Thoughts on Doctor Strange …

So, recently, I picked up a number of movies from the local Walmart. Among them was Doctor Strange, which is what I’m going to talk about in this post. I also finally broke down and picked up Rogue One and The Last Jedi, which I will watch and talk about at some point in the future. Maybe I shouldn’t have rewarded the Star Wars franchise that I now feel disconnected from with my dollars, especially since from all I’ve heard I am going to absolutely hate The Last Jedi. It’s not like it’s proven itself worthy of being given a second chance, especially since I’m pretty sure it blew its second chance, and deliberately so. At any rate, I’ll see if it’s as bad as I think it’s going to be.

So, onto Doctor Strange. Which, like most Marvel movies lately, turned out to be decidedly “Meh”.

So, Doctor Strange is, essentially, the story of an brilliant but exceedingly arrogant surgeon who, after a car accident, suffers nerve damage to his hands that leaves him unable to operate anymore, which to him destroys his life. In seeking out a cure, he comes across an ancient monastery that at least promises the potential for a cure, but ultimately he learns the mystic arts and ends up becoming the Sorcerer Supreme, defending Earth from generally mystical threats, learning humility in the process.

In the movie, they do try to present Strange as being arrogant, but it fails for a few reasons. First, Strange is actually, it seems to me, less arrogant than pop culture icon Gregory House was, which means that he doesn’t seem all that extremely arrogant, and at times even seems downright compassionate by comparison. So we have a common example of someone who is in a similar position to Strange, is more arrogant, and that notwithstanding that we aren’t sure we’d want to see humbled in that way. Second, the worst thing he does is how he treats Christine — his erstwhile love interest — before leaving for Kathmandu, but as that was after he lost his ability to operate that comes across as being more the result of that loss than something that’s part of his personality. He really needed to treat her worse before the accident for that to work, but he was even willing to give her name credit on his discovery — which she probably deserved — so that doesn’t come off. And third, the Ancient One is herself pretty arrogant throughout most of the movie, so her teaching him humility seems hypocritical. To me, it’s actually a toss-up over which of them is the more arrogant, so that lesson gets lost. And the replacement lesson of his being willing to sacrifice for others doesn’t really work because it isn’t set-up as well, nor is it as strong a message. It works in the sense that that final scene is a good one and entertaining, but it doesn’t carry the emotional weight that a properly constructed lesson for Strange would have.

I was also disappointed in the fight scenes. When I picture Doctor Strange, I picture a clash of magic, of spells flying and move-counter-move at the magical level. And given the current state of special effects, I think that that can be done. However, the movie turns the fights into martial arts fighting in odd environments with shifting backgrounds. Yes, given the link to Asian mysticism, this makes some sense, but what it does is turn them into standard fight scenes with added weirdness, which is hugely disappointing and not very interesting, especially since the weirdness can make the fights harder to follow while not adding anything to the fight to compensate for that.

And then the movie continues what seems to be a recent trend of having ambiguous villains. Sure, Dormammu is without a doubt evil, but his main minion gets some ambiguity because the Ancient One is doing something bad by breaking the rules and using the Dark Dimension to power herself and extend her own life. She says that she did what had to be done, but Mordo is not convinced … which then makes him a morally ambiguous villain, when in the comics it was his lust for power that drove him, not the sense of betrayal that he feels after the revelation. He makes a solid point that breaking the rules has consequences and hints that the Ancient One’s tapping into the Dark Dimension is what caused Dormammu’s invasion in the first place. Strange never counters that assertion, nor does the Ancient One ever really show why her breaking the rules was necessary, so it looks like the villain has a point. Making Mordo a clear villain who helped open the way to gain power for himself — never having given up on the motivation for going to the Ancient One in the first place — would have worked a lot better, it seems to me … but then he would have had to fool the Ancient One, and now that the Ancient One was replaced with a strong female character we can’t have that, can we?

I also strongly dislike making Wong a martial arts badass instead of the servant character that he was in the original. The movie doesn’t need more badasses, and his humble servility would have worked to contrast Strange. Moreover, his badass credit is never actually realized, as he does little in the final fight except lose badly the first time and defeat a mook. Think of how much more effective it would be if he was the last defender, walking out to face down the enemies despite knowing that he has no chance at all since he isn’t a warrior, but being willing to defend the Sanctum anyway. This would even fit neatly in with Mordo’s criticisms of Strange of his being a coward, and even with the ending theme of being willing to sacrifice for the greater good. None of that comes through with the new Wong.

Also, making Wong exceedingly stoic would have made the ending where he laughed at Strange’s semi-joke more meaningful.

The movie also seems to make a couple of political references that were puzzling. At one point, the Ancient One tells Strange that “It’s not about you”, which is a common line tossed out at people who are seen to have “privilege”. Fine, it was appropriate in context and might have been unintentional. But then at the end the main villain insists that those on the other side are “on the wrong side of history”, which is a common line used against people who argue against progressive values. Given that, it doesn’t seem like it was unintentional — or, at least, it doesn’t seem like it wouldn’t have been noticed — and yet the two of them together seem contradictory. The villain — who ends up losing — telling the other side that they are on the wrong side of history seems to invalidate the comment, while the “It’s not about you” line seems to validate that one. So were they trying to balance the sides? Did they not think of what it would mean to have the villain parrot a progressive line? Were they trying to subvert that by showing that the phrase really was properly associated with the “progressive” side? It seems that at least the last one — and so probably the first one — were used as some kind of message, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what that is.

That being said, the best character in the movie is the Cloak of Levitation, even if it was both under and overused in the movie.

At the end of the day, the movie was okay, but I’m not sure I should have bought it because I don’t really have an interest in watching it again. This is a bit of a trend for at least Marvel movies, which is not a good sign with Infinity War coming up …

One Response to “Thoughts on Doctor Strange …”

  1. Thoughts on “Ant-Man and the Wasp” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] down to watch “Ant-Man and the Wasp”. Putting aside “Infinity War” the last four MCU movies disappointed me, and I actually fell asleep for at least part of all of them (which […]

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