Marvel's "What If... Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?" review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Marvel's "What If... Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?" review

Alexander Wallace explores the Dark Dimension.
We all have regrets. We have all made mistakes. We have all done things and then thought, at inconvenient times, that we really should not have done them. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you view things), we cannot go back and change them.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), the Marvel Cinematic Universe, having all of its supernatural wonders, is not necessarily bound to the constraints to which we frustratingly real people are subject. This is the fundamental conceit of the fourth episode of Marvel’s What If…? This one revolves around Stephen Strange, and how he tries to undo a mistake that he made.

In this world, Christine Palmer, Strange’s beau, is in his car on the fateful drive to the conference that in the film destroyed his hands. Here, his hands remain fine, but Palmer, voiced by Rachel McAdams, dies in the calamity. In his grief, Strange finds Kamar-Taj and tries to master the mystic arts in order to bring her back from the dead. Strange is voiced once again by Benedict Cumberbatch, who portrays his famous role well in a situation that is much darker than his debut.

What If... Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands? is nothing less than a probing of the soul of Stephen Strange. More so than any film he’s been in, this episode is about what he is willing to do to bring about a world he wants. He puts himself through all sorts of hell to gain the powers he feels he needs, damn anyone else. This puts him at odds with others in the community of sorcerers, and they doubtlessly come to blows.

Strange is doubtlessly the great strength of this episode. Christine is perhaps its greatest weakness. The episode clearly shows how in love they are, but Christine as a character is underwritten. Her death, as unfortunate as it is to say, is a clear-cut example of fridging; her entire presence in the story is to provide a motivation for Strange to go on his quest of vengeance against time. She’s the only weak link in an otherwise strong chain.

The visuals here rival the film, and the Jack Kirby comics upon which the film was based. Rendered here in the series’ cell-shaded animation, this episode more than any other in the series looks like a comic book, particularly those from the sixties. It is trippy, but a darker, more brooding trippy, befitting the tone, if that makes any sense. It is a myriad of wonders being used in a quest that can only lead to disaster and ruin.

This episode is, as of yet, my second favorite (behind What If... the World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?). Christine is the only element of it that drags it down, as it constrains the plotting within a tired formula that the episode would have been better without. But it is otherwise a sterling character study, one well worth the watch.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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