Tuesday, 1 November 2016
The closer they are to their 1960s source material, the more the Marvel Studios films remind me of the works of Roy Lichtenstein - they both make untold millions out of reconfiguring raw, imaginative material. Like the pop artist, the films laser in on specific, arresting compositional ideas, then blow them up in a way designed to make them more obviously expensive and therefore palatable and easily digestible. The company's latest, Doctor Strange, as well as exploding Christopher Nolan's kneaded cities, builds its finale around the strange, alien landscapes seen in Steve Ditko's original artwork.
When Lichtenstein reconfigured Irv Novick's All-American Men of War artwork to create Whaam! he did so by separating the panel from the wider context of the comic. Lichtenstein normalised the spikey, exciting panel into a more conventional diptych clearly depicting an aggressor and its target. Where Novick chose to illustrate an expressive instance of action that had meaning within a sequence of events, Lichtenstein constructed an enclosed sequence featuring two isolated, instantly recognisable actors.
Scott Derrickson's film does something similar with Ditko's work, gouging the bizarre, psychedelic environments out of the artist's panels then blowing them up into a computer generated arena worthy of blockbusting conflict. You might have to suffer through some tick-box myth-making before you get there but Doctor Strange does eventually arrive at dark dimensions filled with pulsing, iridescent synapses hung in vast, gravity defying webs of neurotransmitters. Perhaps aware that even that might not be enough to keep everyone engaged, Derrickson and C Robert Cargill's screenplay also dreams up a pleasingly simple solution to intergalactic warfare with a being that exists beyond time and space.