He’s not indelible in people’s minds, but he’s been around forever. That’s the main piece of resonance that MCU fans have when thinking about Doctor Strange. Other than the fact that he’s some kind of super wizard. Created in the heart of the Silver Age, Doctor Strange has been around Marvel Comics forever, but more than that, he’s held down the magical edge of the tent for Marvel for forever. His reign stood for many decades as the resident vague, arrogant, white guy in charge of all the magic around here. It appears that it takes more than that to build a Hollywood movie these days (or when they first tried it in 1978), and in the 2016 effort put forth by the MCU, fans of Doctor Strange were saddened to see every part of the character jammed into a much too small suitcase. The references were overblown, the heroic arc was flat, the villains were splashy, and the supporting characters only had one side to them. At least all the reviews insisted that it looked cool.
Establishing a story and a protagonist driven by the pursuit of magic isn’t the most obvious story to tell, it’s constantly in danger of using the mystical ability to morph reality as a crutch to explain away events and contradictions. Somehow, this makes stories about magic all the more alluring. Their deceptive nature even extends to fiction, and, in this case, the movie business. Getting to the bottom of this case study, without any tricks, here are 20 Things The MCU Gets Completely Wrong About Doctor Strange.
20 NOT THE SORCERER SUPREME
The title of Sorcerer Supreme is almost synonymous with Doctor Strange, as he is the magician super guardian best known to most fans. But the title is more than a ceremonial adjective, it’s a leadership role. They’re best thought of as the magical ambassadors of a certain location. The mysterious nature of magic being what it is, the Sorcerer Supreme is a valuable traffic cop for all of the magical activity for a given planet or realm.
Maybe it’s an oversight or implied, but the Doctor Strange we know in the MCU hasn’t achieved Sorcerer Supreme status. He doesn’t introduce himself that way or fulfill the duties of the office. Maybe they were saving that for the sequel?
19 HIS BACKGROUND
The Doctor Strange (2016) movie introduces Dr. Stephen Strange as a hotshot surgeon with a narcissism complex and a fondness for fancy watches, and viewers are predisposed to disliking this guy immediately. Aside from his intimate knowledge of ‘70s pop, an intimate knowledge of Strange has never really been brought onto screen.
It may help to know a few things from the comic book version of his story that explain the way he acts around the time of his accident. A lot of the reason he became a doctor is attributed to witnessing the death of his sister, Donna. Soon after, he lost his mother, Beverly, when he was in his late teens.
18 THE ANCIENT ONE REBOOTED
While Tilda Swinton gave a pleasant, broadly serene, performance as the Ancient One, much was made over her casting in the role that was originally written for an Asian, specifically Himalayan, man. In the film’s defense (not really), without Swinton, the movie would have had no female characters besides the sidelined Dr. Christine Palmer.
The less serious affront at work here is a total abridgement of the Ancient One’s character, whose actions and entire life force happened to coincide with Doctor Strange’s arrival. In the comics, Strange and the Ancient One work together for years, and the wisdom and history of magic is built and given real credibility in his hands.
17 THE EYE OF AGAMOTTO WAS COMPLETELY CHANGED
Fans learned in Avengers: Infinity War that the Eye of Agamotto was actually the Time Stone, but the Eye is really a separate magical object that should be in the possession of Doctor Strange, so one is right to wonder if it’s been hidden or switched. For the duration of this phase of the MCU, the two magical objects may be combined for story purposes.
In the comics the Eye of Agamotto, while looking similar to what we saw on-screen, had a little bit more to do with Agamotto, the Sorcerer Supreme who created it. The original Eye also has additional powers too -- it’s been known to emit an all powerful shining light, exhibit telepathic capabilities, and even teleport, as well as manipulate timelines.
16 STILL TOO HEROIC
The Benedict Cumberbatch, MCU, version of Doctor Strange, is a dead ringer for the comic book drawing and is a convincing magical adept because he’s Benedict Cumberbatch and of course he’s good at everything. But that version of the character is never properly motivated to become a hero. One can make a leap that if he wants to be a Doctor, he wants to be a hero for the same reasons, but then he’s an Avenger by the transitive property, not really a fun watch.
Strange inherits the role of Earth’s guardian nicely, he shoulders it because he’s arrogant enough to take on anything, we’ve seen that, but the line between his fondness for shiny objects and his being a bonafide hero is still quite blurry.
15 GAINING THE PRIVILEGE OF MAGIC WAS TOO EASY
Stephen Strange’s cinematic training montage was just barely good enough to get a checkmark -- the character’s desperation worked, so at that point, it was understood that he would try anything. But what does the Ancient One see in this guy? Why Strange of all people?
He appears to be quite persistent and pretty intelligent, but he got into magic school by knocking on a door. In the comics, Strange’s magical nature is a little bit more predestined, taking what we might call, the Harry Potter route. In the MCU, it’s basically just a good thing the Ancient One was in a good mood that day.
14 WASTED A REFERENCE TO THE LIVING TRIBUNAL
The most powerful cosmic entity in the entire multiverse is graced with a shout out, thanks to Doctor Strange, in another stumbled bit of fan service. The weapon of Baron Karl Mordo’s (Chiwetel Ejiofor’s) choice is referred to as the Staff of the Living Tribunal, but no explanation is given for the being, nor really is his connection to that staff rooted or obvious in anyway.
The Living Tribunal is the comics’ version of the ultimate arbiter, above all universal and power dynamics. His task is to ensure balance in the timelines, magical forces, and good and evil across the board at the highest levels. Baron Mordo’s staff looks pretty nice too though. Sturdy.
13 HIS ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS
Maybe the Doctor Strange movie painted him as a flawed guy who eventually winds up with Dr. Palmer in the end, but the romantic history of Stephen Strange has been one of the most tumultuous parts of the character. Even more so than Tony Stark, in this regard, Strange is one of the most philandering Avengers they’ve had on the team.
In the MCU this is brushed under logline as justifiable pain and being too busy for romance, but Strange’s simultaneous magnetism toward women and repulsion from attachment and intimacy is all wrapped up in his ideal to be the most powerful hero he can be.
12 NEW DIRECTION FOR DR. CHRISTINE PALMER
In another attempt to jam this movie full of something, even if it’s not a compelling script or hero’s journey, Dr. Christine Palmer, primary love interest to Strange, and fellow surgeon in the movie, is also adapted from a long time Marvel Comics character. This one is the biggest leap yet, however.
In the canon, Christine Palmer is one of the women to take on the mantle of Night Nurse, the mystery, noir, hero. Her story doesn’t connect to Strange at all except that they both happen to end up working at New York City hospitals. Just in case fans had any more dreams of a sequel, this film has been written into a corner again.
11 THE ROLE OF ORDER OF MAGICIANS/SANCTUM SANCTORUM
There were a couple of scenes with a dozen other magical pupils training, and fans visited Sanctums of other cities, but within the MCU, the role of all of these magicians is still really up in the air. The explanation of the origins of dark and light magic, going to back to the original distinction between the Ancient One, (then known as Yao) and Kaluu, were overlooked.
The introduction of Kaecilius was probably supposed to put a definitive face on the evil side of magic, especially with that smokey eye makeup. For audiences, the rule has been, “whoever has the nicer, more inviting library and cooler trinkets are the good guys”, and magic is so much more interesting than that.
10 USELESS NICODEMUS WEST CAMEO
In one more show of quality over quantity, long time Marvel mystical arts character, Nicodemus West was dropped into the 2016 movie as well, bringing the character into the MCU fold, but handicapping him at the same time. In the movie, Nicodemus West is brought into the story as nothing more than a colleague at work for Doctor Strange to compete with.
One scene where he makes fun of Dr. West for operating on a dead man stands out at one of his only memorable sequences. In the comics, Dr. West is the character that does the most work to save Strange’s hands after the accident. He eventually follows Strange to Kamar-Taj and becomes a rival magician himself.
9 RESEMBLES TONY STARK TOO CLOSELY
The Tony Stark comparisons are far too telling. It’s a tough one since the superhero genre is probably the only place where the acting strengths of the two can be held on an equal playing field. Here and Sherlock Holmes. In his Doctor Strange, Cumberbatch gets most of the way there, but ultimately reverts to a standard version of what Tony Stark has put a fun twist on.
Not all of that is the fault of the actor, however. Stephen Strange started out in a very similar place to Tony Stark, wealthy genius, stricken by horrible event, becomes a superhero. It’s their deeper pasts that vary much more, even if they can still go quip for quip.
8 KAECILIUS IS REDUCED TO A RED HERRING
In a move that saved them a bundle on visual effects, Kaecilius did all the heavy lifting of the main villain in the opening acts, then was vanquished before Doctor Strange graduated onto his real first test, the being Dormammu. Both suffer from the villain split, but we’ll talk about Kaecilius first because he has the slightly funnier name.
He lays out, (courtesy of Mads Mikkelson) this great manifesto to illustrate the righteousness of restoring order to the universe through dark magic, but then gets destroyed as a one off. It felt like the villain death was part of the last act twist. In the comics, Kaecilius is a disciple of Baron Mordo, rather than a rogue of the Ancient One.
7 DORMAMMU COMES OUT OF NOWHERE
Just when Doctor Strange is getting the hang of this hero thing, he dispatches Kaecilius, and has to face Dormammu. Unfortunately, this the one time when the audience empathized with Strange’s position the most. We’d never really heard of Dormammu in the movie this far, just got the reveal and the introduction with a bunch of surprise.
Doctor Strange handled the being in a half clever, tricking you on a first meeting kind of evasion, but there was no sense that this was the source of all dark magic in the universe. Dormammu, in the comics, is the overlord of the Dark Dimension, he delights in eating freshly minted sorcerers for breakfast. Strange merely caught him on the wrong side of it this time.
6 NUMEROUS NOTABLE MAGICAL OBJECTS ARE OVERLOOKED
The objects fans see the most are the Eye of Agamotto, the Cloak of Levitation, the Sling Ring, and the Dark Scepter. All of which feature as devices to move the plot along, with the exception of the Scepter, a more simple Macguffin. The MCU should consider going all in on the trinkets and baubles with this character. Iron Man has the franchise cornered on gadgets, (once again a place the two overlap), but these items are cooler.
How about the Bell of Ikonn, or the Atlantean Dreamwave? Maybe Spider-Man’s getting a tour and passes by the Orb of Snnnr and the Two Gems That Become One. They don’t require much explanation, they’re magic.
5 BARON MORDO ORIGIN REARRANGED
On-screen, Mordo, played by Ejiafor, was Doctor Strange’s first work friend, and primary ally in getting his feet wet and becoming accustomed to being a sorcerer. Only at the very end of the movie, it is revealed that Mordo may not have the purest intentions and is looking to move on from the Ancient One.
In the comics, it’s Mordo’s deception and desertion that leaves the Ancient One without a star pupil. The Baron Mordo backstory goes farther into is descent from European royalty and his family’s work with the Nazis. In the MCU, fans got an interesting character, but one that was more big brother gone bad than eternal foe.
4 WONG BACKSTORY SHIFTED
Wong rose to the occasion and became Strange’s trusted accomplice between Doctor Strange and Infinity War, but he began at a very different place in Kamar-Taj. While the explanation for this mostly seems to be “because of course”, Wong has an interesting backstory from the comics as well that could easily still make its way into the MCU. Wong comes from a long line of servants of the mystic arts who have devoted their lives for generations to aiding the currently ruling Sorcerer Supreme.
It was the Ancient One who originally matched Wong with the apprentice Stephen Strange. If anyone’s responsible for making Strange the sorcerer he is today, it’s Wong and his service, not to Strange’s vanity, but to the order of magicians.
3 HIS TRUE POWER IS DOWNPLAYED
It can’t be understated how limitless Doctor Strange’s powers truly are. He’s trained his body to be more receptive to the magical arts than almost anyone in the universe, and with that power he can place himself above dimensions, above time, above any foe or conflict.
So far the MCU has mastered parlor tricks, and Strange has become great at using magic for physical comedy, but if he’s progressing as a hero, or stretching his powers at all, he has the ability to affect the entire field. He was unfortunately dissolved at the hands of Thanos most recently, but if audiences ever demand him back, he can impact the MCU in big ways.
2 CLOAK OF LEVITATION IS A LITTLE TOO FRIENDLY
There was a definite Magic Carpet inspiration in the movements put on display by the Cloak of Levitation that fans saw on screen. Since Marvel is owned by Disney, an Aladdin reference is all fair game, but aside from a minor flourish, that character piece is a little bit more quaint in a live action movie than a cartoon.
In addition to being a little corny, it was totally an addition fabricated without the comics. In the source material, the Cloak is a little more drab, far more functional. But for a movie that was suffering for lack of likeable characters, the glimmer of the Magic Carpet felt like a nice touch.
1 DOES HE PLAN ON FOUNDING THE DEFENDERS?
The biggest thing that the MCU got wrong about Doctor Strange is his ability to move forward. Maybe the entirety of Phase 3 didn’t rest on his shoulders, but there’s a piece of a flow chart somewhere that says that if Doctor Strange does better, he could pick up the torch from Iron Man, and Strange and Star-Lord would be battling it out for reigning maverick windbag during Infinity War.
Now the character’s future is in peril and The Secret Defenders, fan-favorite super team, is left without a magical figurehead. Any other side alley the MCU wants to go down is now a little tainted by this failure as well.