Report Card: Doctor Strange

Read all Doctor Strange reviews in chronological order.

Chris: I really enjoyed Doctor Strange. Sure, it’s blockbuster squarely in origin story formula, but the trippiness, action, special effects, and performances made it fun. And the introduction of the new overlapping rulespace of magic makes it a great addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And hey, another Infinity Stone! It’s well-connected to the other films.

Scout: Doctor Strange is another delightful film that further rounds out the Marvel universe. It remained faithful (enough) to the comics that I loved growing up and the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch was spot-on perfect, much as Robert Downey Jr. was for Tony Stark. It is a joyful and at times psychedelic ride that I’m eager to take again. “The Infinity Wars” will be very interesting indeed.

But, as usual, this site is not about the movie but the interfaces, and for that we turn to the three criteria for evaluating movies here on scifiinterfaces.com.

  1. How believable are the interfaces? (To keep you immersed.)
  2. How well do the interfaces inform the narrative of the story? (To tell a good story.)
  3. How well do the interfaces equip the characters to achieve their goals? (To be a good model for real-world design?)

Report-Card-Doctor-Strange

Sci: B- (3 of 4) How believable are the interfaces?

Magic might be a tricky question for narrative believability, as by definition it is a breaking of some set of rules. It’s tempting laziness to patch every hole we find by proclaiming “it’s magic!” and move on. But in most modern stories, magic does have narrative rules; what it’s breaking is known laws of physics or the capabilities of known technology, but still consistent within the world. Oh, hey, kind of like a regular sci-fi story.

The artifacts mostly score quite well for believability. The Boots, the Staff, and the Bands are constrained in what they do, so no surprise there. Even the Cloak is a believable intelligent agent acting for Strange. Its flight-granting and ability to pull in any spatial direction arbitrarily don’t quite jive, but they don’t contradict each other, just raise questions that aren’t answered in the movie itself.

But, the Sling Rings are a trainwreck in terms of usability and believability. With that and the Eye missing some key variables that simply must be specified for it to do what we see it doing, it breaks the diegesis, taking us out of the movie.

Fi: A (4 of 4) How well do the interfaces inform the narrative of the story?

None of these are tacked-on gee-whiz.

  • Since Strange is occupying an office (Master) that is part of a venerated and peacekeeping secret organization (the Masters of Mysticism) we would expect it to have some tools in place to help the infantry and the boss.
  • That the powerful artifacts choose their masters helps establish Strange as unique and worthy.
  • The Eye is core to the plot, and the film uses it to convey how much of a talent and rulebreaking maverick Strange is.
  • The Staff helps us see Mordo’s militancy, threat, and lawful neutral-ness.
  • The laugh-out-loud comedy of the Cloak comes from its earnestly trying to help, its constraints, and how Strange is really, really new to this job.
  • Even the dumb Sling Ring helps show Strange’s learning and confidence, and set up how Strange gets stabbed and yadda yadda yadda begins his reconciliation with Dr. Palmer.
Cloak-of-Levitation-pulling

Once more, because it was so damned funny.

All great narrative uses of the “tech” in the film.

Interfaces: C+ (2 of 4)
How well do the interfaces equip the characters to achieve their goals?

The Boots do. The Cloak totally does. The “AR” surgical assistant does. (And it’s not even an artifact.) If we ever get to technologies that would enable such things, these would be fine models for real world equivalents. (With the long note about general intelligence needing language for strategic discussions with humans.)

DoctorStrange_AR_ER_assistant-05

That aside, the Sling Ring services a damned useful purpose, but its design is a serious impediment to its utility, and all the Masters of the Mystic Arts uses it. The Staff kind of helps its user, i.e. Mordo, but you have to credit it with a great deal of contextual intelligence or some super-subtle control mechanism.  The Bands are so clunky that they’re only useful in the exact context in which they are used. And the Eye, with its missing controls, missing displays, and dangerously ambiguous modes, is a universe-crashing temporal crisis just waiting to happen. This is where the artifacts suffer the most. For that, it gets the biggest hit.

Final Grade B- (9 of 12), Must-see.

Definitely see it. It’s got some obvious misses, but a lot of inventive, interesting stuff, and some that are truly cutting edge concepts. In a hat tip to Arthur C. Clarke’s famous third law, I suppose this is “sufficiently advanced technology.

4 thoughts on “Report Card: Doctor Strange

  1. One small quibble: Strange attains the rank of Master in this movie, not Sorcerer Supreme yet. At the end of the film, Wong clearly states the office is vacant. WE know Dr. Strange will get there, maybe movie #2?

    • Whoa. How did I miss that bit! Ok. Will go back and check and correct. Thanks!

      • Rewatching that, I realize that Mordo’s argument is that of inaction in the face of evil because budget. “You think there will be no price to pay?” Well, sure, Mordo, there’s a price but with it we kind of bought all our continued existence, so…

    • “Word of the Ancient One’s death will spread through the multiverse. The Earth has no Sorcerer Supreme to defend it. We must be ready.” Nice catch. Fixed (across three posts.)

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