For my money, Dr. Strange is probably one of the most uneven characters in the Marvel gallery ever created, while others of his ilk are basically one sided. Spider-Man was too whiny for me, Iron Man was too weak, and Fantastic Four was much too irritating to enjoy, but Dr. Strange is a character with great potential that had a comic series that was as dull as day old bread. Yet, this character‘s appearances in other series were exciting, and his television movie from the seventies was also decent. I just hope the live action adaptation gives me a reason to enjoy the character again. For now, here‘s another direct to DVD Marvel movie, “Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme,” an unofficial prequel to the movie. “Doctor Strange” is thankfully a step in the right direction, depicting the mythos of Doctor Strange as a murky and dark world filled with eerie sights and demons.
Told with a competent pacing, this is of course the origin of the title character who begins as a selfish and self-rewarding brain surgeon who loses primary use of his hands after a deadly car crash. Children around the city are going into comas with brain embolisms and violent nightmares that not even the best surgeons can solve. After a failed attempt at suicide, Strange is confronted by a man named Wong who offers an answer, and the Sorcerer Supreme is born. The writing team of course borrows primarily from the typical hero origin and mostly make Dr. Strange a Luke Skywalker entity who bears great power, but has issues and doubts to overcome, while the true Ancient One guides him and feeds his confidence a la Yoda sans the backward speech.
Not to mention there is Strange’s confrontation with the dark lord, and his apprentice that heavily paralleled “Return of the Jedi.” That’s forgiven though since the film has a very lively energy that never drags it down into a murky melodrama. Strange is very well characterized as his despicable selfishness and cruelty are focused on a more bigger issue involving his sister. Wong is no longer a simple servant who serves at Strange’s beckon call, but a key mentor in the formation of Strange, the sorcerer. Dormammu (heavily resembling the Balrog in “Lord of the Rings,” FYI) is also a truly hideous and threatening presence who lurks in the darkness. He sends along his minions and slowly murders the army of the Ancient One in battles with large monsters.
All the while Mordo watches in the wings and becomes a pariah. Every character here is done some form of justice, with the broadly written archetypes and stereotypes no longer present, and “Doctor Strange” surely takes a step forward in a hopefully good film. Bryce Johnson is strong as Doctor Strange, while Paul Nakauchi is a perfect compliment as Wong. Recurring voice actor Kevin Michael Richardson is great as usual as Mordo, while Jonathan Adams is creepy as Dormammu. The animation is much improved this time around, with more defined character designs that tower over the rigid “Ultimate Avengers,” and bland “Invincible Iron Man.”
The fantasy-horror elements are well conceived even if the inevitable twist involving Mordo is obvious from the get go. However, the delivery of Mordo’s betrayal is rather fantastic, and the showdown between Strange and Dormammu’s new apprentice topples anything Marvel has come up with in the past years. “Doctor Strange” has the ability to be a fantastic fantasy trilogy, and this should serve as a template for the live action films. This is probably the best of the Marvel direct to DVD offerings, and that’s because the writers have a clear understanding of what makes Doctor Strange so entertaining. They pair his world with a healthy dose of horror and gothic fantasy. With great voice acting, and a competent story, this is a step in the right direction for the Strange mythos, in the end.