What if…Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands has elevated the series to a much higher standard and is on par with the critically acclaimed Marvel Netflix shows such as Daredevil and The Punisher from a couple of years ago
The fourth episode of the anthology is set in an alternate universe where Stephen Strange and Christine Palmer are in a relationship. In the live-action movie Strange, a renowned neurosurgeon severely injures his hands in an accident and is unable to perform a surgery ever again. It is in fact the trauma of losing the ability to work again that led him to the Ancient One and sorcery to eventually become the Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange. In this universe, however, Christine Palmer loses her life in the accident and becomes the driving force in him to become Doctor Strange, who unfortunately feels the urge to go back in time to save Christine.
The basic outline of the story is reminiscent of the animated film Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, where the DC superhero The Flash goes back in time to save his mother who was murdered when he was a child. This choice causes a ripple in time and creates chaos across the globe. However, the similarities between the two stories end there. What if…Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands is a well-written engrossing watch with several layers of allegories and philosophies throughout the narrative.
The narrative focuses entirely on Strange which allows the 30-minute runtime to give his arc enough time to breathe. The primary theme of the story is how one’s trauma and obsession could have dire consequences for the person and those around him, regardless of his good intentions. Strange’s heartbreak leads him down a dangerous path which the Watcher (Jeffery Wright), who is also the narrator, warns the audience would happen. This idea of obsession turning a person into a monster is literally and metaphorically showcased through the character. It is very similar to the story in the video game The Last of Us Part 2, where Eli, the story’s protagonist, and her obsession turns her into someone else — someone who is just as bad if not worse than the people she is hunting down.
Stephen Strange’s story may not be as violent or brutal as Eli’s but it most certainly is just as tragic and depressing. His battle within himself and the dark narrative of the story are often not associated with Marvel and Disney productions. It is a departure from the MCU formula, even more so than the previous episode, What If… The World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?, which in itself broke new ground in terms of MCU stories
The cel-shading animation may have been a hit or miss for the previous episodes, but it hits the sweet spot in this episode. The vibrant visuals and the smooth transition between frames have benefitted from the animation style. There is a noticeable step up in quality in the sound design as well. Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, and Benedict Wong, who portrayed the live-action versions of the characters in Doctor Strange, return to voice the characters for this animated adaptation. Cumberbatch’s performance is undoubtedly the standout so far in the anthology. His voice-acting is on par with voice-acting legends Troy Baker, Nolan North, Mark Hamil, and Kevin Conroy.
The series has taken an upward trajectory in terms of quality after previous episodes, and if it can continue in the same vein, it could eclipse Loki as the best Disney Plus original series.