Marvel’s Master of the Mystic Arts gets the Lionsgate straight-to-DVD treatment and Doctor Strange immediately becomes the best of the animated Marvel movies to date by staying true to the basics set out by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, forty years ago. The latest installment in the casefiles of Public Security Section 9 finds the team without the services of The Major in the movie, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – Solid State Society – a situation that makes things even stranger than usual for the remaining members.
Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme
The latest in an ongoing series of Marvel characters to be given an animated movie showcase, Doctor Strange is one of the oddest heroes on the company’s roster. His journey from self-involved surgeon to Master of the Mystic Arts is unlike that of any other superhero.
In the comics, Stephen Strange was an arrogant, selfish surgeon who lost the use of his hands in a car accident. Unwilling to lower himself to teaching his skills to others, he spent his considerable fortune tracking down leads to cures for his ruined hands. After spending everything he had, Strange learned of a monastery in Tibet where he might find a cure.
Arriving at the monastery, he discovered that the cure involved studying under a wizened individual called The Ancient One – something he saw as a huge hoax. When he stumbled on a plot by one of The Ancient One’s students, Baron Mordo, to slay his master and take the power of The Sorcerer supreme, Mordo silenced him with a spell. Thus, Strange was compelled to study magic in order to overcome Mordo’s spell and warn The Ancient One.
Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme hits most of the important plot points from the Lee-Ditko origin, but adds backstory that explains why Strange became the arrogant, self-involved character he is before the accident. A number of other students are added to the story to give The Ancient One a team to send out to fight appearances by various magical threats engineered by The Dread Dormammu – an evil being made of pure magic who seeks to enter our dimension to destroy a dimensional gate that bleed all dimensions into all other dimensions.
Since Strange doesn’t become The Sorcerer supreme until well into the film, the screenwriter, Greg Johnson, has to keep things interesting while our hero-to-be learns to deal with the reality of magic. The additional characters in combination with The Ancient One, his faithful retainer, Wong, and Mordo [not Baron Mordo here] and the multi-pronged attacks by Dormammu’s creatures are balanced against Strange’s backstory to provide more depth of character development than we saw even in the Iron Man feature.
The film’s design is bold and colorful in ways that wouldn’t work with any other character – Steve Ditko would certainly recognize the ways these designs have evolved from his original take on the character, but they aren’t so strange as to confuse viewers who may not have read the comics. Johnson’s direction is spot on for both the backstory and Strange’s discovery of the reality of magic – as well as the various battles between The Ancient One’s students and Dormammu’s nasties.
Once Strange becomes Doctor Strange, this time as Master of the Mystic Arts, the ensuing battles between Strange and Mordo, and Strange and Dormmamu, are works of dazzling bursts of color and action. The successful completion of Doctor Strange: Master of The Mystic Arts may have even sped up the process of a live-action movie [if a number of internet rumors are correct], but the most important thing is that the film is the first Marvel animated feature to warrant that kind of potential influence.
The long and short of it is this: not only is Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme the best of Marvel’s animated features to date, it also better than all but a few of the live-action Marvel movies. Yeah. It’s that good!
Features include: The Best of Marvel Video Game Cinematics [some amazing CG work, but it has nothing to do with this film]; Who Is Doctor Strange? [a featurette that looks at the creation of the comics character and his history]; A first Look At Avengers Reborn [a peek at Marvel’s next animated project – featuring the first characters created specifically for the series of animated features], and Doctor Strange Concept Art.
Grade: Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme – A
Grade: Features – C
Final Grade: B+
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – Solid State Society 3-Disc Set
It’s two years since Stand Alone Complex – 2nd Gig, and Public Security Section 9 is under the leadership of a new commanding officer, its least cyberneticized member, Togusa – who has made a few concessions to his new position by getting some additional cybernetic improvements.
Gone are the shared intelligence AI’s, the Tachikomas, replaced by a hulking, AI-free model that incapable of initiative – a problem for Batou at a crucial juncture. Apparently, the temperamental, philosophical Tachikomas are better suited for use by Section 9 than their self-contained replacements.
The deaths of thirteen agents of the disbanded Siak Republic in Indonesia leads the team to a former Siak colonel who mistakes them for agents of The Puppeteer – whom he expects to kill him. Before they can learn more, the colonel kills himself. Since he certainly seemed to want to live, his suicide immediately sparks further suspicions in the team. Events lead to a series of children who have been placed in the care of senior citizens – but it seems that these seniors are dying from a most unusual computer connection.
While Section 9 is investigating from one point of view, The Major has become interested in the case because of another point of interest and in the course of her investigations, she encounters Batou. Once again, there is a cybernetic threat that endangers not only the country of Japan, but the whole world – and in a unique new way.
Like the previous versions of Ghost in the Shell [the original movie, the two seasons of the television series], Solid State Society looks at what it means to be human – what it means to be alive; what it means to have a soul [referred to in all forms of the series as a ghost] – and what is the nature of the soul, anyway?
The animation is feature quality, or marginally better than the TV series. The melding of CG and 2D animation is as seamless as ever. The problem is that, while thought-provoking and action packed, the script isn’t up to the level of either the original movie, or the sequel TV series. Thus, we aren’t quite as involved on the character – except with Togusa, for whom the case produces the potential for a family tragedy.
Overall, though, Solid State Society remains head-and-shoulders above the vast majority of anime´ with its sheer intelligence and production values.
Features include: Disc One: Play Movie With Storyboard Subtitles; Uchikomatic Days, and DVD Credits; Disc Two: World Work File [featurette on the creation of Solid State Society]; Making of Tachikoma Robot [the unveiling of a real, small scale Tachikoma]; Anime´ + Car Design: Designing the Future Car; English Production Interview [the problems of translating such a complex story into English – and how issues in present day Japan influenced the story]; Mitsuhisa Ishikawa [Production I.G. founder] Interview; English Trailer, and Japanese Trailer; Disc Three: Solid State Society Soundtrack Album.
Please note: This review doesn’t even begin to skim the surface of the complexity that Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – Solid State Society. If you’re looking for smart, incisive, action packed science fiction in any and all forms, you must check out the entire Ghost in The Shell catalogue.
Grade: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – Solid State Society – B+
Grade: Features – B+
Final Grade: B+
Review Posted by Sheldon Wiebe
Originally Posted on 09/05/07
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