What we haven't yet covered is Doctor Stephen Strange, Sorcerer Supreme. He's one of the oldest Marvel characters, created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Stephen's story is that of a brilliant neurosurgeon who becomes egotistical and callous because of his great talent until he is met with a terrible accident that severs the nerves in his hands - completely destroying his fine motor skills and ending his career as a surgeon forever. Desperate for a cure, he tries everything, and eventually finds his way to Tibet. In the temple of a sorcerer known only as the Ancient One, Stephen saves the sorcerer from his evil apprentice and recommits himself to a higher purpose as the defender of every soul in his dimension from cosmic horrors we know not of.
Doctor Strange is one of the oldest and most powerful characters in the Marvel universe (y'know, when World War Hulk isn't nerfing him to hell and back). This is the guy who battles Cthulhu on a regular basis...and kicks his ass handily. So, one would think that a very, very big threat would be needed for him to contend with. Well, as this is an origin story, we don't really have him on the level of fighting the primordial beasts from before the beginning of time.
I'll go ahead and say it, this movie is really good. I mean, really good. If Marvel isn't following this movie as a blueprint for when he makes his Marvel Cinematic Universe appearance in 2016 (where they will be putting Sherlock Holems in the cloak of Doctor Strange), then they better have something more awesome - because this story has it all. It gives more motivation and backstory for Stephen, we see very palpably in a montage the struggle he faces in having his fine motor skills callously taken from him, and we feel the triumph when he rises to a higher purpose under the Ancient One's tutelage.
The film begins with Stephen Strange (Bryce Johnson) as a cold, callous neurosurgeon living in New York and refusing to take any cases that don't get him either a substantial payout or high recognition for his craft. Eventually, he is brought a case of a child with strange brain activity as well as the comatose state of several others with the same condition...and is witness to the girl's nightmare of a face wreathed in flames, upon which he - understandably freaked out - refuses the case and leaves. Then comes his terrible accident, where - in this version - he loses control of his car upon seeing apparitions of the children. As stated above, the nerves in his hands are damage - he will never be able to so much as hold a scalpel again.
However, the good doctor refuses to take this lying down and we get a short montage of him speaking with various specialists - who all say that there's nothing they can do - coupled with others speaking of how his wealth and his lines of credit are no longer good, as we see him sinking deeper and deeper into despair. Even to the point of preparing himself to jump off a bridge...until a mysterious man by the name of Wong (Paul Nakauchi) comes to him with one last potential cure, hidden away deep in Tibet...
The entire sequence is quite intense and you really do feel for Stephen as he sinks deeper and deeper into misery. It also doesn't take up half the film, because they know the audience wants to get to the good stuff, and the film does deliver on that.
|Talk to the hand!|
Now seems like a good enough time to mention some of the backstory, so here we go: Stephen had a little sister who needed surgery for...a brain something something...and she died on the operating table when he took the case after several other surgeons refused to do it. In the original comics, this was kind of the case with his sister - then named Donna - who died of a cramp while swimming, though I don't know if that lore has been touched upon in recent years. This is represented in the film by a large, stone wall that Stephen is set to break down every day, only for it to be built back up again the next day.
From there...well, I've given you half the plot...the rest, you'll have to watch the film for. Needless to say, it's a fun ride that gives just enough to get new viewers invested without bogging them down over the heavier concepts that Doctor Strange's mythos brings to the table. There's only one mention of Agamotto - indirectly, via the Eye of Agamotto - and none of the Vishanti or the other powers that Stephen and other sorcerers call upon for power. Magic is also explained from a more scientific angle - the Ancient One no doubt trying to speak to Stephen's experience as a surgeon - while still retaining the fact that it's, well, magic.
I actually prefer this, particular in light of how Thor took the route of "magic is science that we don't understand yet". That's fine, though it's a bit more difficult to say that with Doctor Strange, who is clearly not using some form of technology beyond some artifacts (like the aforementioned Eye). So I take it as "magic is science that we don't understand yet...top tip, you aren't going to understand it on this level. Ever."
|"Honey...you got real ugly..."|
A far cry from the Stephen Strange in the comics, who bound Dormammu to the Dark Dimension by knowing how to manipulate the Dread Lord's twisted sense of ethics.
Still, this film does achieve what it sets out to do - and does it well overall beyond a few minor complaints I have with it. It's a more than adequate and enjoyable ride of not quite ninety minutes, and a good introduction to anyone who is more than a little curious about Doctor Strange before his big movie comes out in 2016, but doesn't want to be completely swamped.
Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme is now available from MLG Productions and Lions Gate on DVD and on Netflix Instant Streaming.
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