I find myself with curiously mixed feelings about Doctor Strange. On one hand, I enjoyed much of it immensely. There was, as always with Marvel, a nice balance between exciting action, moments of reflection and flickers of humour that made me laugh even in the darkest moments. The solution to the major crisis is very well-played, standing in stark contrast to the battles that ended both Avengers movies. And yet, there were moments – mainly in the adaption of the original comic to the big screen – that grated on me.
The original Doctor Strange was an a-hole, to put it mildly. He only got better after his near-fatal accident and years of training. The movie version is less of a pain in the butt, even before the accident. In some ways, the movie version comes across as a decent guy when we need to think of him as a prat. This is not, however, the real problem. The re-imagined Mordo is also a decent guy, if a little rigid in his thinking. His fall from grace at the end of the movie – in the stinger – actually cheapens the character. I couldn’t help thinking of just how badly Green Lantern messed up its source material, although – in this case – in reverse.
In the original comics, Mordo starts out as a bad guy – the Ancient One’s greatest apprentice who also happens to be evil. He actually pushes Strange into committing himself to his studies, just by providing the motivation to think of something beyond himself that Strange lacked. (Nice job fixing it, villain.) In the movie, Mordo – a man unable to see the world in anything more than black and white – falls to evil through his determination to rid the world of it.
This does add a layer of tragedy to the (genuine) friendship between Mordo and Strange – it’s clear, even at the end, that they genuinely like one another. But at the same time, it provides a layer of excuse for Mordo that was lacking in the comic-book character. This is not someone who is out-and-out evil – and I think this was a mistake, because the world needs to be reminded that evil does exist. This ‘fallen from grace’ theme pervades too many of the Marvel movies and I find it more than a little annoying.
It also undermines some of Strange’s character. Instead of giving him a reason to fight, the movie puts him in places where he has to fight. (And it removes the plot point that the original Ancient One knew very well that Mordo was falling into evil.) I can’t help comparing it to Thor, but that fitted in with Marvel canon.
Overall, this was a good movie. It stands very well on its own – there are hardly any mentions of other parts of the MCU – and remains focused on its characters. But while people may complain about race-swapping some of the older characters, the real problem lies in how they are used. Their flaws are cheapened and so too are they.
YMMV, of course.