Doctor Strange Movie

This movie had some gorgeous special effects and I got the impression they really tried to do their best with the comic’s origin story by making it a little less “white guy wanders into brown country, crowned Best At Magic seconds later”, and as we all know skipping origin stories is against the law so there had to be something, so it’s not too bad as a ride all things considered.

Once you hit the end and think about it, it’s otherwise a disastrous mess of a film. (Hey, is it kind of racist that we’re having an Tibetan hand the reins over to a white dude? I know, let’s make them a Celtic woman so now it’s a white person passing power to a white person!)

I actually liked the character best in the beginning of the film – he’s an arrogant asshole, but he’s obviously worked hard to get there and he’s saving people’s lives. His attitude isn’t unearned. He certainly has piles of natural talent but his profession is one that still requires enormous work to succeed at.

He smashes up his hands and loses his surgeon abilities, which is the start of the whole humbling and learning arc, except somehow this makes him more arrogant. He spends all his money going to India for Eastern mumbojumbo, tells the person he wants the Eastern mumbojumbo, then throws a tantrum when he hears it’s Eastern mumbojumbo (that is honestly 90% decently non-mumbojumbo with just a dash of anti-intellectualism in accordance with Hollywood mandates). Jesus guy what were you expecting? Then once he’s convinced that no, they’re right, he still keeps demanding to know why he should listen to anything they say.

This might be because the movie doesn’t seem too clear on what, exactly, he’s being punished for. Is it for thinking he’s precisely as good as he actually is? Is it for getting into a dumb car accident? The part where he repeatedly throws tantrums seems like a good reason, but the movie never punishes him for that. It’s brought up a few times that Strange walks a certain balance as a surgeon where he won’t take either easy cases or hopeless ones, which means his life-saving is wholly about his own ego and would make a lot of sense as his central sin, but he never comes to any conclusion on that. The only thing the movie ever is able to commit on is the arrogance thing, and it does that by having him dial up the arrogance at random, self-destructive times, then hoping we’re desensitized enough by that we won’t notice he’s still an arrogant twit the rest of the time.

By and large, the story is just Entitled White Guy Thinks He’s Better Than You And Rules Don’t Apply To Him, Turns Out To Be Totally Right. He initially struggles with magic…but he’s brand-new. There’s no sign he’s any slower at this than anyone else, and as soon as he starts doing magic he rapidly outpaces everyone else. And the reason he’s even there is because one of the characters argues they can’t afford not to teach someone with such incredible potential.

Later on he’s injured and teleports to the hospital for his not-girlfriend to save him, which could be pretty powerful in how he previously was all about being the best doctor ever and lone wolfing his way through life, except that she, the doctor who works the ER all day long, is so rattled she can barely hold the equipment for a simple chest draining and needs him, Mr. Doesn’t Work ER, Picks And Chooses Cases, Also Literally Watching Himself Die After Seeing Other People Murdered Before His Eyes, to walk her through what she needs to do. The big moment of him being the bigger person is when he gives a scalpel to another doctor, one who actually did fuck up and nearly kill someone but who has a dick while chicks are used to constant, casual dismissal. (And of course he heads right back without letting her come with or learn any magic, because hey, why should she get anything?)

Although it’s stated a couple times that he needs to listen and learn, we’re never presented with any point he actually needs to follow the rules. “I want the books on astral projection!” “No, you’re not ready yet.” “I’ll break in, steal books, and instantly master it!” “That’s so cool of you, have more books.” We’re not even told why the librarian didn’t want him to have the books. It’s a rule that exists solely so he can flip it off, and when he does, he’s rewarded with compliments and more stuff because wow, he’s so cool and great at this! We also learn that the Ancient One is breaking the rules by using dark energy to extend her life…but how is it breaking the rules? Why is that bad? Is it something that’s hard to do and failure has bad enough side effects she didn’t trust anyone else to pull it off, or does it do something horrible to you in the process? No answers. Strange is told that messing with time magic is dangerous and can have bad effects, but none of them ever happen and no one even suggests maybe letting someone more experienced run the time magic.

Really, none of it’s coherent. Only one character makes an actual argument for any side, and it’s the villain. He lays out how by Earth going into the dark universe, death and entropy and suffering will all be defeated, and that this is good because humanity is about challenging the cruelties of nature. That is a fucking awesome argument. The argument against this is that no, death’s great, also natural law! …also the dark dimension will be eternal suffering BUT MOSTLY THE NATURAL LAW THING. Natural law can go fuck itself. How does this interact with the Ancient One living for extra long? So other characters can call her a hypocrite and make it her fault the movie’s villain appears and the end-of-movie new villain appears, because women with power must, at best, be morally ambiguous and miserable, and everyone who trusts or respects them needs to have their eyes opened.

What’s really frustrating is it’s a really gorgeous movie and it shouldn’t have been that hard to make the plot either coherent or else get completely out of the way of the fight scenes. The idea the dark dimension isn’t horrible is brought up at the same time we’re told the Ancient One can’t be trusted, but it’s not in service of anyone checking the situation out, not even just Strange shrugging and pointing out their astral third eye stuff lets them glimpse the place and it’s horrible and evil. His counterargument is just “okay, but your eyes look fucked up, and beauty = goodness.” followed by a tantrum about not trusting the Ancient One that somehow doesn’t involve any uncertainty about what she’s saying about the dark dimension being evil.

Really, all that needed to be done was say Strange wasn’t the best at everything ever. He’s a really great surgeon, the reason he freaks out over losing his hands is because he wants to be someone who matters, so he throws himself into the magic rather than tantruming all the time about how he didn’t sign up to help anyone with the incredible magic he was taught for free and why should he care the entire world is about to end and he’s going to be dragged to hell with the rest of them? (Also the bad guys are trying to murder-suicide the world because death is the enemy.) Then he ends up in charge at the end because the bad guys slaughter everyone else first, since everyone else is more experienced and they assume Strange can’t do anything to stop them (they probably don’t even know Strange is around at first, he’s so new – and having everyone have extended life would also help in general, with the idea that adding people is very rare. You can still say Strange is rare and special for having magic capacity at all in that case, and it makes them less dicks for being so exclusive.). For that matter, the movie appears to end with almost everyone dead, so Strange can get the New York magic sanctum because that’s actually the best defended and safest while the older people get the others (and for god’s sake, make it more than three clustered around the northern half of the globe- what sort of magic shield only covers half the planet? If Dormammu ever figures out he can just attack from the south, we’re doomed.) That then frees him up to bop around with the other superheroes in this reality, which is what people want to see, while keeping the cosmic bits valid because the other guys are dealing with the higher level threats. And you can always have a second dramatic cataclysm that kills those guys off next movie if people are too outraged that New York doesn’t have every last superhero.

Also Strange should absolutely have been a black guy (see, that’d explain a bit about the fear of failure we’re told he supposedly has) instead of a black guy vouching for him then turning evil, OR we could do a meta reversal where he’s Asian in race but his family’s been in America for generations and he’s thoroughly naturalized. And maybe the Ancient One could’ve been Inuit – I’m assuming they were trying to make a point by having the person currently in charge not of local ethnicity, but saying things are multicultural works way better when the cultures aren’t all shades of white. If we absolutely can’t move away from the main character getting handed everything because of his innate talent making him better than everyone else, can it at least not be an arrogant white guy every time? (And maybe not have everyone but the Ancient One be a guy while we’re at it.)

26 Comments

  1. Roarke says:

    Glad to know my guess from the trailer was right. It looked like a white guy power fantasy, and it was! What a tweest.

    He lays out how by Earth going into the dark universe, death and entropy and suffering will all be defeated, and that this is good because humanity is about challenging the cruelties of nature.

    That’s… really cool. An extrauniversal solution to universal laws? Sign me up!

    1. Farla says:

      I didn’t realize how much it’d be an unlikeable white guy power fantasy. It’s like Hollywood saw all the complaints about white guy protagonists and thought people were asking for ones they could complain even more about.

  2. SpoonyViking says:

    I know, let’s make them a Celtic woman so now it’s a white person passing power to a white person!

    What bothered me is that the Ancient One was Celtic, but the school’s trappings were all still very much pseudo-Tibetan. Damn it, Marvel, do try to actually change things instead of appropriating things enough to look attractive and “exotic” but still not mention an occupied country and potentially offend the government of a billion-viewer market, will you? The movie actually did great with Wong’s portrayal!

    Now, I feel the way fix to this movie would have been to actually follow the comics. Doctor Strange’s portrayal for most of the character’s existence really was that of a man humbled by Fate who genuinely tried to help people because it was the right thing to do, as opposed to when he was a regular doctor and only cared about money and fame.

    And yeah, the movie’s morality was a complete mess. I felt Mordo’s viewpoint was the most coherent and sympathetic, right up to the post-credits scene where it veered into complete cruelty.

    I’m also ambivalent on the whole “kung fu magic” thing. I do like it as a concept – I love seeing period kung fu movies because they usually have at least a light touch of kung fu magic -, but I would have preferred the movie to be more faithful to the character, even if only to differentiate him more from the other MCU characters.

    1. Farla says:

      What bothered me is that the Ancient One was Celtic, but the school’s trappings were all still very much pseudo-Tibetan. 

       

      I’m pretty sure the idea was that this way, they’re not stealing Tibetan mysticism, they’re saying that the Tibetan mysticism is so right that it’s running a global, multicultural order…which could work if, you know, multiculturalism didn’t turn out to mean revolving around white people.

      And we could’ve sidestepped this if only we could’ve jumped in with established Doctor Strange, only we can’t, because origin stories. Origin stories forever. Even when they’re half a century out of date.

      I felt Mordo’s viewpoint was the most coherent and sympathetic, right up to the post-credits scene where it veered into complete cruelty.

      Is he even wrong? Who the fuck knows? Did the Ancient One leeching power from the dark dimension have to do with why it attacked, or is that irrelevant? Does the fact there were absolutely no consequences for the time magic mean it’s just deferred? Where did the idea all things must be paid for even come from, is there any evidence of this?

      I mean, unless the real moral is giving people tons of power while telling them true knowledge is an illusion and you’ll never understand anything really results in people splinting into random batshit factions. I could get behind that.

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      1. illhousen says:

        I mean, unless the real moral is giving people tons of power while telling them true knowledge is an illusion and you’ll never understand anything really results in people splinting into random batshit factions.

        “Remember! Reality is an illusion, the universe is a hologram, buy gold, bye!”

  3. Socordya says:

    Something which bothered me about the movie’s magic system is… that there’s no magic system. We’re explained the general principles, but except for a few specific examples (the portal thing, the mirror dimension) we don’t have any concret limitation  to what the character’s can do. So the fights look cool and all, but there’s no tension because at any point the movie can decide that this or that character does this or that, and I can’t really object.

    I’m also not to sure what the hero was doing in the end, but maybe I missed something. He keeps rewinding time every time he gets killed in order to frustrate super demon guy, but what is stoping super demon to just take the time-manipulating artefact out of his hands before killing him?

    The argument against this is that no, death’s great, also natural law!

    I don’t know why the “death is an important part of life” trope pops up everywhere considering the world’s biggest religion is about how, if you’re a good kid and say your prayers God will allow you to live forever. Worshipping thirst when you’re in the desert, I guess

     

     

    1. SpoonyViking says:

      I don’t know why the “death is an important part of life” trope pops up everywhere […]

      Probably because we don’t actually have a way to indefinitely extend life, so the healthiest thing to do is to accept we’re all going to die at some point.

      Or, to quote Oingo Boingo’s No One Lives Forever: “Enjoy it while you can, it’s just like the weather / So quit complaining, brother / No one lives forever!”

    2. illhousen says:

      It’s another case of a failure to properly incorporate fantasy elements while attempting to tell a moral that can be applied to real life.

      IRL death is inevitable and likely would be inevitable long after all of us Farlas kick the bucket. Whether you think death is a bad thing or really bad thing, you have no choice but to accept that death is a thing that’s going to happen to you. As such, learning to live with that instead of desperately searching for a way out that will never work (faith healers and other conmen like them) is the best thing you can do.

      Of course, if death actually can be avoided, can be made null and void, that’s another matter entirely. Common sense no longer applies in such a scenario and new logic must be accepted. The movie doesn’t understand it and tries to preach old truths that were invalidated by its own narrative.

      So, yeah, SMBC strip is appropriate, as always.

      Honestly, it’s especially weird here since the main character is a surgeon. Prolonging people’s lives against the laws of nature is his whole job, and in the comics his greatest sin was that he refused to perform surgeries when there wasn’t enough money in it. He valued his own comfort above lives of others.

      It feels like a humbled and better Strange should be the one arguing in favor saving everyone while villain’s plan is simply to hoard magic and use it to control the masses and get filthy rich or something.

      1. Farla says:

        and in the comics his greatest sin was that he refused to perform surgeries when there wasn’t enough money in it.

        Even worse, his sin this time is that he wouldn’t perform surgeries when he didn’t think he’d succeed – so, his sin is accepting nature’s limitations instead of always striving against them.

      2. SpoonyViking says:

        Which SMBC strip is that?

        Edit: Oops, replied to the wrong person. Sorry, Farla!

        Edit 2: Oh, well, while I’m here, I think the idea is that Strange refused to help in cases where there WAS a chance of success, only they weren’t so great and he didn’t want to risk his reputation. I agree the actual execution wasn’t so good, though.

        1. Socordya says:

          Which SMBC strip is that?

          The one I linked to. 

          1. SpoonyViking says:

            Oh, d’oh, I didn’t see the link there. Thanks!

      3. Socordya says:

        It’s another case of a failure to properly incorporate fantasy elements while attempting to tell a moral that can be applied to real life.

         

        TvTropes has an article about that phenomenon, though being TvTropes it manages to miss the point and put Undertale in the examples.

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        1. illhousen says:

          Fantastic Aesop? Checked it, and it’s glorious.

          The Genocide route is extremely unrelenting in hammering the point home you’re likely only taking that route to see what happens, rather than any actual desire to hurt or punish the characters, and the few characters who are aware that you’re able to effectively time travel using the ability to SAVE argue the fact you can undo everything doesn’t make you any better of a person. However, the only reason their point sticks is because completing a Genocide playthrough causes you to become possessed by the Fallen Child, who destroys the world whether you want to or not and then only allows you to recreate it if you sell your SOUL to them. Doing so prevents you from ever achieving the Golden Ending, as the child takes you over in the final scene of the Pacifist route and is implied to kill everyone again anyway. So in some ways, it’s an Arbitrary Rules Aesop about Demonic Possession and deals with the devil, but since it’s primary purpose is to drive the point the other characters are making, it makes you wonder how effective their point would have been without the Child’s cross-timeline possession of you.

          Way to miss the point. The whole deal with Chara possession is here to give your choice lasting consequences, true. Without it the point would lose some of its bite as you would be able to replay the game and make everyone happy again. The point itself, however, that players are willing to commit great atrocities because it’s just a game and there are no consequences, no reason to care about puny NPCs, still stands. It works precisely because the game provides a contrast with the usual deal where you can take back any bad endings.

          If anything, the actual issue is that you can erase all consequences even if you did go through the Genocide ending but quit the game right before answering Chara. The point of no return should probably happen earlier, around Mettaton at least.

          Less Anviliciously, the fact that the Golden Ending can only be achieved by refraining from committing the Crime of Self-Defense no matter how violent your enemy is only makes sense in-universe because the barrier needs seven human souls worth of power to be destroyed; the six human souls in reserve plus every monster in the Underground conveniently make up the correct amount, and you can’t do it with one iota less. It’s a pretty convenient coincidence that this is the number of monsters currently alive, and the fact that every living monster soul adds up to one human soul is only mentioned on one Pamphlet Shelf.

          …I’m not sure what they’re even arguing here. That it’s OK to kill monsters if you can’t make them all happy? What?

    3. Farla says:

      but what is stoping super demon to just take the time-manipulating artefact out of his hands before killing him?

      So, what I was thinking was that it can’t interact with time – its universe is outside time, so Strange can fuck things up by bringing in a portion of the physics of our world and it can’t do anything about it. Also, and there’s even less evidence of this, I think it makes most sense to assume the time loop is set by him before he interacts with the demon guy, so no matter what you do to Strange afterward, the only thing that happens is another one appears and offers a deal. The Stranges don’t share any memory, so you can’t wear them down – from his POV, he succeeds on his first try.

      1. SpoonyViking says:

        Yeah, I think that’s what the movie was going for – Dormammu can’t just break the spell because it literally doesn’t understand time (it’s arguable if it could even do so anyway, considering Strange is actually using *spoilers*, but that’s not something the characters or the viewers knew at the time). Plus, he does set up the time loop before entering the Dark Dimension, if I’m not mistaken.

        The Stranges don’t share any memory, so you can’t wear them down […]

        That, on the other hand, is not what the movie was going for. Sorry. :-)

        1. Farla says:

          I know it’s not what the movie’s going for but it’s the best explanation for why torturing Strange doesn’t seem to be an option.

          1. SpoonyViking says:

            I think the idea is that endlessly killing Strange IS Dormammu trying to break him down, but Strange’s resolve was too strong for that.

            1. Farla says:

              Yeah, but Strange is a whiner who lacks resolve and insta-deaths aren’t that upsetting when you know you’re immortal.

              Plus it avoids the issue of him running out of energy to manually reset each time/why he doesn’t need to use energy to reset each time if it’s time clones rather than a single person.

              Reply
            2. EdH says:
              Yeah, super messed up, I was almost not going to watch the movie because of the Asian thing. But I did. It’s even worse because Strange talks about not killing and respect life, yet he gloats about the villain’s impending doom. A waste of good characters.

              I hope Dormammu continues to be a manchild though, like his comics counterpart (this was the being who reacts to losing by trying to fight the personification of eternity). Those were 5 minutes of glorious stupid. I also hope we get to see him get wrecked by his sister Umar (although Umar is another basket of problems).

              Reply
            3. Heatth says:

              It’s even worse because Strange talks about not killing and respect life, yet he gloats about the villain’s impending doom.

              Oh, yeah! That bothered me so much too! I was quite glad they had Strange be bothered by killing people. That is not something you see a lot in movies, and it is quite nice to see. But then he went around and gloated to the villain in the end, which just made him look like a hypocrite. All they had to do was to have Strange to look sorrowful in that scene but, nope, they screwed it up.

              Reply
            4. Farla says:

              Yeah, I won’t say I’m surprised by the fact Strange is a selfish, smug asshole to the end, but it seems extraordinarily cruel when they seem to really have had the best of intentions.

              I don’t even buy Strange actually cared about killing. I wish he had, but given everything else, I think what we saw there was him freaking out that he almost died but hiding behind the do-no-harm excuse.

              Reply
  4. Heatth says:

    I had a blast with the movie but, yeah, its politics are fucked up and a lot of it just plain didn’t make sense.

    What bothered me the most was how quick everything happened. Like, very early the Ancient One mentions mastering magic is like mastering surgery: it requires time and effort. But then Strange flat out ignore the “time” part and becomes awesome in a few months. I mean, yeah, he is not the Sorcerer Supreme by the end of the movie and is overall worse than everyone else. But just the fact he is holding his own against people who have being doing that shit for years is already ridiculous. Even more so when he also read and understood that one book in a matter of minutes. What is worse is that this could be easily fixed. Just have a bigger time skip. Make it 4 years so it is actually comparable to finishing med school. Anything that doesn’t have the white guy just being awesomer than everyone by a ridiculously wide margin.

    1. Farla says:

      The timeline is awful. I’m not sure if it was because he has to be young to be cool or because his girlfriend was established at the start and letting her age would be unacceptable, but whatever reason was so important could’ve been fixed by shrugging and saying that because magic he doesn’t age for the decade+ he spends mastering magic and also because magic almost no time passes in the outside world. It’d even better set up the idea that the Ancient One is accomplishing stuff by leeching from Timeless No Agey Dimension! After all, the new villain isn’t actually throwing a tantrum over not getting eternal life too and there’s no explanation given for why the Ancient One wanted to/had to be the only one who lived forever, and his objection makes all the more sense if all the magic users are benefitting from the dark dimension’s power so let’s just kill absolutely everybody and hope that works.

  5. SpoonyViking says:

    That face when you rewatch various episodes of the old Spider-Man cartoon from the nineties (the one done by Fox Kids) and that series did a better debut episode for Doctor Strange than the recent multi-million dollar movie.

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