When You’re A Stranger: Dr. Strange and the MCU

Dr. Strange film posterI saw Dr. Strange opening weekend at my local cinema and will admit I was pleasantly surprised. I haven’t been overly excited about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films, especially the sequels with such dimensionless villains, like Malaketh the Dark Elf in Thor 2. Plus Marvel has absolutely no excuse for a Wonder Woman film coming out next year but Ms. Marvel won’t come out until 2019. While I love Black Widow and Peggy Carter, I’m tired of not seeing women in headlining rolls.

But I digress into a post for another time.

The only way I can describe Dr. Strange is it’s a weird exploration of machismo culture with a hint of an acid trip action film and a large dose of 70s Kung Fu movies. And honestly, Dr. Strange could have been anything the Marvel executives wanted him to be because he isn’t a mainstay in the comic book culture. It is always interesting to see which aspects of their properties they keep the same, like the Super Soldier Serum for Captain America, and which elements they change, like Thor’s origin story completely ignoring Dr. Donald Blake. In Dr. Strange, they stuck to his origin story pretty close, and while another film completed devoted to an origin story drags out the MCU’s overarching stories even further, it was a good introduction to a unique character which adds another diverse element to the MCU.

Dr. Stephen Strange is a decorated neurosurgeon in New York City and a typical playboy. A very selective doctor, only seeing patients which will increase his fame and glory, Dr. Strange has made a few enemies as he’s climbed the ladder of success. One, the ER Dr. Christine Palmer, is focused on saving lives over earning fame and is the former lover of Dr. Strange. She is the first at his side when he awakens from a car accident leaving his hands permanently damaged. Unable to practice medicine anymore, Dr. Strange searches for healing across the globe and finds himself in Nepal in the sect of the Kamar-Taj, a mystical order led by the Ancient One, who bend dimensional energy to their bidding. Having a difficult time compromising his scientific background and the mystical arts taught at Kamar-Taj, Dr. Strange and his thirst for healing and knowledge lead him to discover his mystical powers in his uniquely shellfish way. Aided by Wong, Kamar-Taj’s librarian, and Karl Mordo, his mentor, Dr. Strange defeats a rogue mystic intent on bring the earth’s destruction.

There was a lot of controversy with this film because of the casting of white actors in historically Asian roles. The Ancient One, played by Tilda Swinton, is traditional portrayed as a Tibetan mystic; however, in the film is portrayed as a Celtic mystic. There are many conjectures as to why the changes were made, if Tibet were included, the film may not show in China, a huge market for MCU films, another was to distance the character’s relation to Asian stereotype’s Hollywood perpetuated for years. I found an article from Variety’s website interviewing Benedict Wong to be very enlightening. He praises the diversity of the film. The cast, both primary and secondary, are fairly diverse. The principal cast includes Benedict Cumberbatch, and Englishman, Tilda Swinton in an originally male role, Mad Mikkelson, a Dane, Benedict Wong, an Englishman of Asian descent, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Englishman of African descent, and Rachel Adams, and American. Plus, the secondary cast was made up of a variety of shapes, skin tones, and languages while never feeling forced.

Dr. Strange Comic PanelWhat I think the MCU was trying to communicate was that anyone can be a member of the Kamar-Taj, anyone can access the mystic arts, and anyone can be a hero or a villain. While it is a nice sentiment, I can understand the uneasiness with the recent casting of white actors to play traditionally Asian characters. On the other hand, the films have diverted so much from the source material that it’s difficult to compare the characters in the comics and their analogous characters on the screen.

Dr. Strange is a unique character among superheroes. While many of our heroes rely on strength derived from science, Spider-Man and Captain America, engineering, Iron-Man, sheer will of training, like Black Widow, Dr. Strange differs because of his utilization of the mystic arts instead of brute strength. And this differentiation isn’t based on intellect alone because Peter Parker and Tony Stark are geniuses as well, making Dr. Strange’s power from the mystic arts even more unique. I often wonder if Dr. Strange would punch someone in the face with his own hand or if the detachment of using the mystic arts separates him even further from the memory of using his hands as a surgeon.

Overall, Dr. Strange was a well-balanced film and a fair bit more funny than I expected. We’ve had several hard hitting, serious films in a row; it was nice to have a film with more comedic elements. The chemistry among the cast created believable, flawed characters in a world without limits. I would not recommend seeing this film in 3D if you are prone to motion sickness and the special effects are a testament to modern FX capabilities. This film will leave you wondering what role magic will play in the films to come and make you reevaluate elements of previous MCU films.

And don’t forget to stay through the credits.