If The Avengers is any indication, Joss Whedon is at his best when he makes movies about superheroes. With that in mind, I took a look at his Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, which has been staring at me on Netflix for about two years. Although the movie has its problems—such as Felicia Day’s milquetoast performance—it is still a disarmingly tragic action-comedy from one of the best writer-directors around.
Neil Patrick Harris is the titular Dr. Horrible, a supervillain who wants to rule the world because the “status” is not “quo” anymore. His arch-nemesis is doltish superhero Captain Hammer, played by Nathan Fillion, who constantly foils Dr. Horrible’s plans. But things get taken up a notch when Dr. Horrible inadvertently enables Captain Hammer to save the life of his crush, Penny (Felicia Day), causing them to start dating. Dr. Horrible frequently whines about his romantic misadventures on his video blog, which he stupidly does not secure from the eyes of the police or Captain Hammer himself. Oh, and there’s music and singing and stuff.
It’s a good thing that Whedon restricts Dr. Horrible to a mere 43 minutes: the conceit of the story wears thin at just about the end mark. Although the movie is consistently funny, with Harris and Fillion turning in hilarious readings of Whedon’s punchy script, the tone of the movie is so relentlessly self-conscious that it borderlines on irritation. There is also the aforementioned issue of Day’s acting, which is way too downplayed for this movie. Sure, she’s pretty, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that she’s boring to watch and about as expressive as Keanu Reeves. Plus, her singing voice is whisper-soft, which clashes with Harris’ trained pipes and Fillion’s doofy swagger.
The movie works best when it focuses on Dr. Horrible’s neuroses about his inability to succeed as a villain. There is a great moment when Dr. Horrible logs on to brag about the new version of the freeze ray he’s built, only immediately to cut to later that day, in which he talks about how the ray “needs work” and that Captain Hammer “threw a car at [his] head.” It’s these drily silly parts of the movie that reminded me of the great dialogue in The Avengers.
As for the music, it’s kinda whatever. Whedon wrote the music and lyrics with his brother Jed, who scored and orchestrated the film. Considering the brevity of the movie, there are a surprising amount of songs: I’d say that about half the movie is spent singing. There is nothing that is glaringly bad about any of the music; it’s merely functional, and the lyrics are nothing special, either. One standout song depicts Dr. Horrible and Penny’s contrasting trajectories into evil and good, respectively. It’s here that Harris really shines, due to his training as a Broadway actor. You’d almost wish that Day would just vanish into the scenery to make room for the real professionals.
If you have some time to kill, you could do a lot worse than Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. The wittily staged action scenes work well, and are a precursor to Whedon’s work on The Avengers. If you’re a fan of the director, this short film is another cult notch on his substantial belt. Just go in expecting to hate one-third of the cast.