Film reviews: A Marvel Vs. DC showdown - 'Doctor Strange' Vs. 'Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders'

"Hello, DC fans! I'll annoy the hell out of you guys!"

What's up people of the world! After getting decommissioned from writing blog posts due to unforeseen circumstances (such as my new laptop getting a technical hiccup and me getting involved with a road accident), I think it's appropriate to talk about the talk of the century. The unnecessary debacle between two mighty brands in the Nerdrealm (I'm spelling this a-la Mortal Kombat style) that is... Marvel versus DC! 

Nanananananananana Batmaaan~! Aaaaaand Robin too!

With that said, during my absence from my tool of the trade, I managed to catch two films from the respective brands which are both 2016 releases: Doctor Strange, the latest addition to the long-standing Marvel Cinematic Universe / MCU cannon and Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders, which is a loving tribute to the super-campy live-action 60's series with both Adam West and Burt Ward reprising their roles from that series as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Dick Grayson/Robin respectively, which I may have or have not watch as a kid. Batman was watched two days ago, while Doctor Strange was viewed a day after its Malaysian premiere (and yes, I'm aware that I'm way late in the reviewing game while the hype was hot for this due to the incidents that was stated earlier). And guess what? I like them both! 

Yeah, yeah. I might have voiced my disdain over DC's sorry efforts to take a jab at Marvel's success with the DC Extended Universe / DCEU AND the underwhelming The Killing Joke which does not fall under the DCEU cannon, but thankfully DC hasn't gone too far astray from delivering yet another satisfying diversion for home releases with quality animated feature! And I think Marvel has also yet again doesn't seem to dissatisfy me with their latest offering! Let's see what I have in mind about these, shall we? Oh yeah, these reviews are SPOILER-FREE too!

Film #1: Doctor Strange

Origin: United States · Language: English
Director: Scott Derrickson  
Writers: Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
Genre: Superhero · Release: November 4, 2016

Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor,
Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Benedict Wong,
Mads Mikkelsen

More info:

Although it happened for quite sometime already, it just occurred to me that MCU films are actually released in Malaysia a month before its hometown release! Why is that so? No clue. Lucky me as a Malaysian despite all that other daily life shit I have to go through, huh?

So, everyone thought Ant-Man was a peculiarity when he was introduced in the MCU (I'm talking about both the movie AND his unexpected abilities). Well, wait till you see this! And they got a pretty capable actor to wield the Eye of Agamotto and Cloak of Levitation as well: Benedict Cumberbatch! Also, they lovingly upped the ante of their visuals from their obvious inspiration that is Christopher Nolan's sci-fi heist film Inception! Marvel! Please! This is another solid (yet could-be off-putting for the uninitiated) entry, man! Will you guys ever suck? I hope I don't jinx that!

Let's see. Oh yeah, the origin. See, Dr. Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) thinks he's a big shot neurosurgeon who knows his shit... well, he actually does. But one day, he got sloppy and got into an accident that effectively shattered his skillful egos in the form of his hands that he needs for his profession. After no modern technology in the med field can help get his hands to work again, he decides to have a crack at traditional way of healing, where he inadvertently comes across the Ancient One (Swinton), a monk of sorts, who teaches him to channel his spiritual energy for the greater good. Then on, he is plunged into a very trippy adventure to save the galaxy (duh) from a certain threat that could tear the very fabric of space and time.

Yeah. Storytelling wise, it's standard stuff. One can even say it's the same thing that's been used in Iron Man. It's been done for years. But, screw it! For MCU's sake, it's good that Doctor Strange is finally introduced in the MCU. When Thor was there, we all thought that Asgardians are god deities or something, but then they HAD to drop the ball by saying that they are not gods. This time, there's no way around it. No scientific mumbo-jumbo. This film is introducing magic into the MCU! And thanks to that, it paved way to the possibilities of seeing multiple iterations of the same character in the MCU in the form of multiverses (and this ACTUALLY happened in the ABC-arm of the MCU in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. series!). It is because of this possibility that it made me forget about the standard-issue complaints that is present on the film's plot such as the hit-or-miss humorous quips and lack of standard in-your-face kick-punch-bang-boom elements in favour of mind-games kind of resolution!

And thanks to the introduction of magic, this is then applied to the acid trip I call the visuals. Lots of psychedelic eye-candies, stretchy things, time manipulation, and rotating/shifting buildings a-la Inception and the Devil May Cry video game series' reboot minus the punk-rock aesthetics. This in turn affects the well-directed fighting choreography that usually revolves the Ancient One in it that totally reminded me of Axel's fight scenes from Square Enix's Kingdom Hearts's video game series. Just like what I've seen in the second film of the abandoned Tron franchise I've previously reviewed, for most of the time, the off-the-rails visuals are so seamlessly-blended with the live-action actors, which make for a serious eye-opener for all walks of life that gets to immerse in this slightly off-beat cinematic experience by Marvel Studios.

Finally the performances! Again, I don't quite get the hype of Cumberbatch, mainly because I've honestly never seen any of his acting other than Doctor Strange, but when I do watch him does his thing, I'm floored. While he does have the Tony Stark-complex in Dr. Strange's characterisation, Cumberbatch delivers his own spin onto the whole douchy-know-it-all trope which is actually more relatable in a way, since to me he doesn't sound all-forced when he's douchy. Sometimes, while I'm not saying that Downey Jr. is lousy, I connect more with Cumberbatch because of his realisation of all the invulnerability of Dr. Stephen Strange in his performance. Chiwetel Ejiofor, whom I also good things about, is also awesome as a fellow Ancient One disciple called Karl Mordo who is righteous at the beginning but confused when he learns of the truth about everything he ever believed in. Tilda Swinton is also nailing her role as the shady Ancient One, and I have no qualms about the whole 'controversy' surrounding the white-washing of this character who was initially suppose to be Asian-type... because making a person named an Ancient One an Asian just like in the comics is more racist than what was done in this film. Lastly, let's not forget about the unsung hero that is... the other Benedict in this film: Benedict Wong as Wong! The casting is perfect! From the coincidentally similar names with the character's name in the comics AND the film's lead, down to his quite layered character as a very self-serious, yet very determined caretaker. Also, there's Mads Mikkelsen, who was good, but sadly his character was not meant to be written as a very menacing villain. Rachel McAdams was there as well, with her role bearing slight significance than most love interests in the MCU.

All in all, while the magical powers and realms' concept can be a bit too daunting, it manages to feel self-contained and intimate, much like Ant-Man due to the adequately easy-to-root-for characters and easy-to-follow storyline that is still a very integral and crucial part of this cinematic universe due to the impressively trippy visual effects that easily knocks Inception's visual marvel of the ground with its galaxy-wide turmoil than needs to be contained. This might not please the general film goer or MCU followers with high expectations, but to those who gets where this franchise is heading or just looking for a fun time, this is a good film to watch! Definitely recommended!

And now of to the second part of the review.

Film #2: Batman - Return of the Caped Crusaders

Origin: United States · Language: English
Director: Rick Morales · Writers: Michael Jelenic, James Tucker
Genres: Superhero / comedy · Release: October 10, 2016

Voice casts:
Adam West, Burt Ward, Julie Newmar, Steven Weber,
Thomas Lennon, William Salyers, Wally Wingard

More info: IMDb

Now, let's talk about this. Originally, I thought this film came outta nowhere. But then I thought to myself that this is the era of adaptations, remakes, and reboots. Of course it is bound to be made so that those who cling to nostalgia will bound to catch this direct-to-video release! 

Then again, this is a rather interesting spin; DC decided to adapt its very campy 60s live-action series as the company's latest installment of home-released animated film instead of their library of comic-book storylines. While we were previously introduced to yet another tribute to the more fun and campier side of The Dark Knight in the form of the Batman: The Brave and the Bold series, it still retains some of Batman's more modern feel, whereas this film took it straight from the source and made a shit-tonne of fun film out of it by staying true to it. It has it all: Adam West, Burt Ward, and Julie Newmar reprising their respective roles from the 60's TV show, the superhero-supervillain-henchmen battle mayhem, purposely cringe-worthy wordplay and puns, out-of-field musical elements, outlandishly-complicated supervillain plot, and of course fun music. It is all done well, plus the added self-aware wit that is supplemented by an adequate animation quality.

What else can be said? Despite its campiness, this is hands-down a better adaptation than the try-too-hard adaptation of The Killing Joke which understands the appeal and the essence of its source material while enhancing it just enough for modern audiences to dance to. So, it goes without saying that it's obviously an even better film than both of this year's entries for the DCEU!

Are you kidding me? This is not even a contest! I have equal love for both of these films for what they are, despite being clear rivals on the corporate side! Plus, these two are also vastly different films for different target audiences! See? We CAN like both films from both Marvel AND DC! Just so that we can agree to the fact that Marvel still needs to up their animation game just as much as DC needs to get their DCEU mess sorted out!

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