Doctor Strange is Marvel’s most unlikable superhero to date

11.07.16 1 month ago

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On the whole, I liked Doctor Strange, the movie. But I would have liked it a lot more if I had liked Dr. Strange, the person. He's pretty terrible, did you notice?

Let me preface this by saying I'm a comic book person, but I've never read a Doctor Strange comic so that factors into my opinions on the film and its main character. If that bothers you, maybe stop reading now instead of harping on me for not reading the comics. You shouldn't have to have read the comics to understand Marvel's films (or any adaptations for that matter).

[Some small spoilers to follow for Doctor Strange.]

OK, we good?

Disney and Marvel's Doctor Strange was number one this weekend with a $84.9 million box office take domestically, making it the tenth largest openings for an MCU film. As far as the solo outings are concerned, it did better than the first Captain America, Thor, and Ant-Man films but wasn't able to surpass the opening weekend for 2008's Iron Man. It's interesting because I've been seeing a lot of people comparing both characters, as I did at first.

It's an easy comparison to make. Dr. Stephen Strange, the narcissist surgeon who cares more about himself than his patients and Tony Stark, the self-proclaimed “Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.” On the surface it sure seems like they're similar characters, both are certainly full of themselves, but where Tony started and where his origin story took him is leagues away from Stephen.

While I liked the movie for its visual impact, I realized walking out of the theater I just really hated Benedict Cumberbatch's Dr. Strange. He is so over the top, unlikeable in every way. If I were ancient mystical energies, I would have kicked him to the curb of Kamar-Taj and never reopened the door. He has no redeeming qualities that I witnessed.

I know they were trying to fix what they felt were other serious issues by casting Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One, but Celtic-origins handwaving aside, her inclusion didn't help what was already a story utilizing the trope of a white man coming into a culture and teachings he knows nothing about (and in this case is entirely willing to make light of because of his ignorance) and becoming more adept than those who came before him. But before he even got to Nepal, Stephen was a grade-A jerk.

He picks and chooses his surgeries based on what's the most interesting challenge and what won't leave him with a corpse on the table, ruining his perfect record. Don't get me wrong; some surgeons actually do that, but they don't make great superheroes in my mind. Strange is a talented doctor, but he takes pleasure in proving he's smarter than his co-workers. From that unattractive trait alone, I wonder how Rachel McAdams' Dr. Christine Palmer was ever in a relationship with him. But considering her characterization and their relationship is barely a blip on the radar of this film, we'll never know (his later line to her, “This is the part when you leave,” just drives home those terrible personality attributes).

I re-watched Iron Man this weekend since it had been a while, with a mind on Tony's personality. I remember him coming off much more unlikable during Age of Ultron and Civil War than I had in the past, but I always thought of him as a genuinely good person.

Tony's party-boy antics aren't too over the top in that film, but even so, he's quickly brought down to Earth and awoken to a reality he was previously unaware of – that his company's weapons were being used by evil people. He's literally forged in fire and comes out the other side with a power suit fighting bad guys. And not because anyone asked him to, he saw a wrong and wanted to make it right. That's one of the simplest definitions of a hero in my mind. While Tony's behavior and overall personality rub many the wrong way, we know he has a heart, not to put too fine a point on it.

In Doctor Strange, Stephen is very much against getting wrapped up in a multiverse battle; other characters actually have to plead with him to fight the good fight. He's too focused on helping himself and only goes into battle when he sees no other choice. The Cloak of Levitation can't be all that picky if it chose to give Stephen a hand. Maybe you can argue it saw his potential, much like Mordo who convinced the Ancient One to let him into Kamar-Taj in the first place but so far, I haven't. I'm not entirely convinced his plan to defeat the Big Bad wasn't just to show Dormammu how clever he is.

Part of my dislike for Stephen probably stems from not liking Cumberbatch as an actor as much as I used to. Perhaps it's because he plays overly confident geniuses too often (Sherlock, Star Trek Into Darkness) and too well. I just know he's not the type of superhero that makes me want to root for him to win.

While I've talked about this film standing on its own (which is a good thing) from the MCU, I am curious to see how Stephen interacts with the other Marvel film characters. Maybe Thor, a hero who himself has been humbled, may be able to teach Stephen how to be modest for a change. Or maybe Tony can just tell him to stop being an asshole.

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