Apparently this month is coming up all Marvel (maybe it’s just the summer blockbuster bug that has me thinking of it, maybe it’s the lack of female leads this season, who can say) and also all logical gripes, which in all honesty I think are a pretty bad way to assess movies. Generally, I find people who point out logical inconsistencies to be sort of snooty, and while it is fun to do from time to time it isn’t necessarily a good measure of a movie. “Well, that’s not actually how black holes work” doesn’t make a movie bad. The truly sinful inconsistencies are ones that are necessitated by the plot (people forgetting how cars start, for example, or a character striking off on their own inexplicably in a horror movie). Most of the time these result in idiotic characters or unexplored ideas (because the unexplored ideas would “break” the vision the writer/director/studio had for the film), and it’s the second that really drowns the ending of Dr. Strange for me.
Before we dive into the ending, let’s talk a little about Dr. Strange as a whole because I feel it’s unlikely I’ll ever end up reviewing it for this blog. Because really, of the most recent batch of Marvel movies, I think it’s easily the worst. Another origin story (blah) staring another pompous yet genius white man (hello, Iron Man) who is humble through the experience of the film. It falls prey to the protagonist syndrome (Dr. Strange is the best sorcerer because he is the protagonist, and no other reason. What, none of the other sorcerers are dedicated enough to read? Yeah, I’m not buying it). As much as Tilda Swinton is a treasure the whitewashing of the role is just one of those situations where, why? And though he does seem like a stand up guy I can’t stand Benedict “Cheekbones” Cumberbatch as an actor, especially when he plays American. The movie suffers from an overstuffed cast (sorry Wong and Rachel McAdams) and as such, as always, none of the relationships have weight because they’re juggled with so many other relationships. It has a few good things: the villain is more developed and has a genuinely interesting motivation (and is played by Mads Mikkelsen) which is better than most Marvel villains, and the film’s graphics approach interesting, but over all…
But it’s the end that really ticked me off. Faced with Dormammu, a creature from the Dark Dimension, a consumer of worlds, a creature who exists out of time, Dr. Strange decides to “bring time” into the Dark Dimension. This traps him and Dormammu a “time loop”.
This is where I start to have some trouble with things, and is, in part, why I think sci-fi and fantasy sometimes fail when brought to the big screen (or the TV screen, really any screen at all). Sci-fi and fantasy are all about “what-if”, all about expanding the mind with these wild scenarios. Dr. Strange actually offers us an interesting prospect here. Dormammu exists outside of space-time. He has a constant hunger. There is no promise that he is a single being, and if he exists out of time there’s no way he has a concept of “before” “after” or even a “moment”. Is he like the Tralfamadorians, experiencing all time at once? Or does he not even experience anything? Does he have a concept of self? Can he? Or is he more a force of nature, something we cannot understand, a force like gravity but with a “hunger” and an attribute where it can mimic life?
What would happen if you brought this being time? How would it react? There could probably be a whole book, hundreds of pages, exploring this creatures for seconds in time, it’s first steps into sequential life. And instead, Dr. Strange offers us the answer: “Dormammu gets like a bit peeved, I guess”.
What a goddamn stupid answer. Dormammu kills Strange over and over again, until it gives up because… what, it gets bored? This thing that has never experienced time before gets stuck in this time loop and gets frustrated because it has a meeting it has to catch? How would you even trap this creature in a time loop? What does that mean to it? How can this ethereal non-being suddenly get “stuck” in time? If doesn’t have a sense of self, how would it even recognize the repeating moment? If it previously existed out of time, is it still itself while it is in time?
I could go on listing questions, because my head reels every time I think about it – and in a good way too. As I said, it’s an intriguing thought experiment, it’s the slapdash way it’s utilized that makes it a horrific ending to a movie. Sure, Dr. Strange is just this doofy superhero movie. Who cares? Well, I do. They bring this huge (intriguing) concept up and then push it to the wayside. Why do that? You want to get nuts, come on, let’s get nuts! But don’t go a quarter of the way and then back out.
It may not be the movie’s fault. I won’t give them the out of “I’m projecting too much on the movie” because clearly it’s something they wanted to be thought provoking. It may be, as I said before, that heady sci-fi just can’t exist on the screen. Yes, I even have problems with Rick and Morty, check back in a few weeks when I air those grievances as well. There is a reason the written word exists and persists, and it’s because we can express concepts in it we can never tell through recording the exterior of people and places. That doesn’t make me any less sad when a good concept is totally wasted, though.