Watching Doctor Strange bring about a carousel of emotions. Visually stunning, well performed, and an adequately written Marvel film. The MCU still hasn’t suffered a bad movie. However, watching as a woman of color it’s hard not to feel like Marvel, once again, has forgotten that we belong to their fanbase too.
If you’ve seen the trailers you’ve seen the Inception inspired city block spinning cranked to eleven. The chase scenes are thrilling. Viewers will feel as if they’re a spinning top on a turntable and yet miraculously never feel lost.
All video game franchises hoping to launch successful film franchises will have to look at Doctor Strange for inspiration. There are beautiful touches of Final Fantasy and Watch Dogs throughout the film. Magic feels real and grounded. Though, the style of hand gestures used is nothing compared to the finger twisting that goes on in The Magicians.
Fans of magic and modern day fairy tales will feel like more could have been done with the story. The lessons are mostly montage and there’s a heavy emphasis on physical fighting. One can’t blame Marvel for not abandoning their base, but with the push toward the surreal in previous movies, starting with Thor’s rainbow road all the way to Spider-Man’s moving eye costume, there was a hope for a full immersion into the genre.
Two mystical villains give better than average villain performances for an MCU property. Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius is appropriately intimidating; but doesn’t strike the fear one hopes for in a comic book baddy.
For a film that has promised diversity and wanting to move from harmful Asian stereotypes, this movie fails to bring in people of color in a meaningful way. Using tropey traditional Asian designs; and the fact that the key magical cities are Hong Kong, New York, and London, among with the lack of prominent POC roles proves this. Producer Kevin Feige, and Director Scott Derrickson answer as it often is for white led productions, is to ignore cultural histories and instead place a white woman in the role in hope of an appeasing feminist.
The Ancient One could have been played by an endless number of Asian women successfully. The character isn’t written as a dragon lady, she’s written as a woman struggling to keep the universe in balance. She is strong but vulnerable, wise but kind-hearted. Swinton plays the role like a sharp and precise aging general. She is fun to watch until she begins to explain chakras to Benedict Cumberbatch to which Chiwetel Ejiofor nods silently in the background.
Race and representation weren’t at the forefront of the filmmaker’s mind. Avoiding controversy is clearly the goal. We can see this in the fact that four out of six leads are white. Ejiofor’s Mordo and Benedict Wong’s Wong are funny side characters who support and guide Stephen Strange to success. There are a few minority extras, but the film is heavily white and after all of the begging and pleading the POC nerd community has done it’s hard not to see this as a letdown.
Overall Doctor Strange is a fun summer blockbuster coming out in the middle of Oscar season. It will prove a nice break in a dramatic lineup of so-so movies. But just like with Iron Fist it seems like Asian Americans and Asians all over the world will have to wait to be properly represented in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.