Superhero movies take in money like a fish does water. It doesn’t matter who the hero is or what they’re trying to fix, or even if they’re actually heroes. It’s how movies like Suicide Squad get made, regardless how they make you feel after you watch it. People are always curious and once they’ve bought the ticket, that’s all that matters.
Sometimes, though? They’re actually interesting beyond the kid-goggles they let the viewer wear. Sometimes, they have substance beyond the chemicals and machines that printed their forebearing comics. Doctor Strange has that chance.
There’s an exchange in the trailer between Tilda Swinton’s controversial Ancient One and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Stephen Strange. Strange asks, “How do I get from here [as a pleb] to there [as a bad-ass sorcerer]? The Ancient One responds with a question: “How did you become a doctor?” Strange goes on to say “study, practice, years of it” before a sweet montage of powers woos you and heightens anticipation.
I love that there are questions answered with questions here because it’s a physical manifestation of something we all need but have a hard time finding – an objective wall at which we can throw unguarded curiosity.
Somewhere along the line curiosity is wiped out of us like the text on a WELCOME mat, rubbed into indiscernible smudges or faded into oblivion. When it’s gone it takes something dramatic, something that doesn’t just shake us but smashes us, to get it back. At that point it’s maddening trying to find it. The trailer to Doctor Strange shows us this is what’s happening in the movie in both a literal and metaphorical way.
Now, I don’t doubt for a second how Marvel is going to show us this process for Stephen Strange. There’s no way they go more from the inside out than the outside in. That would leave dollars on the dashboard while they’re trying to fill their gas tank, so expect the polish and structure you’re used to from past Marvel films. But the divergent nature of Strange as a character is providing us a rare opportunity to go to the edges. And that’s where the good stuff is. No one has led an interesting life by shopping only at Target.
Doctor Strange is also another dip into Marvel’s secondary characters. They had a huge box office success with Guardians of the Galaxy. Their Netflix series are cleaning up. Right now feels like a tipping point, like we might actually be going to the edges on purpose even if slowly and tacitly. But there’s still something about it that makes me want to celebrate like Professor Flitwick.