Superhero films may have taken over the multiplex, and characters both A-list and B-list may have become household names, but there’s arguably one major Marvel Comics character whose legacy on film has been mistreated more than any other: Victor Von Doom, better known by the title Doctor Doom.
Famous Marvel Comics writer Stan Lee, who co-created almost all of the Marvel Universe, has long said that Doctor Doom is his favorite villain. While the Joker has catapulted to the #1 spot on most supervillain lists thanks to a long line of fantastic film and animated adaptations, Doctor Doom is a character who has long been held by many comic book enthusiasts as the greatest comic book supervillain of all time. Doom is a complex figure whose mythology combines science fiction and sorcery; he’s a vain man pained by a dark past, a tortured soul who believes himself to be the hero, believes that he could save the world if only everyone accepted him as their leader. His story is epic, tragic, one of the most developed in all of comics.
What Doom is not, and never has been, is the obnoxious, greedy businessman that he was portrayed as in the 2005 Fantastic Four movie, or whatever weird stuff they were trying to do with him in the 2015 reboot. While villains like Magneto and Loki have risen to prominence due to excellent film adaptations, there has never been a proper, faithful cinematic depiction of Doctor Doom.
Well, until now. Thanks to filmmaker Ivan Kander, there is now a fan film named Von Doom available online, that does for Doom what 20th Century Fox has failed to do. Gritty, epic, and faithful to the comics, Von Doom may be only 14 minutes, but it’s the best 14 minutes that Doom has ever had on film. Using time travel as a plot device, it tells the story of Doom’s tragic origins, as a young boy in the small Eastern European country of Latveria, and his young adult self’s attempt to combine magic and science in an effort to change the past. Don’t be wary of the fact that it’s a fan film, either: like Truth in Journalism, the Venom fan-film that I reviewed back in 2013, this is quality stuff. But don’t just take my word for it: check it out below.
(And after you do, continue reading my thoughts, right below the video!)
Now, this film isn’t perfect. It’s too short to get as deep as I’d love for it to, and the budget is lower than a studio production would be. But what really shines here is that Ivan Kander really understands Doom’s personality, really gets what makes the character iconic, and even came up with a clever way to frame Doom’s story in a way that could fit three periods of his life within such a short runtime.
I’d love to see what Ivan Kander could come up with for a full length studio production, but even in the absence of that, Von Doom contains a lot of lessons that 20th Century Fox should pay attention to, if they ever want to utilize one of their biggest properties in a way that will not only befit the character’s legacy, but also get fans into theaters. To me, these are the biggest takeaways from Von Doom, and how it could influence future films:
1. The Origin Really, Really Matters
Both Fantastic Four franchises to date have completely ignored Victor Von Doom’s comic book back story, and both have also totally destroyed the character as a result. That’s because Doom’s origins aren’t some throwaway reference, and tying them to the Fantastic Four’s origins is a mistake. Victor Von Doom’s childhood tragedies are as important to his character development as Magneto’s Holocaust origins are to him, and if you tamper with the story, you lose the character.
Doom’s back story is epic in scope. You can’t just pay lip service to Latveria and expect fans to be happy, because the character is Latveria. Victor Von Doom began as a poor boy in a poverty-stricken country, fled to the United States, became a brilliant scientist, and then came home as a revolutionary, ready to overthrow the authoritarian government that had enslaved and brutalized his people. Now, this doesn’t change the fact that Von Doom is also an authoritarian himself — the people of Latveria might be safe beneath his rule, but they certainly aren’t free — however, the complexity here is what makes the character interesting.
You Need Science AND Magic to Make a Proper Doctor Doom
Doctor Doom, the armored figure that Victor Von Doom is destined to become, might seem at first like a purely science fiction character. He’s a brilliant scientist, he attacks his opponents with armies of robots, he uses life model decoys. But what Von Doom really gets right, from the very beginning, is that Doctor Doom’s interest and skills in the mystical arts are also a huge component of the character.
Some of Doctor Doom’s best stories involve him relying purely on magic, and he’s listed as one of the most powerful sorcerers in the Marvel Universe. Sure, the whole magic thing doesn’t fit into the wacky sci-fi high jinks that define the Fantastic Four, but there’s a solution for that…
Make Doom the Protagonist of His Own Film
Seriously, if there’s anything that the Von Doom short film proves, it’s this: Doctor Doom works better as a protagonist, instead of being squeezed into a Fantastic Four movie. That doesn’t mean he’s a hero, but he thinks he’s a hero, and a character as complex as Doom deserves center stage.
The bad writing that Doctor Doom has suffered from in the Fantastic Four movies is at least partially because both films have unsuccessfully tried to tie Doom into the Four’s origin story, and it’s a bad fit. While Doom is linked to Reed Richards, and despises him, much of his actual character arc is largely independent of those four blue-costumed heroes. Doom has gotten into blows with most of Marvel’s heroes, but those battles aren’t really his focus. In the grander scheme of the Marvel Universe, he’s a well known dictator who has diplomatic immunity when he visits other countries, and thus can’t be arrested. He’s not just a foil for the heroes.
No, Doctor Doom deserves his own movie. A Doctor Doom film could tell the story of Victor Von Doom’s rise, fall, and subsequent rise. It could tell the story of his exile from Latveria, his mastery of science and magic, and then his return as a man in a metal mask. Again, Doom can be the protagonist without being a hero. A film that focused on Doom, and only on Doom, could have an epic narrative similar to Batman Begins.
If the film needs a villain, then Ivan Kander’s Von Doom proposes a terrific solution, through the use of time travel: use Victor as both the hero and the villain. Pit the younger Victor against the older Doctor Doom. There are lots of ways to make this work, and the Fantastic Four aren’t necessary for it. They can have their own new reboot — preferably one which has them battle against, say, the Mole Man — and Doom can meet up with them in a sequel, if need be. But not yet.
Get the Personality Right
And finally, here’s another big one. Doom’s personality has to be right. He’s not a psychopath, not a cocky businessman who tells dumb jokes, none of that. The character as depicted in Von Doom is Doom as he should be.
Again, Doom doesn’t see himself as a villain. As far as he’s concerned, he’s the hero of the story, and he’s in a constant struggle to do the right thing, to take the path that he believes will make the world a better place. Doom has flaws, but insanity isn’t one of them. He’s arrogant, vain, and haughty. But he’s also a character that viewers should, at least on some level, want to root for — a character whom we should be saddened by when he starts making decisions that we know to be immoral, even if he is too stubborn to see it.
A solo Doctor Doom movie is a blockbuster success waiting to happen, and if the studios ever decide to pursue it, then Von Doom should be their primary inspiration.