Art by Alex Yi
By the Eye of Agamotto I declare that Dr. Strange was...Fantastic. Big shocker I know but Marvel just continues to do everything right. Whether you love the Marvel Universe or not you cannot deny that they never just phone it in. They are meticulous and they allow the characters to breathe. They start with the fundamental aspect of film-making that makes or breaks a film despite the auteur filmmaker. It's the script stupid.
I'm going to talk a bit about the movie and there will be some SPOILERS below so be forewarned. I wanted to talk first about the relationship between the comics and the film and how Dr. Strange has evolved. Dr. Strange was created by Steve Ditko (Spider-Man, Hulk, Shade: The Changing Man) pretty much on his own. This is one of the major characters that although Stan Lee did write some issues he claims absolutely no ownership of it. Ditko wrote and did the art for the character in 1963 that debuted in Strange Tales #110. Dr. Strange was never an A list hero but his creator made an art out of this very bizarre and odd form of storytelling . Despite his stories inability to capture mainstream comic fans his beautiful designs and colors stands as a testament to the art of comics and how Dr. Strange became a true reflection of the Warholian pop art community. Which is apropos to the man himself who in 1968 pulled a J.D. Salinger and retreated from Marvel and the mainstream for a small office in the concrete jungle of NYC. (You can read a geat article about his current whereabouts by Abraham Reisman) I really enjoyed the Strange Tales books from the 70's. They are trippy a bit goofy and very weird but in the best way possible. After Ditko and then Bill Everett as writer/artist (Sub-Mariner, Daredevil, Marvel Classics) in the late 60s it was artist Frank Brunner (Howard the Duck, Vampirella, Creepy) and writer Steve Engleheart's (Captain America, Avengers, Detective Comics) run that defined the series for most comic fans.
Dr. Strange was an arrogant neurosurgeon who, after a nasty car accident, loses the use of his hands and simultaneously ending his career. He seeks help in all directions but finds no cure until he comes to Kamar-Taj deep in the Himalayas and finds instruction from the Ancient One. He teaches Strange the mystical arts. He uses artifacts like the Eye of Agamotto and the Book of the Vishanti and says crazy things like "By the Hoary of Hosts of Hoggoth!" His main villains over the past 30 years include Baron Mordo, Mephisto, Nightmare, Satannish and the big bad himself Dormaummu. Doctor Strange is currently being written by Jason Aaron (Thor, Ghost Rider, Scalped) and artist Chris Bachalo (Uncanny X-Men, Generation X, Shade: The Changing Man). My all time favorite Dr. Strange in the comics are his guest spots on Spider-Man. If you've been paying attention to the blog you'll notice my connection to many characters in the Marvel Universe is through the webbed wall crawler. That is not an accident as he was my primary reading as a kid. But I always loved how much of a fish out of water Spidey was every time he had dealings with Dr. Strange. Whenever Spider-Man would get sucked into another hellish dimension with Dormammu or accidentally get thrown into the astral plane. His freak outs are legendary and I always thought they were a fun pairing so keep that in mind in the future Kevin Feige.
Cumberbatch nailed Dr. Strange in all aspects and you got to give the man his props for selling it so convincingly. This is by far one of the more difficult characters to bring to screen and he handled it with charm, deftness and sheer bad assery. The film looked incredible with the various worlds especially the mirror world was most spectacular. Now according to Rotten Tomatoes most of the reviews were positive. But after looking a little closer I began to notice a theme. Apparently the movie was was too formulaic for their tastes and that Strange was too much of like Iron Man. And to this I say - huh? Yes Dr. Strange is arrogant and incredibly gifted and is charismatic like Tony Stark but that is the only thing that connects them. He can be a smart ass which is probably why, on the surface, people liked to compare him to Tony Stark. The truth is he's a much more emotional and far less of a narcissist. Yet in some ways he excels at being an asshole, which the film proudly allows him to be. Dr. Strange is confident and understands his exemplary gifts which is why he is a snob to his fellow doctor Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) when asked to lend his talents to the ER. He has nobler aspirations yes, dickish they may be, but after watching him perform such spectacular surgery it's hard to argue with his logic. There is however a particular trope in most blockbuster films, including this one, that I wish would be addressed and at least tweaked if not removed and that would be the training montage. I understand that no one wants to see Dr. Strange meditating and reading books but at the very least they can acknowledge that things are hard regardless of a photographic memory and that sometimes things take years to learn. For God's sakes you can throw up a 4 years later card or something. We aren't told exactly how long he's been there it may be months or years but it always bugs me so let's try to address that the next time Marvel.
So what can we expect from Dr. Strange in the future of the Marvel Universe? Well it's clear that he will appear in Avengers: Infinity War given that it is revealed in the film that the Eye of Agamotto is the time stone, one of 5 of the Infinity stones. Up to this moment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe we have seen the Tesseract or Cosmic Cube from the Avengers and Captain America which is the Space Stone. The Mind Stone appeared in Loki's scepter in Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron and now resides in the headpiece of the Vision. The Aether from Thor: The Dark World is discovered to be the Reality Stone. The final stone is the power gem from Guardians of the Galaxy. All of these forces being brought together to combat Thanos who covets the 5 gems in the Infinity Gauntlet which he revealed at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron, he proclaimed as he took the glove that he will have to now get them by himself. With that being said now that Strange has beat back Dormammu and is on his way to being the Sorcerer's Supreme has he created possibly two new allies for Thanos to get what he wants? The second being Baron Mordo played by Chiwetel Ejiofor who started as an ally and a mentor to Strange but by the end of the film felt betrayed by the order and is now a rogue sorcerer doing some really bad things. It sounds like he will certainly be back for the second Dr. Strange film but it would be a great twist to have him return as a heavy in Infinity War. I appreciate that the film brought the visual style of Ditko and kept the weird while deftly bringing Strange perfectly into the Marvel Universe. Bring on Infinity War.