I come to all movies based on my comic book heroes reminded that making a movie is about choices. Actors? Scripts? How much source material do you use? How much do you deviate from it? What plotlines and characters need to be left out? How many special effects and what kind? Marvel is spending millions to make more millions within the billion of dollars MCU franchise. How do you stay true to the comic and make a viable, successful film? So I recognize the making of a film is always about compromises.
I guess I am the one true hardcore Doctor Strange fanatic of the PopDoPop crew. Given that, one would think that I have a lot of things to criticize about the movie. After all, as we have seen in previous incarnations of movies based on comic books, geeks like me get up in arms about every damn thing. Sometimes that’s with good reason. I mean, look what they did with Sinister Six. That movie could have been a hell of a lot better. Hell of a lot. I won’t even mention the version of Deadpool from Wolverine: Origins. Is it possible to completely eliminate that film from existence?
I’ll be honest. I’ve been scared since the get go, when they announced they were making Doctor Strange. Ever since Sitwell mentioned Stephen Strange’s name in Captain America: Winter Soldier, I had a number of major concerns. That Easter egg is here.
My first concern was who was going to play the titular character? You can’t have a good comic book hero movie without someone awesome to play the comic book hero. Just after they announced the movie, my first thought was Benedict Cumberbatch. At the beginning the names being bandied about included Jared Leto, Juaquin Phoenix, and Cumberbatch. Granted all three are excellent actors, but there is something peculiar about Cumberbatch. Something strange. Something… I was rooting for him the whole time. When they hired Cumberbatch, I was overjoyed.
Second, how in the name of The Ancient One are they going to capture the psychedelic freaky-deaky-ness of Doctor Strange’s world as conceived by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in comic book form. The world of Dr. Strange is not like the world of Cap or Ironman or Black Widow. It’s not straight-forward. It’s full of magic. It’s trippy. It’s psychedelic.
It’s, as we used to say in college, “ALLLLL FAAAAAACKED UUUUP!!!
It’s got inner dimensions, and outer dimensions, and multi-dimensions. It’s in “our” time and simultaneously eternal. Reading a Doctor Strange comic is sort of like taking a hallucinogen. It’s weirder than weird. It’s Strange. You could say it’s queer. So that was my second concern: how the heck are they going to capture that? Seriously. How are you supposed to capture this?
Third concern: this is not so much about the movie itself, but the “mouth of the morons in the media.” In the comics The Ancient One is an Asian male. Once Tilda Swenson was cast as The Ancient One, the internet went batshit, like it always does. First came the mysogeny of the comic book purists: “The Ancient One is a man. No woman should be in that role…blah, blah. blah, blah.” Then came the race issue. “Tilda Swenson is not Asian! Whitewash! Whitewash!” One always has to wonder how much of this discourse is going to stick and if it will have any negative impact on the film.
Again I give credit to Derrickson. If you are honestly looking for an actor to play the part and you decide to limit yourself to only Asian male actors with currency who do you have? Jet Li? Jackie Chan? Shit, Jackie Chan was not even passable as Mr. Han in the Karate Kid remake. He took a risk by taking a white woman and turning her into The Ancient One. And Swenson was spectacular.
In the film, we don’t get much of Karl Mordo backstory. That’s ok, because it allows the creators to make some changes without taking from the Strange origin story. In the original comics, he is a Baron from the Transylvanian area of Eastern Europe. He is, obviously, white. In the film, Karl Mordo is black. I love Chiwetel Ejiofor in everything I’ve seen him in, from his stint as The Operative in Serenity, to the goofy 2012, to the brilliant 12 Years a Slave, to the quietly intense Z is for Zachariah. He is also excellent as Mordo. But why does the black guy got to end up as the bad guy at the end of the flick? Does this not reinforce stereotypes? I’ll let critical race theorists tackle that one. As for me, I think we’ll get to see more of Mordo’s backstory in the MCU. I certainly hope so, because more of Ejiofor is ALWAYS a good thing.
I won’t even go into the visuals. Inception might have created these types of visuals, but Strange has perfected them. They are beyond anything the Inception people ever dreamed of. In fact, there were parts of the movie where I was flat out flabbergasted with the effects. At some points it was overwhelming. (I saw it in 3D.) Maybe eating some acid would have helped…or maybe I’d now be swatting magical shields that only I can see.
I loved Rachel McAdams who was introduced as Christine Palmer. She is one of the Night Nurses - a trio of nurses that help our superheroes. They actually had their own comic series for a while. You have already met one of the other Night Nurses: Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple from DareDevil and the other Netflix Marvel shows.
Not EVERYTHING comes back to Whedon. Ok. Maybe it does. He’s his own sort of superhero.
As for me, a honest-to-goodness fan of Doctor Strange from way back, I heartily approve, and cannot wait to see what his role in the next Thor movie is going to be.