Who is Doctor Strange? A surgical marvel? Some street pusher promising a groovy trip? Or just what you would call any man that wants to be a Gynecologist, (I know most of you are ethical and professional, but my man, ya looking suspect.)
Actually, Doctor Strange is the title character in Marvel Films next release out November 4th.
This is the same company that got you interested in a gun-crazed raccoon and made you care more about a tree than Greenpeace ever did. Can they interest you in some strange?
Created by Stan Lee and defined by the visual style of Steve Ditko, Doctor Strange is the Sorcerer Supreme. He deals in magic, astral projection, conjuring, exorcisms, possessing wax dolls and life or death battles through dreams. He faces down threats the average person can’t understand protecting all existence from the things that hide under your bed. How did he get there?
Super-douche, ultra-doctor Stephen Strange has a PhD and a god complex. He’s a talented surgeon. He knows it, acts like it and will fix anyone who can afford him.
Until he gets in a car accident that screws up the nerves in his hands so he can never operate again.
Not taking the news well, Stephen goes on a global spending spree getting seen by specialist after specialist in any field. This was a period of much yak pee and horny goat weed.
He even tried that thing where you sit on your non-dominant hand until it goes numb so it feels like another person is…
Know what? That’s for another article.
Anyhoo, after that Colorado Gold Kush and some cupping fail to fix things, Doctor Strange gets desperate. Almost broke and completely despondent, Doc overhears whispers of a great healer who lives high up in the Himalayas: the Ancient One.
I think one of the Beastie Boys told him about it.
Nothing else was working and Steve needs to be saving lives in order to have any sense of self so he puts his faith in racist tropes, spends the last of his money and travels to the Far East/The Mysterious Orient/Tibet/high Himalayan peaks where the air is as thin as the Asian characterizations.
Arriving at the monastery, The Ancient One is all, “Your princess is in another castle.” Mixed metaphor aside, the Ancient One assures Doc that there’s nothing to be done for his damaged hands. No magic spell, no good lotion or fleshlight. Although, there are free magic lessons if he’s interested.
Stephen frickin Strange ain’t interested.
A high pressure system moves in bringing an accumulation of convenience as a blizzard leaves Steve trapped.
Pissed off, broke and cold the former surgeon wanders around the temple.
He comes upon The Ancient One being attacked by some evil magic. Doc just writes it off, as you do.
Wandering on, he walks past the room of the Ancient Ones #1 disciple, the Baron Karl Mordo. Mordo is busy casting a spell that looks eerily like the one that the Ancient One just fought off. Mordo sees strange seeing him (can’t get no privacy) and puts a spell on Strange that prevents him from attacking Mordo or speaking to anyone about this.
Strange goes to the Ancient One to tell him the plot when he realizes magic is really real, he’s unable to say anything about Mordos attempt on his life. Suddenly concerned with the creepy guy trying to kill an old man, Doc asks the Ancient One to teach him the ways of magic so he can break that don’t tell spell.
After an indeterminate amount of time spent learning the funny names and intricate fingerings of magic, Strange undoes those prohibitive spells and tells the Ancient One everything.
The Ancient One shrugs because he knew all along. Mordo’s a dick and even his Momma knows it. The Ancient One just wanted to trick Strange into one segment of a hero’s journey. Magically, our hero is now humble. He gets a pat on the head and some new threads making him Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts.
Mordo just left at some point. No big deal. That won’t come back to haunt you.
Putting on The Ritz
Being a Master of the Mystic Arts comes with perks like mystically pimped out gear such as that dapper red cloak of levitation for flying, a house in Manhattan and almost limitless, if totally ill-defined, power.
The Eye of Agamotto
Docs sick chain? That’s his Agamotto piece. It does whatever the story needs it to. Whichever corner a writer can paint themselves into, the Eye can get them out. It’s like whiteout on any messy plot points. The important thing to remember is that Doctor Strange was sporting a ridiculously large gold chain for almost 20 years before Run DMC were Raisin Hell. Whose House?
177A Bleecker Street to be precise. That’s where doc holes up in Greenwich Village, New York. It’s a real address, once home to writers Roy Thomas and Gary Friedrich.
(Maybe I went college in New York. Maybe I roamed around looking for it because I am a shameless loser. Perhaps the address belongs to a shifty bodega that thinks I don’t know $6 for a bottle of water means it’s a drug front.)
This is the Docs Sanctum Sanctorum (Whose Sanctorum? Well, not Rick Santorum – don’t Google that- it’s not magical or SFW). What’s a Sanctum Sanctorum? It’s Latin for Holiest of Holies which is really unfortunate or appropriate depending upon how you get down and your search history right now. Either way, Stan Lee thought it sounded fittingly pretentious and stole it from religion to give it a place in the funny books. It’s a swank house with a hipster window, just a giant tesseract of a pillow fort where Dr. Strange surrounds himself with as much alliterative pretension as he does magical paraphernalia.
This is where doc keeps his tea kettle, his manservant, a basement full of atrocities and the Orb of Agamotto. It’s like a giant, magic, Google maps. Agamotto merchandises like a member of Kiss.
Let’s get to know our cast:
Dr. Strange: played by that guy. What’ his name? The Fumious Cumbersnatch. Eggs Benedict Cabbage patch. Benefits of a Cummerbund, Beneficent Cucumber, Buh-buh-buh Benny ColonRich. BenGay CuresTheItch. You know! Dude that plays Sherlock. Benicio del CuttingTorch, Belichik Whatacatch. Beatnik Soulpatch. Lord. You know who I’m talking about. He’s like a set of blue eyes and a mop of hair and not much else?
Benedict Cumberbatch! Him. Nailed it.
Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor): Usually Docs archenemy, though it looks like in this movie they are besties. He’ll probably develop slowly, into a complex evil over the course of this or the next film.
How evil is he? He killed a cat belonging to a friend of Doctor Strange just to take it’s place and get close to Doc. So he’s raw evil on a stick. Apparently a furry too. A cat? Never trusted those furries.
Baron Karl Mordo wanted power, so he went to the Ancient One to study magic. After he arrived, Mordo learned that a young boy named Stephen Strange would grow up to be the Ancient Ones successor. Karl wasn’t happy about that so he occasionally sent demons to kill the boy but the Ancient One saved him every time and just kept letting Mordo be evil.
In Godfather terms, Mordo is Fredo Corleone, not even peaking early, just never even having a shot. You would sell your soul for more power too. Sell it to demons for even more power so that he can… y’know in over 50 years I don’t think there’s ever been a point to this guy? He just wants more power to have it. So he’s a wacky metaphor for addiction or capitalism. Discuss. The movie should flesh him out finally with some characterization and a slow descent from Stranges friend to a serial killer in training because, man, a cat? That’s not right.
Wong (Benedict Wong): not a person, not a character, just a stereotype who bows and makes Doctor Stranges tea. Over the years there has been some effort to flesh Wong out, he doesn’t bow nearly as much as he once did and he has been given purpose as Docs martial arts instructor (an Asian man that knows martial arts. That’s deep..) He is Docs manservant and he dusts the Sanctum Sanctorum because being sorcerer supreme and keeping all of reality safe from demons and the imaginations of comic book writers is super important and requires regular turn down service with fresh towels.
There was a time where the only portrayal of an Asian would be as servile, bowing, trembling, always dressed in some festival drag. Or they would represent yellow peril, be drawn with inhuman features like fangs and be out to get some white body. Neither version spoke good English.
But now, in the safe refuge of the 21st century we manage this discrimination problem by just not casting many Asian people at all.
In the modern comics, Wong has recently been updated in another attempt to take the racist tinge off. He still does windows but he also helps keep Strange alive. All magic has a cost. Wong and his people take it upon themselves like living martyrs, bearing that cost in sheer agony so that Dr. Strange can go on saving the day.
The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton): By the power of progressive racism, it’s a white lady playing an old Asian man! Who said what about Asian people getting work in Hollywood? They must have been talking about the catering staff. This movie already hit it’s diversity quota. Front of the line, white lady!
Yao is a few hundred years old. He’s feeble, frail and the sorcerer supreme. He safe guards reality from the bad things. Not war, murder, famine, genocide, disease or extreme poverty, those are someone else’s problem. But really mean Ouija boards and bad nightmares? That’s the Ancient Ones deal. Occasionally, he teaches people his mumbo-jumbo sort of like your old neighbor who let you come over to go through his old baseball cards and talk about the game. It staves off the crippling isolation and makes him feel like he won’t die all alone.
Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen): a disciple of Baron Mordo. The first rule of Magic Club? Just post it on your Facebook. Everyone should know and have a disciple, tell everybody you see about magic club. The second rule of magic club? Never conjure Visine, it’s worthless for eye gonorrhea.
Kaecilius was a lackey in Mordos attempts to kill Strange. Doctor Strange is still alive to star in the movie so lets assume Kaecilius isn’t that great at his job.
Since his backstory is non-existent, its up to this movie to flesh him out and show us how evil he can be. Maybe he kills two cats? Brrrr.
Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams): McAdams is a bold choice for a Doctor Strange movie. She starred in The Notebook. There’s no way this movie could ever be that magical.
She plays Christine Palmer aka The Night Nurse, a regular nurse who ran away from her rich parents to make it on her own as a nurse in the big city. Eventually she becomes the Night Nurse specializing in helping patch heroes up quietly to thank them for all that they do. She and Dr. Strange got together after he was shot by Hitlers gun. Fun times.
This was originally going to be the character that Rosario Dawson plays across Marvels Netflix franchises but the streaming side lost the name to the feature film side. Will Christine stick around to stitch up the movie regulars or is that redundant now? We’ll have to wait and see. For her first screen outing, Palmer has been upgraded to a surgeon and Dr. Stranges ex. She’s supposed to function as the anchor to his past life and the real world once things get groovy. I think that’s a polite way of saying she’s his special make out buddy.
People not advertised that will magically appear in the sequel or the end credits scene:
The Dread Dormammu: despite sounding like a Norwegian Black Metal band, Dormammu answers the question: what happens when you cross Prince with Michael Jackson because he usually rocks purple and his head is on fire.
He rules the Dark Dimension. It’s like an other-dimensional North Korea. He’s got everything it takes to achieve his goals but when your home is the Dark Dimension, well, I’m no therapist but I feel he has some self esteem issues.
He sits around all day suppressing the Mindless Ones who would kill his people, oppressing those people whose lives he’s saving, complaining about how life’s not fair and planning to conquer Earth for no actual reason.
Do you have that friend that runs all the marathons or wants to climb to the highest summits on the planet just because? Yeah, that’s Dormammu with Earth conquering. Like a dog chasing cars.
Usually there’s a magic barrier that keeps him from coming at Earth like Dana White standing between two UFC fighters at a weigh-in. When that’s going on he’ll transmit his power to someone like Mordo so he can be evil by proxy.
Mindless Ones: they’re like the Minions but stockier, gray and less articulate. They shoot frickin lasers from the one frickin eye on their heads and just like to hurt and kill things. The Dark Dimensions Frat boys on nickel beer night after their team lost in the playoffs.
Clea: Sorceress Supreme of the Dark Dimension, Dormammu’s niece and actually Docs estranged wife #It’sComplicated. It’s hard to get together when he’s got to safeguard reality and she’s got to constantly try take out her evil family members and end the war in the Dark Dimension. It doesn’t help the long distance relationship that Doc has a wandering eye and Clea has outgrown him as a teacher when it comes to magic.
Some Kind of Magic
The key element in a Doctor Strange story is magic. Magic lets doc shoots bolts of lightning from his eyes and fire from his arse. It lets him fly and project his consciousness to the astral plane. So…
What is Magic?
About that. The problem with magic in fiction generally, and Doctor strange in particular: magic has no rules. Not in that awesome, Mom and Dad are away, anarchy and ice cream for dinner sense. More like the no consequences, no dramatic tension, maximum exposition kind of no rules.
If you release an apple from your hand it falls to the ground. Why? Because my 4th grade teacher said so and Sesame Street backed it up. Also, Gravity, it’s the law and universally accepted. It’s fixed and provides easy to follow consequences for anything going too high.
If a wizard says the magic word he can vanish and appear somewhere else. Why? To instill a sense of awe and wonder. Also, basic plot convenience. How does the wizard ever get cornered if there are no rules and he can alakazam out of any situation? No tension. Make it up as you go. Bear in mind, this is the kind of thinking that ends in Kathy Bates breaking ankles.
It’s like this, you’ve seen the Harry Potter movies? Oh, you read the books. Good for you. So proud. Happy for your literate self. Why don’t you get off the internet and go read your damn books like a free elf? Anyway, the end of every Harry Potter movie there’s the scene where Professor Dumbledore explains what the hell just happened.
“You see, Harry, the dark lord was able to return through that new Defense Against The Dark Arts teachers hangnail because hangnails are the wickedest of pains and a curse upon every wizards hand. The murderkill spell he cast did not effect you because you are a good boy who keeps his fingernails clean. As random circumstance would have it, you’ve also been using the emery board of Emmett which I gave you or maybe your parents left for you in a flashback, it’s neither here nor there. What’s important is you are a good boy, quite the main character, very lucrative and you are still here.”
Most fiction has rules that allow for actual stakes. Waving a piece of kryptonite at Superman is like waving a piece of Wonder Bread at someone who orders off the gluten free menu. Tie Wonder Woman up. Not only does it give some children underwear tingles, it renders her powerless. Iron Man needs to keep his battery charged like any other sex toy, otherwise he’s no fun.
Without limits, definitions or rules, magic is a mess of arbitrary decisions. Characters are free to snap their fingers in and out of danger which creates as much tension as a dance-off in West Side Story. These children need a bedtime.
From what’s been shown in trailers, Doctor Stranges magic involves lots of bright lights and finger wiggles. In the comics there’s a lot of heavy metal hand signs and Doc calling on mystic heavyweights to cast spells. You say Levi -OH-sa, I say Levi-o-SAH. We’ll need to see about the rules. Just something as succinct as Rock, Paper, Scissors will do, otherwise the whole thing risks becoming a convoluted mess.
So What is Magic?
That first sip of coffee in the morning.
The way you make me feel, acha-ooh!
This is not Dr. Stranges first movie. Noooo. There was an early bit of bad magic that conjured up a mustache and much spandex. That magic was the 70s. Doc Stranges first movie was straight to TV intended to be a pilot for a potential show.
Unfortunately, it was hot garbage and it was conjured up opposite Roots. That’s a disappearing act for the ratings. Look at this magnificence.
Would you really choose this over Roots? Are there even Klansmen that would have flipped through the TV Guide and thought, yes, this is how I’ll spend my evening?
One is the criminally overlooked story of slavery and the true, ugly, America told through the life of Kunta Kinte laid out with brutally painful honesty. The other looks like a dance troupe went wild on the streets of Vancouver after someone said: “It’s crystal meth. What’s the worst that could happen?” and the whole thing lit by someone who couldn’t get work lighting soft porn.
(Sorry, Dr. Strange, people that light Cinemax erotica and anyone afflicted by the scourge of meth or other addiction. You still suck, Klansmen.)
Law of gravity be damned! Even without the cloak of levitation Doc Strange has nowhere to go but up! And you’ve got nowhere to go but to your local cinema to check out Doctor Strange.
Doctor Strange is in theaters November 4th in the US and in theatres October 25 in the UK.