"Feast! Multiply! This world is ours!" -- Dormammu
Doctor Strange is Marvel's big magic guy. He was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and he's getting a new push in the comics. He's a bigger star now than he's ever been, comics-wise. He's in New Avengers, and he's all over the plethora of comic crossovers of late. He guest-starred in Marvel cartoons (once voiced by Dean Wormer from Animal House), and had a live-action TV movie in 1978. Now he's in his own movie-length cartoon on DVD.
This is a good thing, in concept. I will pay money for a superhero cartoon DVD. Marvel, DC, and the Hellboy DVD makers seem to know me personally and try to make me feel special.
Doc Strange's heyday was in the 1960s and 1970s, in freaky, cosmic fantasy stories by Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers, and Frank Brunner. I dug him most in Defenders. His archenemy was Dormammu, whose head was on fire and wore purple pants. He met the embodiment of Eternity, who, because it was the 1960s, had a high collar and hip boots and a shirt with puffy sleeves that you could see the universe through.
Doc is the most stylish of all heroes. Besides his high-collar cape, he had a blue puffy shirt. He wore swinging medallions and lived in a house with a tic-tac-toe symbol on his bay window, his Sanctum Sanctorum. Best of all, he rocked the 1970s man-stache better than Magnum P.I.
So they took a lot of that out.
The cartoon has a lot of Strange's stuff in it: Wong, Baron Mordo, the Ancient One, Dormammu, the Eye of Agamotto, and best of all, the Sanctum with the bay window. But the pieces don't add up.
It's just not freaky and phantasmagoric. That's Doctor Strange to me. This is a standard hero-quest story. Strange and Mordo fight with magic swords instead of magic. Instead of an army of lumbering Mindless Ones, Dormammu unleashes a swarm of flying green piranhas, which reminded me of the Simpsons episode "Whacking Day."
It falls into the same trap as another Marvel cartoon DVD, Invincible Iron Man. His origin story is told in lengthy, occasionally excruciating detail. I was ready for some magic fightin', and Doc was waxing on and waxing off in a kimono doing tai-chi in a village.
I recognize the writers had to do that. The general public knows magic as 'Arry Potter, and Doc's entire big-time career to the mundanes is a joke line in Spider-Man 2.
So they had to invest the viewer in the character. But it takes a long time.
Young 'Arry may have played a role in this. Strange has always done his magic stuff with mystic made-up words like Vishanti and Watoomb and Raggador. Harry Potter, somewhat more well known than Doc, also does his magic stuff with mystic made-up words. So maybe they didn't want Doc to seem like a ripoff. I want my freaky magic words! Thanks, Potter!
Now, the movie's story is good enough. The guts of the character are here, with the melodrama of Doc's quest to become magic, and Doc's character arc from jerk to sweetie. The big fights are pretty fun; the Ancient One has a squad of redshirts who each have different ways to use magic, and some of them get killed real good every time there's a fight.
Then it's like someone looked at their watch, so Strange jumps in his outfit for the end of the movie. It's a 21st-century version of his 1970s swinger outfit. Low collar. Knee-length coat. Very metro.
The most precise and delicate focus falls on Doctor Strange's hair. It's a changing, evolving, creature. He starts out with the Ditko-era close-crop with the little face-beard. Then he loses everything, including hair gel and a comb, because he grows a hillbilly beard. Then in a flashback, he's got the liberal arts sophomore chin-square. Then for the heroic final clash, there's even a shaving scene. He gives himself a little face-only beard. But never the rockin' 1970s man-stache. And he gets a white-streaked flippy-do which flops around on his head while he levitates. Again very metro.
The "Origin of Doctor Strange" featurette is very neat. It's obvious the cartoon's creators get Doc. But there's a disconnect between that and what shows up on screen.
The featurette has longtime Strange comics writers Steve Englehart and J.M. DeMatteis, and Stan Lee as himself. The best scene is in Englehart's den where he flips through a coffee table full of 1970s comics and shows off the covers and art.
The movie is satisfactory, and good in some parts. But it doesn't stir up the imagination. That's what the best Doctor Strange stories do.
Also, I really miss the man-stache.