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Doctor Strained

DOCTOR STRANGE may have mystical superpowers, but still can be felled by one small act: a lame First Act.

Hollywood producers are wrong when they tell screenwriters that the lead must be likable. No, not necessary. However, they must be relatable, the audience must be able to empathize. True, Dr. Stephen Strange is a flawed character, but without any explanation why he should be forgiven for acting like such an arrogant prick. He just is.

But wait, isn't IRON MAN a insufferable egotist as well? On screen, Strange and Stark mirror each other — the brilliant innovator who will not suffer fools, the wealthy playboy who will not commit to the right woman — yet they are not exact reflections. In Tony Stark we see hints of his core nature, how his narcissism formed: growing up in the shadow of his successful father only to lose him and his mother later in an "accident." Tony's bravado is a mask for his insecurity; his swagger a counterbalance for his pain.

Like Strange, Stark endures a calamitous event, but it is Tony's backstory that makes us feel his misfortune, root for him to triumph despite his obvious character flaws. With Stephen, we're just in it for the mind-bending, time-blending FX and that just ain't enough. We can't care about the Third Act if we never invested during the First.

Heraclitus warned: Character is destiny. In storytelling, Caricature is doom.

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