This may be harsh, but my favorite character in Dr. Strange was the Cloak of Levitation. It was decisive, powerful, loyal, and silly. Basically, the writers gave the Doctor a wearable guard dog to lighten him up. One of my closest friends is a surgeon, so I’ve seen a dog-surgeon relationship first hand: the dog is the light of my friend’s life.
The dog balances the intensity of his job and his generalized frustration with all that annoying human relationship messiness. In real life and on screen, this is a perfect pairing, and I can’t wait to see how it plays out in future movies.
My second favorite character was the Ancient One. Tilda Swinton brought a joyful lightness and a sense of love to every line she spoke. I totally bought her as enlightened in an Eastern philosophy way. She took the defense of the world seriously, with great composure, but she didn’t allow her responsibilities to weigh her down. She managed her choices, dark ones, and moved beyond them. I loved how fundamentally healthy this character seemed. She absolutely glowed and smiled often, something I don’t usually associate with knowledge and power. I loved her portrayal of a deep sense of wonder. We know she knows more than anyone about all that exists in infinite dimensions, yet her character helped me see that it is possible to prevent the weight of the world from getting me down.
Christine Palmer makes my top three because she is a much-needed portrayal of a caretaking woman who takes care of herself as well as others. She is the epitome of a friend: There when needed, trusting and loyal, but she knows when to cut Strange loose to protect herself. She is smart, she is competent, and she is strong enough to let the tough love kick in.
Next on the list is Wong, because he does his job with a sense of humor. Wong is the ideal human in my book because he is in balance: He loves learning and is intellectual as the librarian (though I do wish there had been at least one sequence where he quizzed the Doctor before letting him “check out” any more books). He is a competent fighter. His enlightened spirituality allows him to belly laugh and crack jokes just as much as it allows him to use powerful magic.
The title character barely makes the top 5, I’m afraid. I just didn’t LIKE Dr. Strange, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. Which isn’t to say that I think there was anything wrong with the portrayal as written. I’m not a Cumberbitch, but I am a fan of Mr. Cumberbatch’s work. I was happy to see a favorite actor, spreading his cloak and joining the blockbuster ranks – it means I get to see him in more movies.
But whether it was the editing or the writing, I couldn’t really CARE about Dr. Strange. His American accent sounded wrong in my ears (possibly because of the uncountable hours I’ve heard that voice just be British).
The bouncing between personas that occurred in the movie never gave me time to empathize with him. His surgeon persona was great. Dedicated to challenging and interesting problems while simultaneously doing exacting work with hands, body, and focus of mind. So focused in fact that he has extra brain power for trivia and humor.
But for me, that did not jive with the materialism and playboy persona. The whole “bond” sequence didn’t sit well with me. The custom closet drawer full of watches. The sportscar. The watches I understand – an obsession with time and with gadgets is foreshadowing, and it allows for the glimpse into the nature of his relationship with Dr. Palmer. It was calculated for plot, which may be why it didn’t really sit well with me in terms of character.
Strange wants to think of himself as funny, and I loved it when his humor was turned back on him. He wants to see himself as brilliant, accomplished, yet he seriously screws up getting into the car accident, an utterly preventable injury.
It does say something that in reviewing the film I decided to talk mostly about the characters. I wasn’t in it for the kung fu fighting, the explosions, the fancy astral projection sequences. They were fine, but man, there were a lot of them.
What there wasn’t a lot of, was consequences. Dr. Strange doesn’t suffer long for being an arrogant egomaniac; the Ancient One teaches him anyway. No consequences for sneaking forbidden books from the library, stealing artifacts, or any of his other failings. Ultimately, Dr. Strange goes to Tibet, learns the mystic arts, plays with time, saves the world, and learns, “I can break the rules whenever I want.” That message is frustrating and unappealing.
I hope they do more in future films to humanize and limit him than leaning on his Hippocratic oath. If his only limitation is that he won’t fight to kill, Dr. Strange is going to be a massively overutilized in the most boring way possible:
Let’s talk this through!
[BAD THING HAPPENS]
Let’s talk this through differently!
[BAD THING HAPPENS]
I have seen Groundhog Day (and Dr. Strange’s version as well), and there’s only so many iterations the attention span can handle. When they pick a new direction, I will happily watch any or all of the characters from this film saving the world and finding out who they are in the process.