Like

Marvel, Please Chill With the Stories of Arrogant Dudes Finding Redemption

It's wearing a little thin.

With a little over a month before its release, Marvel has finally pulled the curtain back a bit on Doctor Strange. Reports from a recent set visit have been pouring in Tuesday, and all sorts of tidbits are coming to light about the movie: How its exploration of magic will make it more visually interesting than any other Marvel movie, how it's inspired by martial arts movies and similar to Harry Potter, how they're kind of trying to avoid having a movie where characters just shoot lasers at each other. It's not particularly groundbreaking stuff, nor is there anything that's going to really sell you on the movie better than its good trailer. But there is one problem, and it's been there from the start: Doctor Strange is yet another Marvel movie about an arrogant dude who must be humbled in order to be a hero.

The people making Doctor Strange kind of acknowledge this. According to the set report from Birth.Movies.Death, Benedict Cumberbatch is quite candid about Stephen Strange's arc in the movie, saying the character is "difficult" and "arrogant" and "brilliant and charming," talking about how that all has to be broken down in him and built back up during his training in Tilda Swinton's Mystic Dojo of Humility.

That's an arc that sounds a lot like Tony Stark's in the first Iron Man film. Marvel's producer extraordinaire Kevin Feige acknowledges this in the Birth.Movies.Death report, but isn't quite convincing when it comes to selling how different Strange will be in this regard.

"We’ve talked about (his arc) in comparison to Tony Stark, who is an arrogant, witty fellow at the beginning of the movie who sells weapons and then as an arrogant, witty fellow at the end of the movie who doesn’t sell weapons, who channels his wit and his intelligence into something else but is kind of the same guy," Feige said. "Strange’s transformation is much complete than that. He really does begin to recognize the way he was acting earlier and the reasons he was acting like that earlier are things that he identifies and attempts to correct over the course of the movie."

It's a tack that would be more satisfying if it weren't more or less the same story Thor tells, in which secret comedy genius Chris Hemsworth is stripped of his power as punishment for his arrogance, only to earn it back when he has learned humility. And besides, regardless of where said arrogant character ends up in Doctor Strange or Iron Man, they're both movies about arrogant dudes who ultimately need to learn a lesson. (A lesson that, in Tony Stark's case, was more or less repeated in Iron Man 2.) There isn't much of a substantive difference there.

Call him Gregory House or Sherlock Holmes or Perry Cox or Tony Stark—we see this guy all the damn time.

The ultimate problem with this isn't just that Marvel has done it several times. It's that Marvel risks diluting what could be a fascinating new corner of a sprawling cinematic universe by choosing the most boring audience proxy imaginable to examine it: the arrogant white interloper who must be humbled. The brilliant asshole who will always get another shot, because he's just so smart in his obscure field and sometimes remembers to be funny, is an overused trope that reaches back to the hubris of Odysseus and unfolds on television just about every night, on whatever network you care to watch: Call him Gregory House or Sherlock Holmes or Perry Cox or Tony Stark—we see this guy all the damn time. I'll take the quiet, regal rage of Black Panther over any of these dudes any day.

Doctor Strange, as his name not-so-subtly hints, is a window into trippy and existential horror, the scary supernatural underpinnings to everything you take for granted. What makes Stephen Strange fascinating isn't so much that he's a guy who learned a lesson and wants to save the world, but that the world he sees is entirely different and kind of horrifying and he's one of the only people who can see it. Doctor Strange should be the means, not the end—in other words, Marvel risks building out an elaborate world full of magic and mind-bending violations of the laws of physics just as a backdrop for a now-humbled white guy and his quest for an all-powerful doodad. Marvel, given its strict adherence to its set of formulas, probably can't help this to a certain extent, but it can make its world an equal player in the action. Think of the grungy cosmic weirdness of Guardians of the Galaxy, or the heavily structured dream-logic of Inception—a movie that seems to have heavily inspired Doctor Strange's strangeness.

The real world, meanwhile, is full of arrogant, powerful white dudes who could use a lesson in a humility and empathy. Sometimes they're fortunate enough get one, and are able do something to change course. That's great. But it doesn't make them heroes.

Read more