Hi ACC-tion Heroes, I just got out of a showing of Doctor Strange and I have a few thoughts that I’d like to run past you. First of all let’s get some stuff out of the way. You’ve probably read or heard me rant about the casting of Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One. I’ve argued that there was no good reason why Swinton had to have portrayed Doc Strange’s mentor as the most powerful sorcerer on the planet.
After seeing the movie, I stand by that assertion. Frankly, any Asian-American actor could have played that role. Benedict Wong would have been as good a choice as any for that role.
But that being said, let me tell you some initial impressions of the movie:
For all intents and purposes, Doctor Strange was a retelling of that other movie of a skinny dark haired white fella who gains unbelievable powers from an ancient Asian mystic who overcomes darkness and his own ego to become a savior of the world. I’m talking of course, of the 1984 hit movie, Karate Kid.
Bear with me. In the Karate Kid, Daniel-san is a puny nobody who gets sand kicked in his face, but learns karate and beats up the shitty blonde bully, right? I mean, if you study his movements, Daniel-san’s karate is pretty basic. His martial arts aren’t that great, but he has a pretty nifty trick that he more or less perfects and pulls out at the last minute in order to win the tournament. Oh, and his affinity for the art is high even though his skill is low. Maybe green belt level, if we’re being kind.
However, in Doctor Strange we see a bit of an inversion. Stephen Strange is a skinny dark haired white fella but is terrifically arrogant super surgeon who is able to repair spines (but not poor Rhodey’s AKA War Machine’s, too pedestrian a case). He gets distracted while driving his high end luxury car and gets into a car accident that ruins his perfect surgeon hands.
Bereft and unable to continue his craft he wanders the streets of Kathmandu until he meets an ancient Asian, er Celtic, mystic who trains him the best she can to adopt the mystic arts. He’s not great at it, but he’s got a few tricks that he’s got down pat. Like Daniel-san, he uses what he knows to great effect and saves the day.
See? Basically the same thing, only we have to hear Benedict Cumberbatch struggle through his American accent and basically settles on copying Hugh Laurie – the other arrogant and messed up brilliant doctor (sans mystic intentions).
They must have a Minister of Culture at the editorial staff for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a person or council that understands the perfect story beats to make a Marvel movie. Doctor Strange was no exception. It had the dramatic visuals, and importantly it had the humor beats that keeps a movie moving along and keeps you from losing focus. Speaking of visuals? The Dr. Strange costume hits all the right notes, I’m glad they went with pretty bright colors for his look.
They know cute too – instead of Groot, implausibly enough, Doc Strange’s Cloak of Levitation does a fantastic job of being an adorable sidekick.
If you’re going to see it in the theater, I suggest one of the larger screens for an immersive effect, the Inception-like visuals are cranked up to ten here.
There’s a scene midway in the story after Strange has been with the Ancient One’s mystic order for…months? A year? Where he finally asks Mordo and Wong what they hell they were doing, by learning the mystic arts. They reveal that they are protectors of Earth from mystic mayhem. And at that point Strange basically attempts to peace out. It makes no sense, none. You don’t bail on a group of people that you’ve befriended after handling arcane might. The selfishness at that point in the movie felt wildly implausible.
And again, this can’t be stressed enough, the erasure of an Asian-American lead to play The Ancient One, is terribly misguided. After watching the movie, I can understand why the writer(s) felt it necessary to engage in whitewashing, but I still stand by the idea that if you feel like you’ve written yourself into a corner – well, you can write yourself out.
What of Wong and Mordo?
Frankly, Benedict Wong did a great job as Wong. There wasn’t enough of him, and his appearance made me wanting more. Mordo? Well…Mordo was a more complicated character. If we were playing Dungeons and Dragons, he’d be the epitome of Lawful …something. If someone doesn’t play by the rules, Mordo smash. That becomes interesting later on in the movie (avoiding spoilers).
There are two of them after the trailers. Keep watching. Oh, and of course the Stan Lee cameo is pretty fun this time and obvious.
This was a pretty good movie, very much in the Marvel formula. So if you, like me, enjoy the stuff that the Marvel studio puts out you’ll enjoy it. I give it a .85 on the Kirby Scale (a B+). I probably wouldn’t see it again, but it was fine.