With each new film that Marvel Studios produces, another fan base experiences the excitement and nerves that come with their beloved character coming to the big screen. Thus far the MCU has attempted to stay relatively close to the comic source material. Fan service is a high priority for Marvel as they bring beloved characters to the big screen, with some obvious exceptions like the father of Star-Lord or the major changes to the Mandarin in Iron Man 3. The next character in line for a film makeover is Doctor Strange.
Three aspects of Dr. Strange’s story have been of particular interest to fans during the production of the film. First, who will be the villain in the film? And how might this villain connect to the bigger villains in Dr. Strange’s lore, like Doramammu? Second, how will Wong fit into the story of Stephen Strange? Traditionally the character has served as a manservant to the doctor. This depiction has been roundly criticized for its over the top racial stereotypes and insensitivity. Surely Wong must have some other role in a major film. Third, who will Rachel McAdams play in the movie? Unlike many Marvel characters who have a steady romantic interest throughout their comic history, Dr. Strange’s loves and admirers include Clea, Linda Carter, and Victorian Bentley. Marvel Studios surprised everyone when McAdams was revealed to be Christine Palmer. Palmer has served as Marvel’s “Night Nurse,” but Carter is the Night Nurse far more connected to Dr. Strange in the comics. While the first question remains a mystery, there may be some clues from an unexpected source for the second two.
Marvel released an animated film called Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme as a straight to video release in 2007. No one at Marvel Studios has mentioned the animated film as a source for the film (to this author’s knowledge), but the clues coming out of trailers suggests that the live action picture should follow suit with the animated movie in a couple ways. At this point what follows is merely conjecture, but lines up well with the information available.
When it comes to Wong, the animated film chose to make Wong one of many magic masters working with the Ancient One at the outset of the story. Baron Mordo and Wong are major players in a corps of mystical soldiers, in addition to some other lesser magicians. Each has their own amulet mimicking the Eye of Agamatto. Once Doctor Strange comes to train with the Ancient One, both Mordo and Wong serve as drill sergeants, Mordo grows increasingly antagonistic to Strange while Wong is strict yet nurturing. Wong also is a faithful servant to the Ancient One, while his fellow magician is always pushing his limits and breaking the rules. The animated film doesn’t develop the Wong and Mordo relationship as much as it could (it only runs 76 minutes), but their interaction is interesting.
This role seems to match what the first trailers have shown of Wong. He is part of the Ancient One’s team and is discussing the surprising strength of Strange. Benedict Wong, the actor playing Wong, has said of his character:
I’m certainly not going to be the tea-making manservant. We’re heading in a different direction. He’s more of a drill sergeant. There isn’t any martial arts for Wong in Doctor Strange actually, he’s more of a drill sergeant to Kamar-Taj. He’s one of the masters of sorcery.
This “masters of sorcery” group closely connects with the school of individuals working with the Ancient One in the animated film. Also, the “drill sergeant” role echoes the tough but warm role Wong plays in that movie as well, while looking very little like most comic iterations.
Baron Mordo is also less of a villain in the live action film and more of a trainer for Strange. When set photos from the streets of New York hit the internet, Mordo and Strange were running side by side in some sort of major battle. This sits well with the characterization of Mordo in the animated movie.
How Mordo, Wong, Strange, and the Ancient One interact should be one of the more interesting dynamics of the coming MCU film. Will Strange and Mordo start to have animosity in the film, or will that be saved for future installments? Will there be a struggle for power or rank or approval in the Ancient One’s organization? Might Wong and Mordo come to blows before Strange even becomes involved in the conflict?
Now moving on to McAdam’s character, the animated film introduced a completely new female character. Her name is Dr. Gina Atwater and she works with children at the hospital where Strange works. She is constantly nagging Stephen to come down to her ward to help patients with extreme neurological issues. He’s only interested in assisting if they are rich or will bring him fame due to the nature of the case. Despite his rude behavior toward Atwater, she tries to help support him when he suffers his accident. Part of the plot surrounds children being controlled by a demon, so when Strange returns to New York City as a sorcerer he visits Atwater and her patients, connecting the earlier problems she mentioned with the plot of Doramammu. At the end of the film, the possibility of a romantic relationship is teased.
In discussing her role in the upcoming live action movie, Kevin Feige has said the following:
[She is] a fellow surgeon that has a history with Strange and is his sort of lynchpin to his old life, once he steps into he role of a sorcerer. She is someone he connects with at the beginning, and reconnects with, and helps anchor his humanity.
And later at the SDCC panel, McAdams said:
We were friendly at one time in life and now we’re more, we’re colleagues, we work at the same hospital together, I’m always trying to get him to work in my unit with me, he’s one of the most talented surgeons on the planet, so we have kind of a fun dance we do and we’re still good friends and I get to watch him go through this arc and I know the Stephen before and I know the Stephen after he goes on this soul searching journey.
These brief introductions have some similarity with the character of Atwater, particularly the reference to asking Strange to come help in Palmer’s unit. It is easy to see how Marvel’s choice of Christine Palmer keeps some continuity with the comics and the idea of a Night Nurse, but it also allows them to use characteristics of the unheard of Atwater.
Undoubtedly, many different things come together in writing a screenplay for a character with as much source material as Doctor Strange. From the psychedelic early comics to more recent series like “The Oath,” Doctor Strange’s writers have plenty from which to draw. But if someone at Marvel has already gone through the process of condensing the backstory into a screenplay less than a decade ago, it would be foolish not to at least consider what worked well. It’s too early to know for sure, but signs point to them lifting a few elements from the animated film and reworking them. These elements help navigate two of the thornier challenges in bring Stephen Strange to the big screen.
If Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme interests you, it is currently available to stream over at San Diego Comic Con’s new media channel, https://www.comic-conhq.com.[Full disclosure: this article was written independently of other sources. In researching some images it has become clear that some of these theories have come up in some Reddit and Tumblr feeds of various fans.]