient One is forced to use a powerful spell to kill the monsters. Exhausted from the spell, the Ancient One collapses only to be killed by the traitorous Mordo. Strange and Wong find the Ancient One's body and briefly mourn his death. Wong then gives Strange the Ancient One's amulet known as the Eye of Agamotto which greatly enhances its wearer's power and serves as the symbol of the Sorcerer Supreme.

Wong battles Mordo while Strange tries to stop Dormmamu's return but Wong is injured by Mordo forcing Strange to save Wong. Strange then fights and defeats Mordo rather easily with his newfound power, but is too late to stop Dormmamu who emerges from the minds of the children. Dormmamu punishes Mordo by eating him and then smashes the door to the nexus releasing the rest of his minions into Earth. Strange attempts to battle Dormmamu but finds himself unable to harm the god-like being and has the Eye snatched from him.

With some advice from Wong that Dormmamu is a creature made of pure magic, Strange realizes that he can use the same ability he used against Mordo to defeat Dormmamu. He retrieves the Eye from Dormmamu and then absorbs the evil despot into it thus sealing Dormmamu away forever.

Strange appears to Dr. Atwater in a dream and assures her the changes he has undergone and shows her that the children are now awake. Now clad in the Robes of the Sorcerer Supreme, Strange pays a visit to April's grave and then returns to the Sanctum Santorum with Wong who discuss the upcoming battles they face, as well as several new students inluding one named Clea. Strange then shuts the door of the Sanctum and the credits roll.


Essentially this movie is a re-telling of Doctor Strange's origins. In the general sense of story it is very faithful as it begins with Doctor Strange as an arrogant jerk getting into a car crash that destroys his hands and drives him to persue the Ancient One hoping for a cure resulting in him learning the Mystic Arts and becoming the new Sorcerer Supreme eventually. However for many of the characters this movie was not very faithful to the source material at all.

1. Wong and Baron Mordo's changes
In the comics, the Ancient One had only Mordo as a student before Strange came along and Mordo was a traitorous, cowardly, but powerful wretch who sought from the very beginning to kill the Ancient One and steal his powers as opposed to the barbaric, arrogant warrior he is shown as in this movie. Wong was never present in the comics during Strange's training in the Himalayas and in fact did not come along until after Strange returned to America, also Wong is supposed to Strange's servant not his mentor.

2. The Ancient One's Death, and the lack of the Vishanti
The Ancient One did not die at the hands of Mordo in the comics either and lived for quite a while after Strange's training up until the confrontation with the god Shuma-Gorath which resulted in the Ancient One having to kill himself to keep Shuma from coming through his mind. His death in the movie is rather lame and really undermines his power as the Sorcerer Supreme. And finally, the three deities who govern all magic known as The Vishanti are NEVER ONCE mentioned in this movie other than the mention of the Eye of Agamotto which apparantly just wearing makes you the Sorcerer Supreme.

Also, Strange NEVER ONCE says any of his catch-phrases which is simply unforgivable! I was hoping at least to hear him say "By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth!".

Plot Analysis

One of these mystics is totally not a rip-off of Raven; right Marvel?

Nitpicking aside lets get into the real problems with this movie. First off there are way too many disposible characters in this movie. The many individual mystics we see fighting alongside Mordo and Wong against Dormmamu's monster barely have any lines, are only characterized by the element of magic they use, and serve only to be killed off before the film's climax. Also there is the shoe-horned in love-interest Dr. Atwater whom we are never given any backstory on, and whose sub-plot is never adequately resolved, and then there are the flash-backs with April which are also quite tacked on and only serve to provide a tragedy in Strange's life.

This movie seems to have a very hard time showing the passage of time, especially in the 2nd act with Strange in the Himalayas. The way the movie progresses it seems like Strange arrives at the monastery, gets over his life-long guilt, masters magic, martial arts, and swordplay, and then defeats the bane of all existence all in the course of one week. If this was the intention however I have to call complete bullcrap on it, in the comics it took Strange many years of study and training to attain his mastery over magic, and yet this movie just depicts magic as something you just have to "percieve" in order to master. Also this move succumbs to the dreaded "Chosen One is automatically awesome at everything" cliche which really leaves fans of the character face-palming in disbelief of Strange's training being a Karate Kid psuedo-philisophical regiment in which performing menial chores somehow prepares you for combat.

And finally this might classify as more of a nitpick, but its something that I feel fans of the comics may not like. While the magical combat is really well done in this movie with the hand-gestures and eye-pleasing blasts and explosions, it greatly resembles fight scenes from Avatar: The Last Airbender more than mystic combat from the comics. Each character other than Strange and the Ancient One wields only ONE particular brand of magic with Mordo conjuring weapons, Wong manipulating sand, Unnamed Shirtless Guy using red energy blasts, and Unnamed Guy with Staff controlling plants etc. While Doctor Strange is indeed a accomplished martial artist in the comics I felt that this movie put way too much emphasis on physical combat which is something that magicians typically try their best to avoid in the Marvel Universe (and pretty much all of fantasy in general).

Acting and Art Direction

The voice acting in this movie is also rather off. Despite Doctor Strange being one of the most vibrant and theatrical characters in the Marvel comics universe, Bryce Johnson plays him as very wooden and uninterested in anything; even during the realization of his damaged hands Strange sounds like he has only been minorly inconvenienced as opposed to having his career and life effectively ruined. Another odd casting choice is Kevin Michael Richardson as Mordo, while he gives a better performance than Bryce Johnson, Kevin Richardson's booming, obviously African-American, tough-guy voice really doesn't fit the traitorous Karl Amadeus Mordo. Everyone else is cast okay, but having your lead character sound incredibly bored the whole time really hurts the film as a whole.

The animation is decent but nothing really special, there are a few moments of wonky animation such as unintentional slow falling, anime-ish expressions (see Mordo screaming before he gets eaten) and some moments of  poorly synched dialogue with mouth movement. The backgrounds are great but the star of the show in terms of art design is definitely the Nexus, it perfectly resembles Steve Ditko's original work on Strange Tales with its surreal almost indescribable imagery that simply must be seen to be believed. Music is rather unmemorable and does the bare minimum of keeping the tone of the scene, and there is really no particular piece to call out.


In short this movie is very flawed, but enjoyable. Despite Bryce Johnson's mediocre voice work, lackluster time progression, disposable characters, and general unfaithfulness to the source material I did enjoy this movie, but was not too dazzled with it. There sadly is not much to compare it to at the moment as this is only Strange's second non-cameo film appearance, so right now this film is the "best" adaptation of the character. I'd recommend it for at least a rental if you're interested in getting introduced the character of Doctor Strange or just like the Lionsgate animated Marvel films. By the All-Seeing Eye of Agamotto I pray you enjoyed this review, and I bid you farewell.

No comments:

Post a Comment