Like many of our readers, I saw Doctor Strange last week, and really enjoyed it for a number of reasons. Most of them have to do with the fact that Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is very different, as a superhero protagonist, from what we’ve seen in previous Marvel movies (although to be honest, I really love all of the heroes of the MCU).
Stephen originally has no desire to be a superhero. He’s not an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., nor does he take proactive steps to make himself a superhero, like building an Iron Man suit.
Instead, he’s a man who just wants his life back. A highly acclaimed surgeon, his hands are severely injured in a car accident, leaving him unable to perform surgery. He travels to Tibet where he meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who teaches him sorcery. Once he gets a glimpse of everything that’s possible, he decides to continue down that path. It’s an interesting and unusual route to becoming a superhero.
He’s also a compelling character because we have the chance to see him grow. Initially, he is someone who has allow his success to go to his head. He’s arrogant, the type of person who thinks he’s always right. And he’s a bit of a know-it-all. When the Ancient One begins telling him about sorcery, he scoffs, saying basically that it’s nonsense, and he only believes in science. But when it becomes obvious that she’s telling the truth, Stephen is open-minded enough to reform his ideas and try to learn more.
In some ways, Stephen Strange is similar to Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Tony Stark. Both characters are highly intelligent, a little on the arrogant side, and face the challenge of overcoming their hubris. The difference, however, is that Tony still seems to be struggling. He’s a charming character whom we all love, but his arrogance is his Achilles heel. While he has definitely tempered his sense of superiority since the first Iron Man movies, it’s still a challenge for him.
Stephen, however, seems to have mostly learned his lesson. He has seen the vastness of reality, he realizes that there is still so much he doesn’t know, and it seems to have humbled him. We see this in his interactions with his love interest, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). Early in the film, his behavior toward her is haughty and cold at times. But toward the end of the film, he’s much more authentic and genuine with her.
What’s more, Benedict Cumberbatch is the perfect actor to play the character. We’ve seen him in a similar role on the BBC’s Sherlock, where he expertly portrays Sherlock Holmes as a highly intelligent but aloof character who has to learn to be compassionate and to open up a bit to the people he cares about.
Overall, it’s a strong movie with a compelling protagonist, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it ties in to future movies.