Doctor Strange (2016)

Everything is better when you add magic. Got a medieval-ish story? Throw in some wizards and necromancers and let’s have fun. Grim and gritty urban noir setting? Add an asshole detective who can cast spells and it’s automatically a hundred times better. Have one of the most successful film franchises in history? Let’s add Doctor Strange to the mix. MUC March is continuing on, now talking about the magical side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a skilled but arrogant surgeon who gets into a brutal car accident that ruins his hands. When medical science can’t fix him, he follows a rumor to Kamar-Taj, home of the mystic Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and her followers Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong). Resisting the idea of magic at first, Stephen eventually becomes an adept at the mystic arts. The main conflict of the film comes from Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a former student of the Ancient One who felt betrayed by her when he discovered that her immortality was because of a pact with the Dark Dimension, a dangerous alternate reality ruled over by the dread Dormammu (voiced, in part, by Benedict Cumberbatch). Kaecilius believes Dormammu to be the key to ending the concepts of time and death so he plans on delivering Earth to the ancient entity. After the death of the Ancient One, Doctor Strange fights back with the help of the time-bending Eye of Agamotto and a quirky levitating cape. But how do you stop something like Dormammu? Well, Dr. Strange’s method is to trap himself and Dormammu in a time loop, refusing to break it until Dormammu promises to leave Earth (for now) and take Kaecilius with him. The day is saved and Doctor Strange is now the guardian of the New York magic sanctum, but Mordo’s takeaway from all this is less optimistic.

The mid-credits scene is straight from Thor: Ragnarok where Thor and Strange are discussing finding Odin, still missing after the events of Thor: The Dark World. The post-credits scene shows Mordo stealing the magic out of a guy, believing there are too many sorcerers. I guess he’s saving himself for last.

I love the idea of magic. I play spellcasters in most of my fantasy games because I enjoy breaking the rules of reality to produce something fantastic. But the MCU has decided to take the stance that magic is actually very advanced science, a concept I’ve never been a fan of. Sure, that logic has been used in Marvel Comics as well, but there are plenty of other times where someone has said that the two are not the same. But it goes deeper than just that, beyond just magic. Thor was regarded as an actual god in the comics for many years, but ideas change over time, no doubt helped by the MCU’s take that Asgardians are just another type of alien out in space. While not technically a planet, Asgard is a place you can travel to via spaceship. In the comics, Asgard is a pocket dimension which makes it more… well, magical. I know, I know, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. But to me, that quote works better with a “basically” thrown in.

There is one other thing about the movie that doesn’t quite irritate me, but does make me wonder if something got cut. The sorcerers of Kamar-Taj use sling rings to aid in their spellcasting. You can’t actually create portals without one, as the movie directly tells us at one point. So you would think, with all the magical aptitude Stephen Strange has and the amount of time spent talking about the rings, that there would be a point where he proves he doesn’t need a sling ring to perform magic. But that never happens. Instead, the presence of sling rings–something made up specifically for the movie–ends up being a plot device. Oh, you don’t have your ring? Guess you can’t escape until you find one! It’s not lazy writing, but it is a bit disappointing. I guess I had my expectations too high.

COMIC BOOK FUN FACT! Look, I’m just going to come out and say it: the 1990’s were a mistake. I had vague memories of a young Chwineka reading a Dr. Strange comic where he had a blue costume with a full face mask. But oh no, nothing is ever as simple as “he decided to change his look just for the hell of it.” In Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme #61 (1994), Stephen Strange seemingly perished in a battle against the demoness–and former Sorceress Supreme–Salomé. But pretty quickly afterwards a masked individual calling itself Strange showed up, a more aloof and violent sorcerer. But that wasn’t actually Stephen. It was one of two manifestations he made to take care of Earthly affairs while he recuperated in another dimension. The other was debonair sex pervert Vincent Stephens, who teamed up with Strange to attack Dr. Strange. In the end the true Sorcerer Supreme won out against his avatars and Salomé, then decided to change his look just for the hell of it. He wore a black unitard under his signature cape, steampunk glasses, and was clean-shaven with long hair. This lasted only a few issues and when a new writer came on in Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme #80 (1995), Stephen Strange went back to his iconic look.

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Next: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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