I haven’t done it for a long time so here it comes – a movie duel!
Presentation of the opponents:
Doctor Strange the Sorcerer Supreme from 2007 is an animated version of a Marvel comic and I am going to stack it up against a much newer, 2016 movie played by actors.
Dr. Stephen Strange is an unhappy but very rich neurosurgeon, allegedly one of the best specialists in the world. His skills are only matched by his arrogance – he’s turned into a very unpleasant man since the death of his beloved sister, April. One day, however, the bell tolls for our doctor – he sees an apparition and falls victim to a car crash that injures the nerves in his hands. The damage ends his ability to conduct surgery, since his hands now tremble uncontrollably all the time. No specialist can cure him even though he has spent his fortune looking for the solution to his problem. Homeless and broke, he finds a different and higher pursuit as he is told to join a secret community in Tibet and learn that the world consists not only of matter but also of spirit. Will that alternative healing methods work? Silly question, right? Empowered as the new Sorcerer Supreme, Dr. Strange now tests his limits, rising up against monsters that push at the gates, facing the most terrifying entity humankind has ever known.
The version of Doctor Strange released in 2016 and directed by Scott Derrickson is played by actors and features several important changes. April, so important in the animated movie, disappears completely. Stephen has an accident but not because he saw strange ghosts but because his attention was diverted by his smartphone. The secret community in Tibet is located in the middle of a city, not high in the mountains. Mordo is no longer the main villain, superseded by the sorcerer Kaecilius played by Mads Mikkelsen. The Ancient One happens to be a white woman (Tilda Swinton), not an Asian man. Oh well…
- Round one: the main leads
Two Stephens Strange, nine years and what a difference. The hero of the animated 2007 movie was handsomer (my private opinion) but also far nastier and his ordeal to get to the Kamar-Taj was truly epic; that’s why I found him overall more interesting even though he was just, you know, drawn. His bad boy vibes were so pronounced that, near the end, he had to rescue a whole ward of sick children in order to be redeemed. Stephen Strange played by Benedict Cumberbatch in 2016 version of the story was far nicer, with less sharp edges, far smoother and more likeable at first glance but also somehow blander, especially if you compare him to the animated counterpart. His journey to Tibet was like an ordinary tourist trip – far too easy in my humble opinion. It wasn’t clear why he had all these supernatural abilities and what made him different from plenty of other intelligent people. Also his ‘schooling’ was a bit lame.
- Animated Stephen: 2 points
- Actor Stephen: 0.5 point
2. Round two – special effects
Here I admit I was pleasantly surprised by the 2016 movie. The effects were really impressive even if a tad nausea-inducing and psychedelic. They made me think of Inception, another film with outstanding imagery. The animated version distinctly lags behind in this category, sad but true – when it comes to CGI art those 9 years seem more like ages. I know, a bit unfair; still what can be done? 2D animation seems so obsolete now…
- Animated Strange: 0 points
- Actor Strange: 2 points
3. Round three: the plot
As I already mentioned in the presentation, the plots of those two movies differ on many points. I appreciate the fact that the director of the newer, 2016 film, didn’t hesitate to readjust some details so they are understandable for contemporary audience. He had every right to do so and, overall, the effects were positive. I even swallowed the introduction of a new baddie because Mads Mikkelsen made Kaecilius a very believable opponent with a sense of humour to boot. However, I couldn’t get over two changes: the disappearance of April Strange (Doctor Strange’s younger sister whose illness motivated her brother’s efforts to become the best neurosurgeon) and the appearance of that bald, white woman who was supposed to be the Ancient One. A Celt in Tibet? Why not a Chinese or a Nepalese, both a much more logical choice? It’s not that I hate Tilda Swinton as an actress or I have anything against female leads being introduced instead of male ones. It simply rang hollow, especially when compared to the much more natural solution from the 2007 animated movie.
- Animated Strange: 2 points
- Actor Strange: 1 points
4. Round four: secondary characters
In the 2007 animated movie Mordo was the main black hat, the ugly traitor who sold his friends to Dormammu out of spite. In the 2016 movie it was Kaecilius, a desperate man looking for immortality. I liked them both equally well. My problems began with the Ancient One. I couldn’t accept a white woman in that role even though Tilda Swinton’s performance wasn’t that bad. If it was at least an Asian actress I would feel far more comfortable. Finally Christine, the love interest and colleague of 2016 Doctor Strange made me see red. In the cartoon version she had vestiges of character (and was blonde); in the newer movie she was reduced to just a Barbie prop.
- Animated Strange: 2 points
- Actor Strange: 1 point
Round five: final results
- Animated Strange: 6 points
- Actor Strange: 4.5 points
New not always means better. Despite quite brilliant special effects and good ideas concerning the modernization of the plot I didn’t like the 2016 Doctor Strange as much as I was supposed to do – not after watching the previous 2007 version of the story anyway. The plot of the cartoon Doctor Strange, as schematic as it seemed, had more logic and integrity – I mean here mainly the motivations behind the career of Stephen Strange, almost non-existent in the 2016 movie. Also the fact that 2016 Stephen was so obnoxiously nice and slick didn’t make me more happy even though it was played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Strangely, the cartoonish Strange was far more edgy, shadowed and interesting.