Retro Marvel TV
He's Doctor Strange, not Doctor Interesting

Bob Chipman | 23 Jul 2014 12:00
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Since this is a protracted origin story, you'll be unsurprised to learn that anything remotely eventful in the comic-book sense is confined to the third act. The bulk of the film is spent as we watch Strange have various conversations with Lindmer and Clea as he decides whether or not he wants to accept his role as Sorcerer Supreme or even buys into the idea at all in a "man of science versus the supernatural" sense. It should also go without saying that references to the Marvel Cosmology are all but entirely absent: There's no Dormamu, Cytorak, Watoomb, etc; all swapped out for generic religious/mystical, mythic references that'd draw bored eyerolls amid the laziest D&D campaign.

The dull cheapness of the whole affair can't be overstated. About 80% of the "magic" we get to see are riffs on the Jedi Mind-Trick (with, admittedly, an initially fun conceit of Lindmer explaining what actual functions of the mind/body he's manipulating to influence someone) or optical effects involving glowing hands and eyes. When Strange journeys to The Astral Plane to wrest Clea's mind free from Morgan, it resembles the cheap "surreal" montages used to depict drug abuse in old public service films. Morgan summons two minions over the course of the story, which are depicted as a guy in armor on a horse briefly edited in during the aforementioned montage and a rubber-suit monster that appears in silhouette only. A "final battle" between her and Strange to rescue an incapacitated Lindmer involves the two actors standing in that "otherworldly" soundstage shooting colored beam-effects at each other.

The only actual amusement to be gleaned, near as I could tell, was how the sheer 70s-ness of the production (colorfully-blighted NYC location shooting, insistently-throbbing instrumental-disco soundtrack) conspires with certain plot elements and the tacky low-budget overall aesthetic combine to make it feel like "vintage" pornography is about to break out at any moment. Hooten's Strange look -- tall, lanky, gifted with bushy mustache and white-guy afro 'perm -- when combined with how unconvincing he looks in his doctor coat, is unavoidably the exact look you think of for 70s Porno Guy ("May I take your... 'Temperature?'")... and it doesn't help that a huge part of the plot involves him being somehow irresistible to women.

Specifically, on that last point: Why doesn't Morgan just murder him now while whatever magic he has can't possibly match hers? She's overcome by his handsome charms, and would rather battle the more powerful Lindmer so that she can potentially claim the Doctor as consort if she prevails. Yup. Granted, it's "cute" to see the tired "I can't kill my arch-nemesis -- she's just SO HOT!!!!" routine get gender-flipped... but it's still incredibly stupid.

It's all just so much dreary nothingness to slog through, only to see Strange do "Doctor Strange stuff" for a few moments at the very end and only wear his proper Doctor Strange costume in one scene -- even when he battles Morgan, he does so while wearing a Victorian opera coat that seems to function as his "other dimension attire." The ONE interesting idea that the production has, Morgan reinventing herself as an L. Ron Hubbard-style New Age spiritual guru/cult-leader with a special interest in "open minded young people," appears only at the very end as setup for the status-quo of the TV series that was never to be. Not only is Dr. Strange awful, it was awfully-promoted -- the network actually debuted it against Roots!

Marvel Studios has announced a new Doctor Strange movie as part of their new Marvel Cinematic Universe endeavor, with details (likely including the chosen actor) expected to be revealed in a few days at SDCC. But it won't be the first time someone tried to give the good Doctor another try onscreen: In the early 90s, B-movie powerhouse Full Moon had acquired the character's movie rights and planned a new film, but weren't able to start production before their license expired. Their decision, change the names, proper-nouns and copyrighted materials from the script and just make the movie anyway as Doctor Mordrid, with the great Jeffrey Combs as the titular hero.

The 1978 film, meanwhile? It has yet to see a DVD or Blu-ray release -- in this case, we probably lucked out.

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