ByElise Jost, writer at
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Elise Jost

's just came out and has majorly been praised as a refreshing new opus in the saga of the , introducing the idea of a multiverse and making excellent use of 3D for its epic, magic-filled battles. certainly was the ideal choice to portray the pretentious Doctor, from the mannerisms to the beard, and all in all this release was quite a change from what we've come to expect of movies.

Or was it? There's one thing that connects Doctor Strange to most of the adaptations we've seen, and it's the concept of an origin story: It seems every time a new comic book character rolls around, studios feel compelled to give us their whole résumé, probably out of fear we wouldn't fully understand who they are or what they want — as if we absolutely had to be aware of that one time they broke their favorite watch, for example.

Do We Really Need Doctor Strange's Full Origin Story?

Doctor Strange's origin story, or at least what the movie version kept from the comic books, is actually pretty straightforward: Once a very successful and equally arrogant neurosurgeon, he struggles to give his life meaning after his hands are ruined in a car accident, which makes it impossible for him to carry on with his highly complex surgical accomplishments. For lack of a better solution, he goes to find a group of monks whom he's heard can help him recover, and despite his irritating personality, quickly learns the tricks of the trade enough to become their new prodigy.

Yet, the contents of this paragraph had to be included in quite extensive detail in the 2-hour movie: From his luxurious apartment with his collection of watches to his snarky comments in front of his work colleagues, to him waking up covered in stitches after the accident: We're shown every step of his journey from Dr. Stephen Strange, the surgeon, to Doctor Strange, the time-wielding sorcerer.

By Trying To Fit His Past, Present And Future Into One Movie, Doctor Strange Fails Its Main Character

'Doctor Strange' / Marvel Studios
'Doctor Strange' / Marvel Studios

But there's only so much you can do in 115 minutes, so we don't get the full version either. We don't see how Strange studied hard to become a surgeon, or maybe how he felt the need to prove himself. We don't get any hints at why he became so arrogant in the first place. And when he breaks down, the rain visible through his bay windows and one fight with his ex Christine Palmer are supposed to convey that he's hit rock bottom.

Because the movie doesn't take the time to fully develop its main character at the start, there's also no true shock when he's deeply hurt. His redemption from insufferable asshole to a slightly more empathetic and kind human being isn't all that convincing when we haven't had time to hate him. The "origin" part of the story feels like an appetizer before the main course, made of action and fight scenes. We know the deal. We yawn a little. And at least we don't have to try too hard to understand what Doctor Strange does or why he does it.

Is This Really What Superhero Movies Should Be About?

'Doctor Strange' / Marvel Studios
'Doctor Strange' / Marvel Studios

Now, if you're already typing a comment telling me that this is a superhero movie, and I shouldn't get all worked up about the balance between raw action and deep character development, I absolutely get the main aim of Marvel Studios. When you have big-budget blockbuster movies that should appeal to the broadest audience possible while still relying on an absurd amount of obscure comic book panels that only a fraction of moviegoers have read, it's clear that it doesn't hurt to give viewers a quick recap.

However, an origin story is no "quick recap." And Doctor Strange is trying to be everything at once: The story of how he became Sorcerer Supreme, tied into his past life and sprinkled with a villain or two, ultimately suffers on all fronts because of the amount of material that has to be crammed into a single movie. How many times have we complained that Marvel makes terrible villains? Or disappointing female side-kicks? If Kaecilius is so awfully unconvincing with his "I've been hurt in the past so I'm mean now" villain deal, it's because we don't have time to get to know him. We're told that he's had a difficult past, but again the movie breaks the rule of "show, don't tell." Don't even get me started on the Ancient One, whose mysterious backstory is seemingly solved with the one claim that she once got tempted by the big bad, too.

'Doctor Strange' / Marvel Studios
'Doctor Strange' / Marvel Studios

With its linear breakdown of Doctor Strange's origin story, the movie loses all subtlety, becoming more of a step-by-step tutorial I'd title How To Turn A Former Genius Surgeon Into A Time-Controlling Sorcerer than the portrayal of a new man rising from the ashes of his former self.

There's Hope, Though

'Doctor Strange' / Marvel Studios
'Doctor Strange' / Marvel Studios

It's even more of a shame considering both the richness of comic books and the increasingly talented actors that the blockbuster movie adaptations are capable of attracting. The reason so many people rush to these movies and relate to these heroes lies in their likability potential. In the comics, they're constructed in a way that the majority can identify with them, made to represent universal personality types. Their numerous adventures on the page have, over the years, allowed writers to paint them in a complex light.

But movies can't be watched in the same way we read comic book panels, so why do studios still try to fit in all the life events and the personality traits of a superhero in the same movie? Would it really be too hard to understand if we didn't get the recap sheet of what happened before the main action takes place? If it would, maybe Marvel can go back the other way and deliver a pure blockbuster action flick packed with visual effects, one that wouldn't even require the Cumberbatches of the world to get involved. Or maybe it's time to commit to a proper story, one that trusts the potential of its characters and the capacity of its audience to understand them in all their depth and subtlety.


Do you think we need superhero origin stories?


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