Thursday, February 26, 2009

Strange, M.D.

The quality of Marvel's direct-to-dvd features has been less than consistent. Their initial offering - Ultimate Avengers - was fundamentally a mediocre work, though it was not without promise. Unfortunately, their two follow up pictures, Ultimate Avengers 2 and The Invincible Iron Man, were both profoundly disappointing. We expressed our surprise last month when Next Avengers turned out to be a better film than we expected.

There is, however, a missing title from this list: Doctor Strange had fallen between the cracks. Perhaps it was timing: Doctor Strange was released during the summer of 2007, when we had other superhero properties available to view. Or maybe we were too dissatisfied with the poor quality of its predecessors to spend the time or money on yet another attempt by Marvel to challenge DC's domination of animation.

Whatever the reason, we did not see it at the time. And, as time passed, our interest waned further. We'd heard little about the picture, so there seemed little reason to track it down.

There were two factors that caused us to reconsider. The first was the aforementioned "Next Avengers", which, while far from perfect, showed us that Marvel was not incapable of producing a worthwhile animated movie. The second factor was the price tag: we found this for four dollars at Best Buy.

And so it was that we sat down to peruse this picture. What we saw was something of a conundrum: while we enjoyed the film we saw, we are uneasy with it being labeled Doctor Strange.

As a suspenseful supernatural spin on The Matrix, the picture was entirely enjoyable. We found the characters intriguing, particularly some of the minor ones. The story of the main character, which certainly involved elements of Doctor Strange's origin, was likewise enjoyable.

The very notion of devoting an entire movie to Doctor Strange's origin is a questionable one. While characters like Spider-Man and Iron Man are in some ways defined by their back story, Doctor Strange's origin is far less integral. What's more, he is traditionally more of a supporting character than a main one: his role in the comics is often that of a mystic advisor.

The movie removes or changes many of the Doctor's more famous elements: the incantations, for instance, are entirely absent. The result, while still enjoyable, simply did not feel like Doctor Strange.

The pacing was slow, but always engaging. We felt that this film was attempting a similar goal the makers of The Invincible Iron Man reached for. But, while that picture failed, this succeeded.

The picture is rated PG-13, though we are at a loss to explain why. There is little blood shed in the film, no nudity, and the language - at least so far as we remember - does not descend into vulgarity. There is death and violence, but the youth of today is surely desensitized to this sort of thing. Though we doubt many young children have the patience to enjoy this, the content alone does not seem to merit anything beyond a PG. It is our supposition that the rating may owe more to marketing than logic: the target audience for this film is repulsed by weaker ratings.

Even so, fans of animation would be wise to consider this. While fans of Doctor Strange may not recognize what they're watching, skilled direction and pacing have crafted a film that's worth seeing. Though we'd have preferred something more in tune with its source material, we are happy to admit that, once again, we were pleasantly surprised.

This bodes well for the day Hulk Vs. decreases in price.

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