The following review was originally written for Pop Culture Shock. It is about the Doctor Strange animated feature, not the live action film.
Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme
Distributed by Lionsgate Home Entertainment
The Marvel Animated Features, an ongoing set of direct-to-TV and DVD animated movies, have ranged in quality from impressive to mediocre. Ultimate Avengers and Ultimate Avengers 2 were good enough, combining decent animation and passable stories; both movies were neither perfect nor terrible. The Invincible Iron Man, however, was so poor that I honestly wonder how it could have possibly been given the green light.
But I love superhero stories. Despite not being a comic collector, I love following and reading about superheroes, their past and present story arcs, and their rogues galleries. So despite the average-at-best showing of its three predecessors, I picked up Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme. Thankfully, it wasn’t poor. It settles with being just okay, though it could have been far, far more.
A brilliant neurosurgeon more concerned with making his employer money than actually saving lives, haunted by both supernatural visions and the ghosts of his own past, Dr. Stephen Strange isn’t the jolliest of fellows. After being in a horrific car accident, one that mangles his hands to the point where he can barely operate a door handle, let alone perform surgery, Stephen loses everything searching for a cure.
Deprived of all hope, he is approached by Wong, a mythical man of the east, and told to head to Tibet. Strange takes on the exhaustive journey, and soon comes face to face with a world beyond what he thought possible, one of powers beyond human comprehension. Soon, he will have to unravel a mystery that threatens the very Earth itself, and face both an encroaching evil and his own lingering guilt.
Storytelling and Characters
Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme differs from the comic book origins of its titular character somewhat.
Comic Strange retained the use of his hands; he just couldn’t perform delicate surgery anymore. The movie’s Dr. Strange, however, has to contend with a far greater loss of function. Seeing the man trying so hard just to unlock his apartment door, forced to ask for help, is much more powerful than if he simply lost the ability to be a surgeon with no other repercussions.
In the comics, Dr. Strange sought out the Ancient One in Tibet for a cure, whereas the animated movie instead shows the Ancient One and his order seeking out Strange. This fits Stephen’s firm beliefs in science over superstition; every method he had pursued had been rooted in modern medicine in some way, and he had never gone as far as to pursue so-called “magic” as a possible remedy.
Another new element that really works is Dr. Strange’s lament over being unable to save his sister, April. His inability to get over her death makes his curt demeanor and descent into despair all the more believable. However, points taken away for having a female character die just to progress a man’s story, something far too prevalent in storytelling today.
Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme does not remain consistently good nor consistently bad throughout. For every moment that the story captures your interest, there is another moment where it utterly fails to. For every smart move the movie makes, it also makes at least one move in a direction that leaves you wondering why.
Take Mordo, for instance. His betrayal just happens out of nowhere. It felt like I was watching Revenge of the Sith all over again: here is this character that I know, based on established lore, is going to be a traitor… and yet, when it finally happens, it makes little sense given his actions prior. Mordo’s unmotivated betrayal could have been handled a lot better.
Actually, much of the film should have been handled a lot better. An hour and a half felt like too little time to finish the story, and while some details are nicely fleshed out, others, such as Strange’s training and his final battle with Dormammu, are unnecessarily rushed, almost as if the creators were bumping their heads against the roof of a budget. Speaking of which…
The animation in The Sorcerer Supreme is a mixed bag at best. Some scenes, whether elaborate fights or moments of drama, are animated beautifully. But others look absolutely bargain-basement, the kind of stuff you’d find in bad Saturday morning cartoons or low-budget anime. When at its best, this is a very nice-looking animated film. When at its worst, it’s laughable.
Fortunately, at least one area of The Sorcerer Supreme remains consistent throughout. Guy Michelmore, who scored the previous three Marvel Animated Features, returns with an orchestral soundtrack befitting the film’s moments of mayhem and melancholy. Though the tunes are your typical superhero fare, Michelmore’s score fits very well.
The voice acting is equally high quality, professional stuff, despite some of the dialogue not quite hitting the mark.
Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme manages to entice and entertain, but it could have done so much more. As an alternate take on Dr. Strange’s origins, it does reasonably well. Dr. Strange fans won’t be disappointed, nor will anybody who enjoyed The Invincible Iron Man or either of the Ultimate Avengers films. More discerning viewers, though, will find themselves longing for more.