Marvel reminds me a lot of Pixar when it comes to trying to rank their films. Their movies aren’t ever really…bad? They just sit on a range of really amazing and groundbreaking and fun to sorta eh not quite as good, but also still fun. The easiest way to think about them is to split them into three categories:
The Great: Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers, Civil War, Ant-Man
The Good: Iron Man, Iron Man 3, Age of Ultron, The First Avenger
The OK: The Dark World, Iron Man 2, Thor, The Incredible Hulk
Doctor Strange is the perfect example of a really good movie. It isn’t one of the “great” movies, but the maybe the top of the “good” ones. Which is fitting, because, in complete in total honesty…it’s Iron Man.
Synopsis: Incredibly gifted but egotistical man goes through tragic event that leaves him physically impaired. This impairment forces him to achieve super-human abilities. But when he needs to use these new abilities to serve a greater good, he is held back. Luckily, the support of his lady friend, his black best friend, and a dying mentor figure leads him to accept his new position, and even performs the ultimate sacrifice, and lays down his life to save the world.
Yeah that’s both movies. Actually, it’s everything we’ve seen from Iron Man in 1, 2, and The Avengers. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Stephen Strange goes through every major story development that RDJ’s Tony Stark went through. There are even some interesting setting similarities. However, the big differences are in how the characters deal with these events, and how they get there.
First, both characters start in the same spot: egotistical jerks who are absorbed in their own abilities and work, with a flirty but emotionally distant relationship with their gal-pals. The character divergence begins in their accidents and how they treat them. Tony’s injury, the shards of metal in his chest that necessitate the arc-reactor heart, does not impair his amazing engineering skills. He continues to be a prodigy, and uses his tech abilities to become Iron Man. The injury is instead used as a thematic parallel to his major character trait: Tony hates himself, and this hate manifests into a self-destructive streak that he stokes with alcohol and random sex. The traumatic experience of the kidnapping and the shards in his heart force Tony to deal with this self-destruction: he is now literally filled with immense power, the source of which is the only thing keeping him alive to live a life he hates. It was this sort of nuance that made Tony such a great character.
Strange is a mirror to Tony. He does not hate himself. While Tony’s ego is a mask, Strange’s ego is real. It is his major character trait: he loves himself, because he’s great at what he does. There is a moment in the film where an assistant tells him that there is a possible surgery to help an elderly woman; Strange won’t take it because he doesn’t want to ruin his perfect surgery record. This is the kind of moment that would be used to show how Tony secretly wishes to help, and hates that he doesn’t. This moment is not used as such for Strange. He genuinely doesn’t want to. His hands are his job, and his job is his life, and he LOVES life. But not even in the self-destructive way that Tony does: Strange is not an alcoholic nor a serial womanizer, etc., because these things would interfere with the job. He has no desire for these things. So when the accident occurs and he breaks his hands (and less importantly seemingly every other bone in his body) it SHATTERS who Strange is. Tony’s injury leads him to change who he is, to confront his lifestyle; Strange throws himself into figuring out how to reverse it. He doesn’t want to change anything. He was already a hero; Tony never was.
So, where Tony comes BACK from the East, and chooses to become technological warrior, Strange goes TO the East, and is forced to become a mystical warrior. Strange goes to be healed, and is told by the Ancient One that he will not be healed until he acquiesces to her teachings. Tony instantly gains his “powers,” the Iron Man suit, and dives into being a hero. Strange struggles to gain his powers, the mystic arts, and rejects using them for good. Tony tries to keep his suits out of the hands of others, knowing their dangers. Strange tries to get his hands on any powers he can, regardless of their dangers.
Here again, their stories begin to re-converge: Tony must deal with the sins of his teacher and ignore the laws that his major friend, Rhodey, upholds. Strange must deal with the sins of his teacher (the Ancient One) and ignore the rules that his major friend, Mordo, upholds. Just as quickly, the stories go back to mirroring. Tony rejects the failings of his teacher, and is forced to combat and destroy him. Strange accepts the failings of his teacher, and stands with her when she passes. And again, the story re-re-converges. Tony faces the disciple of his father’s partner, Vanko (here representing the failings of his father, and therefore a teacher figure), and defeats him, though only with the help of Rhodey and Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow). Strange faces the disciple of his teacher, Kaecilius, and defeats him, though only with the help of Mordo and Wong.
Both heroes decide to make the ultimate sacrifice in the face of an inter-dimensional threat. Tony rejects his selfish tendencies, and gives in to his own self-destruction, flying the warhead through the wormhole into the Chitauri fleet during the Battle of New York. Strange rejects his selfish tendencies, and gives in to his greatest fear: failure that he cannot address. He flies through the wormhole into the Dark Dimension, and imprisons himself and Dormammu in an infinite time-loop where Strange does nothing but die. There is no reward, no other outcome, he can do nothing but fail. And he wins. Tony sacrifices himself, and he wins.
More convergences: Rhodey comes to accept that the laws he abides by may not always be correct, and joins Tony’s side as the hero War Machine. Mordo cannot reject the laws he upholds, and will seemingly stand against Doctor Strange in a future film. The superhero team-up comes to Tony when Nick Fury invites him to the Avengers initiative. Strange invites himself to the superhero team-up by telling Thor he will join him in the search for Odin.
“So what the hell is the point, other than to sate your immense nerdiness, Eric?”
Doctor Strange is going to be the new Tony Stark. Yep. That’s my bid. We know that RDJ HAS to exit eventually, either because of personal interest or because Marvel will no longer be able to afford him. But more importantly, this mirroring effect sets up a great successor when the New Avengers come into play. After Infinity War, it is frankly a crap shoot as to what happens. But the best guess around is that the Avengers as we know it is gone. In real life, the contracts are up. In canon, the groundwork has been laid for the death of at least a couple heroes (my bet is on Steve Rogers), or at least their retirement. But the new cast, as it were, lacks a definitive leader (at least from what we have seen). Among the likely cast, Winter Soldier, Falcon, Black Panther, Ant Man, Spider Man, Vision, Scarlet Witch, and War Machine? None of these are lead folks. Yes, you could make an argument for any of them, I’m sure. But honestly: Winter Soldier is a mess, Falcon is a supporting cast, Black Panther has a county to run, Ant-Man is…Ant-Man, Spider-Man is busy being at Sony, Vision and Scarlet Witch are certainly not going to headline. Not gonna happen. But the dynamic of Tony vs. Steve has to continue. They are the thematic odd couple that maintains consistency across huge casts and connected films.
With this in mind, it seems HIGHLY convenient that Doctor Strange happens to mirror Iron Man to an almost incredible degree. He is both a continuation and rejection of Tony. And honestly, the goatee? Doctor Strange is going to be the successor. His counter? Captain Marvel, nigh guarantee. The modern military woman who fights intergalactic threats is a great foil to Steve, the classic military man who fights domestic threats. Captain Marvel will be Doctor Strange’s counterpoint, friend, etc.
In sum, Doctor Strange might actually be even better than first glance. It is a great contribution to the MCU, because it acts as a mirrored replacement of Iron Man. It is a perfect introduction to Phase Three, and the beginnings of the New Avengers, because its just Iron Man all over again.