With a second look at the most recent motion picture of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, after the DVD/Blu-Ray release of Doctor Strange, I realise what it was that I most enjoyed about it the first time. What makes the movie stand out amongst other very successful movies in the shared universe of Marvel superheroes is the way it ends. More importantly, how it differs from other superhero movies as well as most action movies that have ever been released.
The movie’s climax is a face to face meeting of Doctor Strange and the movie’s big bad, Dormammu. Now most superhero, and action, movies usually end in a one on one brawl between the movie’s protagonist and its main antagonist. This does somewhat happen, but instead of a mass brawl Doctor Strange “comes to bargain”. What ensues is a gruelling death for Strange, again, and again, and again. A constant loop of sacrifice all to convince the villain that he is trapped in time and must listen to the proposal offered by our hero; here brains win the day and not brawn. This is something that is simply not utilised in superhero and action movies enough, to outmanoeuvre and outthink their opponent. When it comes to utilising intelligence and strategy there is normally a bit of technology, a large weapon or a plan that is worked out by our heroes that we as the audience can never guess at because it involves elements that we could never think of and quite frankly are surprised the hero has managed to consider let alone remember.
My underlying point here is that it is refreshing to see writers and directors using a method to make these character confront each other that does not involve brawling and fighting and whoever is strongest wins. We see a lot of determination and self sacrifice but we rarely see them with this sort of intelligent purpose. I strongly believe that superheroes are going to have to resort to more varied methods of resolving their hero vs villain clashes. Firstly because it gets incredibly boring seeing extended fight scenes, secondly we all know that in one way or another the good guy will come out on top and that it is far more interesting to see how. This is one route that the writers and directors can take to surprise their audiences and keep them interested.
Other examples of this would include the first Thor movie. A movie that is not loved by many, even considered boring, but actually is resolved through an experience of vulnerability and a sacrifice, that meant that love was not the heroes reward but was what he, in fact, lost. Which is a move in the opposite direction of most action movies. The whole movie in fact is about being humble, respecting great power. Thor is one of the most powerful superheroes out there but the director did not settle for a slugfest, instead the idea was to make a god more human, it is a lesson in vulnerability. Thor wins the day through humility, and then ultimately defeats Loki by breaking his scheme through sacrificing his possible future with Jane. This gives the movie a personable feel and makes such a character as Thor more relatable to the average audience member. Sadly, the second movie makers didn’t share the same perspective and opted for a inter-realm smashup, but the point still stands.
What I also like is that this gives more credit to the bad guys, especially in the more immediate instance of Doctor Strange. Facing down Dormammu is a nearly impossible task, he is one of the most powerful villains in the Marvel comic universe, if he was beaten by a novice sorcerer in Stephen Strange then that really would have diminished such a great character such as the ruler of the dark dimension. A hero in a movie is only as great as his adversary, and paying them great respect is one way to elevate the villain’s status but also the heroes.
In conclusion, superhero movie makers need to keep things fresh. One way they can do this is showing other qualities in a hero than simply muscles and determination as well as clichéd self-sacrifice. There is more room to develop what makes a hero in modern cinema and Doctor Strange certainly displayed this little bit of magic to maintain the spark in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.