Dr. Strange DVD

When Marvel released the news that they were producing direct-to-DVD animated films based on their characters, my initial reaction was: “It’s about time.”

DC characters have been a given in the Saturday morning and weekday afternoon cartoon lineups since 1992. First there was Batman: The Animated Series followed by Superman, Batman Beyond, Teen Titans, and The Batman. Now in 2007, we’ve also seen the addition of The Legion of Superheroes on KidsWB. In that same time, Marvel’s major contributions to the animated superhero universe have been limited to the X-Men animated series (1992) and the Spiderman animated series (1994). And while you can’t take away the House of Ideas’ current box-office reign (Blade, X-Men, Ghost Rider, Spiderman, Electra, Daredevil, Hulk, Punisher, Fantastic Four) versus DC’s latest cinematic releases (Batman Begins, Superman Returns, Constantine), you’d think that Marvel would’ve jumped into the animated game earlier.

Well, better late than never.

The first direct-to-DVD Marvel feature out of the gate was Ultimate Avengers followed by its sequel, Ultimate Avengers 2. The third animated film, The Invincible Ironman, was released in January of this year. Now, with Dr. Strange, that makes four Marvel DVDs. In my opinion, both Ultimate Avengers films were less than impressive and The Invincible Ironman was just a big mess. But with Dr. Strange, I think Marvel is finally onto something.

The feature starts with a rollicking intro scene where we see a group of mysterious magical warriors attempting to stop a giant iguana-like creature. No one can see the battle and the creature’s final defeat except for an innocent passer-by named Dr. Stephen Strange. Strange dismisses the incident and continues to make his way to the hospital where we are introduced to his distinguished surgical credentials and his House-like bedside manners. But when he loses the use of his hands in a car accident, Strange will do anything to doctor once again. After exhausting traditional medical options (which includes a visit to a certain Dr. Donald Blake aka Thor), the disheartened doctor is about to pull a Jimmy Stewart from a bridge when he is approached by Wong, an emissary to the powerful Ancient One. Wong tells Strange that the Ancient One can heal his hands if he is willing to travel to Tibet. So after a long journey across the globe, a Jesus-like looking Strange arrives at The Ancient One’s Tibet fortress and begins his Karate Kid/Kill Bill 2-styled training. In time, the Ancient One provides Strange with the physical and spiritual healing he needs before revealing Strange’s ultimate fate as the Sorcerer Supreme. Of course, the real drama kicks in when Mordo, the Ancient One’s star pupil, feels slighted by Strange’s presence and deserts the side of angels to help the evil and exiled Dormammu. The finale sees Dr. Strange use his medical expertise, don the powerful Eye of Agamotto, confront the treacherous Mordo, and force Dormammu back to the dimension he came from.

As you watch Dr. Strange, particularly in the middle of the film after the action moves to Tibet, you get the sense that the producers were watching Batman Begins and The Last Samurai. The “foreigner with a destiny” archetype comes off strong and slightly contrived. Nonetheless, I’ll give them credit for staying focused on Strange and providing him with some actual characterization. There are moments when the emotion comes off heavy-handed, especially in the flashbacks to Strange and his deceased sister that go dramatically overboard and on the verge of laughable. But even those scenes work in demonstrating Strange’s motivations. The producers even establish Mordo as a good foil to Strange. Their relationship culimates in a great line towards the end of the film where Mordo declares that he uses the blade to destroy and Strange replies by stating he uses the blade to heal.

On the technical front, this is Marvel’s best animated direct-to-DVD film. The animation is sleek and can be described as Peter Chung (Aeon Flux, Pitch Black: Dark Fury) meets Jeff Matsuda (Jackie Chan Adventures, The Batman). CGI is used but only sparingly (cars, planes, backgrounds) and not to a distracting/detracting degree. The voice talent is spot on, except for the obvious miscasting of Dormammu. Halfway through the movie we’re warned of the sizable threat that is Dormammu. But when he finally appears (in pretty cool fashion), Dormammu’s voice is so light that his presence becomes anticlimactic. Finally, the score really stands out. Not since Batman: Mask of the Phantasm have I heard an animated movie score that rivaled the energy and scope you might experience in an epic live-action movie. The end credits also deserve a nod with the running showcase of vintage Dr. Strange comic artwork.

Overall, of the four DVDs released to date, this is probably the only Marvel animated flick I’d comfortably add to my collection. Strange purists be warned; the producers did take liberties with the Sorcerer Supreme’s origin. But if its in the name of good filmaking, I’m all for it. I like Dr. Strange as a character, the story was good, the animation was first-rate, and the overall production was solid. So whether you choose to buy it or rent it, definitely check out Dr. Strange.


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