I’m a day late with my review but here it is. I got a chance to go check out Marvel’s new adaptation of Dr. Strange and for the most part it was well done. Benedict Cumberbatch looks the part and plays a good arrogant, self absorbed neurosurgeon. Most people familiar with the comic book origins will be familiar with this story and newcomers will find things easy to understand and it’s all very well presented. The special effects were what can be expected of a sci-fi/fantasy film of today.
I have never indulged but often wondered how the experience would have gone if I had been tripping on acid or some other neuro-tropic drug while watching this in 3-D. I bet I would likely be freaking out quite a bit as the characters repeatedly bent time and space to manipulate the environments during the fight scenes. It was a fun ride and the writers for the most part remained faithful to the source material, but for some reason added a casting change that has been a topic of hot debate since the release of the cast some time ago.
First let me go through the casting choices I liked aside from the aforementioned Cumberbatch casting. Mordo is played by Chiwetel Ejiofor whom I have liked a lot ever since seeing him in Serenity. The rigidity and at times uncompromising aspects of this character are well portrayed and he seems to have good chemistry with Cumberbatch as well as a lack thereof when they are supposed to be at odds.
Mads Mikkelsen who seems to have been around forever as a perennial bad guy in films plays Kaecilius, one of the bad guys in the film is interesting. I’m not sure if there was enough of him featured so we could have done with more screen time for this character. He’s obviously had a lot of experience in similar roles and when he is there he doesn’t disappoint and is not too cliche despite the role of misguided apprentice gone wrong being an old and over used trope at best.
Benedict Wong funnily enough plays Wong the librarian for an old order after the old one was killed after an ancient ritual was stolen and Rachel McAdams plays as Dr. Stephen Strange’s colleague/off again on again love interest. From what I hear no one has had any problems with those castings. I like them as well.
Wong is affable and also has some good chemistry with the other actors. It took me a second to recognize him as the Khan in the Netflix original Marco Polo. He is the lone Asian in a prominent role in this film which is where most of the tension surrounding the last casting choice I am going to mention. They cast Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One.
Now first off my main beef with this is that it strays too far from the source material. Swinton did a great job with the role but it’s not a casting choice I personally would have made. Marvel defended the choice by saying it was a win for diversity by giving a woman a prominent role while avoiding the “dragon lady” stereotype by choosing NOT to place an Asian woman in the role. The Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) of course went on the attack in light of the history of “whitewashing” roles in Hollywood and I have to side with them on this. Why?
Look no further than the good diverse casting choice they gave us with Mordo. He’s intelligent, badass, and has his own moral code that he abides by. They cast a black man who was not willfully ignorant or just there for comic relief which is done often so I find it hard to believe they could not have executed a similar casting using an Asian woman while avoiding making her portrayal seem like an overbearing dragon lady. It’s true that the role of Sorcerer Supreme and the Ancient One rotates but the point I am making is that it could have been done. I also urge anyone out there who feel underrepresented to create your own characters! It’s one of the reasons I began writing my own science fiction tale and will also be doing Fantasy as well. If they don’t give you what you want go out and make it yourself for you and others out there who may feel the way you do.
That’s not to say Swinton did a bad job, but in this day and age you have to be more sensitive to how things are perceived. It’s not as if this is an unknown phenomena after reaction from castings in Gods of Egypt and Exodus brought about uproar.
In conclusion I would say if you’re a fan of Marvel and Dr. Strange go see this film but if you abstain because you feel strongly about the casting faux pas I understand. It has some funny moments, witty moments, and can be predictable but that’s not uncommon. The visuals are amazing and tie nicely into the Marvel cinematic universe. There’s a chance they can fix the mistake going forward as it looks as if Dr. Strange will continue as a character to be featured later. Let me know what you think.