REVIEW: DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)

 

CAST

Benedict Cumberbatch (Star Trek Into Darkness)
Chiwetel Ejiofor (Serenity)
Rachel McAdams (Sherlock Holmes)
Benedict Wong (The Martian)
Michael Stuhlbarg (Men In Black 3)
Benjamin Bratt (Traffic)
Scott Adkins (Zero Dark Thirty)
Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal)
Tilda Swinton (Burn After Reading)
Chris Hemsworth (The Huntsman: Winter’s War)
Stan Lee (Chuck)
Amy Landecker (Dan In Real Life)

In Kathmandu, Nepal, the sorcerer Kaecilius and his zealots enter the secret compound Kamar-Taj and behead its librarian. From the ancient and mystical texts, they steal a ritual from a book belonging to the Ancient One, a sorcerer who has lived for an unknown time and taught all at Kamar-Taj, including Kaecilius, in the ways of the mystic arts. The Ancient One pursues the traitors, but Kaecilius escapes with the pages and some of his followers.In New York City, Stephen Strange, an acclaimed but arrogant neurosurgeon, loses the use of his hands in a car accident. Fellow surgeon and former lover Christine Palmer tries to help him move on, but Strange, firmly believing he can regain use of his hands, instead uses all his resources pursuing experimental surgeries in vain. After learning of Jonathan Pangborn, a paraplegic who mysteriously was able to walk again, Strange seeks him out, and is directed to Kamar-Taj. There, Strange is taken in by another sorcerer under the Ancient One, Mordo. The Ancient One shows Strange her power, revealing the astral plane and other dimensions such as the Mirror Dimension. Amazed, Strange begs her to teach him, and she eventually agrees despite his arrogance, which reminds her of Kaecilius.Strange begins his tutelage under the Ancient One and Mordo, and learns from the ancient books in the library, now presided over by the master Wong. Strange learns that Earth is protected from other dimensions by a spell formed from three buildings called Sanctums, found in New York City, London, and Hong Kong. The task of the sorcerers is to protect the Sanctums, though Pangborn chose to forgo this responsibility in favor of channelling mystical energy into walking again. Strange advances quickly over several months, even secretly reading from the text Kaecilius stole from and learning to bend time with the mystical Eye of Agamotto. Mordo and Wong warn Strange against breaking the laws of nature, comparing his arrogant yearning for power to that of Kaecilius, who believes, after the deaths of his loved ones, that everyone should have eternal life.Kaecilius and his followers use the stolen pages to begin summoning the powerful Dormammu of the Dark Dimension, where time does not exist and all can live forever. This destroys the London Sanctum, and sends Strange from Kamar-Taj to the New York Sanctum. The zealots then attack there, where Strange holds them off with the mystical Cloak of Levitation until Mordo and the Ancient One arrive. Strange and Mordo become disillusioned with the Ancient One after Kaecilius reveals that her long life has come from her own use of Dormammu’s power. Kaecilius mortally wounds the Ancient One, and escapes to Hong Kong. The Ancient One tells Strange that he, too, will have to break the rules, to balance Mordo’s steadfast nature. She then dies, despite the best efforts of Strange and a bewildered Palmer. Strange and Mordo arrive in Hong Kong to find Wong dead and the Sanctum destroyed, with the Dark Dimension already engulfing Earth. Strange uses the Eye to turn back time and save Wong, before creating an infinite time loop inside the Dark Dimension that traps himself and Dormammu in the same moment forever. After killing Strange many times to no avail, Dormammu reluctantly agrees to leave Earth if Strange undoes the time loop, taking Kaecilius and the zealots with him.Disgusted by Strange and the Ancient One’s disregard for the consequences of defying nature, Mordo departs. Strange returns the Eye, which Wong calls an Infinity Stone, to Kamar-Taj, and then takes up residence in the New York Sanctum to continue his studies. In a mid-credits scene, Strange decides to help Thor, who has brought his brother Loki to Earth to search for their father Odin. In a post-credits scene, Mordo confronts Pangborn and takes the energy he uses to walk, stating that Earth has “too many sorcerers”.The Marvel Cinematic Universe shines again with manipulative sorcery and cognitive storytelling as this may be the strangest addition but still delivers some kick-ass entertainment.

 

REVIEW: DOCTOR STRANGE (2007)

 

CAST (VOICES)

Bryce Johnson (Son of Zorn)
Paul Nakauchi (Beware The Batman)
Kevin Michael Richardson (The Cleveland Show)
Michael Yama (Click)
Susan Spano (Eugene)
Jonathan Adams (Bones)
Fred Tatasciore (Hulk Vs)
Josh Keaton (Green Lantern: TAS)
Tara Strong (Sabrina Down Under)
Phil LaMarr (Free Enterprise)

The story is as archetypical and straightforward as any such comic-book concoction. The arrogant, emotionally closed-off Dr. Strange is offered an equally strange glimpse behind the world’s secret, magical curtain only moments before a car accident renders his surgically-perfect hands nearly useless. All seems lost before a mysterious figure points him toward a monastery in Tibet where, it is said, his hands can be healed. Of course, no Tibetan monastery is complete without an ancient band of magical warriors, their powerful-but-elderly leader, a traitorous rogue, a dangerously demonic threat and, of course, a high-octane training montage or two. And before Strange can even write a prescription – he’s been selected as the group’s newest apprentice (and soon-to-be leader) and tasked with thwarting the return of the great demon – Dormammu.


The rest plays out as expected, featuring epic battles against giant creatures with mystical runes and colorful spells, and a handful of well-imagined sword fights. Most surprising, perhaps, is the effectiveness of these action sequences – beautifully choreographed and emotionally resonant as the film pulls few punches in killing its characters after first endearing you to them. There’s a greater depth here than similar movies usually attain, and the subtle blending of solid character work, inspired action and expert filmmaking allow Doctor Strange to rise above the ordinary direct-to-DVD animated adaptation.

The film, however, is not without its flaws – which largely stem from the restraints of the source material. The middle section of the film sags where it should prove most interesting, and the viewer is never fully made to believe that Strange finds any particular awe – as any honest man would – at the magic which all too quickly surges from his fingertips. Rather, he takes up the mantle of “hero” without much resistance, doubt or fascination – a function, really, of the storytelling format, but in a film which succeeds so well in the creation of its supporting characters, one expects more from the man at its center.


But taken as it is – a “hero’s journey,” comic-book, magic-filled adventure film – Doctor Strange is certainly capable of curing the worse disease of all boredom. So take up your cloak, fire off a few incantations and check out this magical DVD.

REVIEW: THE SUPER HERO SQUAD SHOW – SEASON 1-2

CAST (VOICES)

Charlie Adler (Wall-e)
Alimi Ballard (Sabrina: TTW)
Steven Blum (Wolverine and the X-Men)
Dave Boat (Ultimate Spider-Man)
Jim Cummings (Darkwing Duck)
Grey DeLisle (The Fairly Oddparents)
Mikey Kelley (Gravity Falls)
Tom Kenny (The Batman)
Stan Lee (Avengers Assemble)
Tara Strong (Batman: The Killing Joke)
Travis Willingham (Dragon Ball Z)

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RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Shawn Ashmore (X-Men)
Dee Bradley Baker (American Dad)
John Barrowman (Arrow)
A.J. Buckley (Disturbing Behavior)
Ty Burrell (Muppets Most Wanted)
LeVar Burton (Star Trek: TNG)
Taye Diggs (Private Practice)
Michael Dorn (Ted 2)
Suisan Eisenberg (Justice League)
Carl Lumbly (Alias)
Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street)
Jonathan Frakes (Star Trek: TNG)
Greg Grunberg (Heroes)
Nika Futterman (Futurama)
Mark Hamill (Star Wars)
Lena Headey (Game of Thrones)
Tricia Helfer (Powers)
Cheryl Hines (The Ugly Truth)
Josh Keaton (Justice League: Gods and Monsters)
Wayne Knight (3rd rock from The Sun)
Maurice LaMarche (Futurama)
Phil LaMar (Free Enterprise)
Jane Lynch (Glee)
Jason Marsden (Full House)
James Marsters (Smallville)
Jennifer Morrison (Urban Legends 2)
Scott Menville (Teen Titans)
Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)
Adrian Pasdar (Heroes)
Kevin Michael Richardson (The Cleveland Show)
Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica)
Kevin Sorbo (Hercules: TLJ)
Ray Stevenson (Divergent)
Fred Stoller (Little Man)
George Takei (Star Trek)
Cree Summer (Batman Beyond)
Michelle Trachtenberg (17 again)
Hynden Walch (The Batman)
Jim Ward (Danny Phantom)
Adam West (Batman 60s)
Nina Dobrev (The Vampire Diaries)

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When I saw a preview of The Super Hero Squad Show back in February of 2009, I thought it looked pretty interesting, but certainly aimed at the kiddies, and as it aired on Cartoon Network, I never saw an episode. In fact, I forgot all about it, and when I got my hands on this disc, I thought it was an animated take on the old Fisher-Price Marvel kiddie figures. So I had no expectations coming in. Well, my only expectation being that it would be bad. So it was with a good deal of shock that I found it to be a pretty entertaining action-comedy series, if you don’t mind the cheese-level of many of the jokes.MV5BMTY4MzMzMzM2OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTE2OTc3MjE@._V1_The Super Hero Squad (sort of a loose version of the Avengers) is made up of an assortment of Marvel heroes, including Iron Man (as the leader), Captain America (who provides aid on a regular basis), Wolverine (adding the X-Men’s popularity,) The Hulk, Thor, a spacey surfer-dude version of the Silver Surfer, and Falcon (obviously added to bring some diversity.) Joining them is the mostly unknown Reptil (a dinosaur-powered bit player from the Avengers comics) who is both a young guy and Hispanic, helping fill out the P.C. scorecard a bit more and give younger viewers a stand-in.  They go up against Doctor Doom and his legion of bad guys (and ineffective henchmen), as he searches for the Infinity fractals, shards of the Infinity Sword (which seems connected to the Infinity Gems of the Infinity Gauntlet. Infinity.)MV5BMTUwMzc1OTEzNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjU3MDg3MjE@._V1_Though the storylines are pretty solid and offer big action-packed battles, the bulk of the show is comedy, with the character’s out-sized personalities carrying the jokes, be it Thor’s overwhelming concern about his appearance or Captain America being stuck in the ’40s. Maybe I don’t give kids a lot of credit, but I can see a large portion of these gags flying over their heads, which will make the show far more enjoyable for adults than one would have expected. There was more than one joke that got a genuine laugh out of me, though many of them rely on bodily functions or pratfalls for the punchline. The wordplay and character-generated jokes are much more entertaining and fun, especially Thor’s Asgardian versions of modern language, the Silver Surfer’s alien view of Earth life, and anything involving the always-ridiculous floating head known as M.O.D.O.K. (voiced hilariously by Tom Kenny.) One joke about the Hulk swallowing a yo-yo is technically genius. The only thing about the show that doesn’t really work is Reptil, who feels like the Poochie of the show, coming off as a bone tossed to kids, with his dino-focused power, youthful role and extreme behavior.MV5BNzQ1MjI0NzUzOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzk1OTc3MjE@._V1_This version of the Marvel Universe smartly keeps the same look for its characters, giving long-time Marvel fans an in for the series, but presents them in a super-deformed style (squat bodies, large heads and feet, four fingers) that’s kid-cartoon friendly and which easily separates it from any other version of the Universe you’ve ever seen. That way, there are no issues with continuity or previous incarnations, and the show can be enjoyed on its own merits (allowing them to do something like make Dr. Strange a complete lunatic.) That’s a good thing, because the show is loaded to the gills with fan-service goodies, like the episode titles (which reference famous comic titles) and title cards which replicate memorable cover art. The show also pulls characters from the depths of the Marvel roster, like Screaming Mimi and the Melter, and having silly cartoon fun with them. Taken simply as a silly, almost What The–?! treatment of the characters, it’s well worth a look for comic-book fans out of grade school.MV5BMjM1ODQ2NDUxNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjk1OTc3MjE@._V1_On a non-story note, the theme song, provided by Parry Gripp of Nerf Herder, is an energetic blast, while the voice cast for this series has to be one of the best for a non-prime time animated series, with tons of veterans of the cartoon industry, like Kenny, Tara Strong, Jess Harnell, Grey DeLisle, Cree Summer and Charlie Adler, along with plenty of genre stars, including Robert Englund, Tricia Helfer, Jennifer Morrison and Adrian Pasdar. It’s rare to see a show like this pull this kind of voice cast.MV5BNzQ1MjI0NzUzOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzk1OTc3MjE@._V1_The overall plot of the cycle will feature the villain Thanos seeking the six stones of the Infinity Gauntlet, a powerful cosmic weapon. Opposing him will be the titular Super Hero Squad, which is made up of goofball takes on Iron Man, Thor, Falcon, Wolverine, Hulk, Ms. Marvel, original character Reptil, Scarlet Witch, and sometimes Captain America. While the first two shows focus specifically on the Thanos plot, other episodes detour into one-off excursions. For instance, “World War Witch!” takes the heroes back in time to when Cap was fighting the Red Skull alongside the Invaders in WWII, while “Support Your Local Sky-Father!” pits Olympus vs. Asgard, and it features the Marvel Universe rendition of Hercules.