Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Frank Review of "Doctor Strange" (2007)

The Short Version? A Doctor Strange cartoon wanting desperately to be anything but a Dr. Strange cartoon
What Is It? Cartoon Comic Adaptation
Who Is In It? Nobody.
Should I See It? No.

When I saw Captain America: The First Avenger the first time, I went with three friends. One was a former customer I was touching base with after many years, so our post-film bullshit session veered into a broader discussion of comic adaptations in the 21st century. We agreed that Marvel had really raised the standard in live action, but DC was still easily the tops in animation. Features like the direct-to-DVD Dr. Strange cartoon bear that out. I've watched the show several times... not repetitively, but rather through becoming so bored and irritated that I would dismiss it before continuing where I left off days and even weeks later. It took me a month or so just to finish the goddamned thing. It's a major step backward to the days when Hollywood lacked any faith in the material that it was licensing, taking only surface elements and taking them onto a standard Tinseltown formula. As was the the case for much of the 20th century, the end result is to produce a movie that fails to meet fan expectations and serves the uninitiated the same old shit with unnecessary comic book associations.

A Hollywood pitch version for Dr. Strange movie would be "Gregory House training under Dumbledore to battle Cthulu as directed by Darren Aronofsky." This flick, likely taking cues from a widely and justifiably ignored J. Michael Straczynski mini-series, was more like "The Matrix in the House of Flying Daggers." Stephen Strange is supposed to be a windbag asshole, but he's also possessed of a quiet cool and an acceptable degree of pollution. He may stand upright and even seem a bit uptight, but he's less Mr. Anderson than Don Draper. The man has imbibed, he's fucked around with girls half his age, he's done hash in the Village. If Robert Downey Junior hadn't already stuck the landing on Tony Stark, he could have downshifted a bit for Stephen Strange. A stick up the ass penitent with a seriously generic hero voice trying to snatch the pebble from sensei's palm ain't gonna fuckin' cut it.

Less than two minutes into the movie, it's already fucked. Mordo leads a team of kung-fu warriors with glowing energy tattoos who use magic to produce swords for chopping on giant cat monsters. Despite enlisting actual Asian actors, the flick still earns major demerits for the thick stereotypical "flied lice" accents. Strange encounters the group by chance, and his ability to see through their mystical camouflage pegs him as a person of interest by his eventual mentor, Wong, who has a full head of graying hairs. Aside from the names, none of this bears the slightest resemblance to the source material

In the comics, Strange was a prick disinterested in the thanks of a grateful patient, preferring money, booze and fast cars. In the movie, he turns away the needy and comatose children because he's soul dead after failing to save his diseased kid sister when he began practicing medicine. Again, the similarity between the two stories is slight, and the difference between entertaining cockiness and a desire to pummel the protagonist is immense. The parallels are much closer after Strange's crippling accident and vain attempts at full recovery, but in the books, you miss the shitheel, where the movie Strange is so dull and rotten, you root for his degradation. It's worth noting that one of the filmmakers comments on how the original comic origin spanned only a handful of panel, and that there was an entire movie to be made between them. My thinking is that the creators recognized that such details were better left to the imagination, rather than spelled out over fifty fucking drag-assed minutes of screen time so wretchedly derivative as to reference It's A Wonderful Life with Charlie Chan in the Clarence role. Further, a far superior extended origin was available to adapt, but as there is no indication the filmmakers actually read a single solitary Dr. Strange comic, it's no wonder they missed that fact.

Besides the hoary Asian (India inclusive) stereotypes, tired character designs, and liberal borrowing from cheesy Saturday morning martial arts films, the clearest indication that the filmmakers have no idea of what they're doing is when Dr. Strange and company travel to another dimension. In the sixties, Steve Ditko created surreal Daliesque worldscapes where the laws of physics could not apply. They were so bizarre, readers assumed he dropped acid, and comics have continued to copy them for fifty years. With all the potential of animation, the movie renders these dimensions as caverns. Gray, rocky caverns. Period. Dormammu? Just animated fire with a horned skull silhouette in the center, voiced by some douchebag talking into a fan. It's as big a disappointment as the Galactus and Parallax of the movies.

In the comics, Dr. Strange's spells were a visual tour de force, but he was not above engaging in physical combat with a metaphysical twist. In the movie, Strange stands around with his dandy New Romantic looks catching other guys swords (*ahem*) and casting energy blasts. The coolest creatures he combats are green CGI piranha bats, which admittedly is kind of cool, but the exception proves the rule. Their impact is muted by virtually all the threats in the movie being legions of animalistic creatures. These include wolves made of shadows and more rampaging giant cat things, which could have easily been improved upon with Mindless Ones, but the film's infidelity is only outmatched by its lack of imagination. The final insult is comic images playing during the credits that strain to find the least visually interesting images from the sixties, and still manage to outshine the flick. In one and one quarter hour, anything cool about Dr. Strange is rendered banal.


  • Marvel Video Game Cinematics What it says. Thirteen cut scenes without context from two games and a music video "best of" compilation. Still better than the actual movie.

  • The Origin of Doctor Strange Often the best part of comic adaptation DVDs are the behind the scenes interviews with the creators of the books over the years. While this is no exception, thirteen minutes is an exceptionally short running time, especially when half of it is shared with filmmakers trying to validate their going far astray from the seminal works being discussed. Stan Lee, Steve Englehart and J.M. DeMatteis are charming, animated, and informative. Combined with the art on display, they do an excellent job of informing the viewer of how ineptly their stories were translated to animation. To accentuate that point, the filmmakers are all stiff, semi-monotonal fucktards who name drop creators without a exhibiting a hint of their influence in the finished product. Hopefully, the first six minutes will get reused in a more worthwhile venue if the proposed Dr. Strange live action movie arrives in 2013.

  • A First Look At: Avengers Reborn Kid progeny of the Avengers in a dystopic future. I've seen worse designs, but this is all talking head interviews.

  • Doctor Strange Concept Art Not really. Just animatics.

  • Trailer Gallery Nothing signals a quality production like opening with the trailer to Delta Farce starring Larry the Cable Guy. Also, The Dresden Files, Ultimate Avengers: The Movie, Ultimate Avengers 2, & The Invincible Iron Man.

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