Marvel Studios is no stranger to changing big details and characters in the transition from comic book to the big screen. When you have source material that spans decades, you’re likely to come across plenty of stuff that no longer rings true in the modern mindset. Perhaps the most controversial of these changes came in the form of Iron Man 3’s Mandarin, a character who was once an offensive racial stereotype. In film, he came in the form of a British actor named Trevor Slattery, who was hired to be a symbol for a fake cause that was ultimately revealed to be the front of the true villain of the movie: Aldrich Killian.
Fans didn’t take this change without offense, and while many understood the change in race, many felt the whole smoke and mirrors angle was a total betrayal of the character. But things like that are to be expected when adapting from decades-old material. It wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last. In fact, you’ll be seeing plenty of that in Marvel Studios’ upcoming film, Doctor Strange.
While the obvious one here seems to be The Ancient One — a character who was changed from an Asian male in the comics to a white female — right now, we’ll focus on two other characters.
The first is Baron Mordo, a well-known enemy of Doctor Strange, and one who turns on Strange as soon as he realizes the man’s true potential. So far, based on all the trailers, it seemed like we’d be getting something of an origin of Mordo, as he appeared to be more of an ally than anything else. Is it possible that the film would show his slow turn from light to dark?
Believe it or not, it sounds like Marvel may very well do a one-eighty with this character, opting to make him wholly good. In an interview with Screen Rant, Marvel chief Kevin Feige stated:
“He is different in this movie. He is, as portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Strange’s advocate in the beginning of the movie. The Ancient One doesn’t necessarily see the potential in Strange that Mordo does, and Mordo is the one who talks the Ancient One into allowing him in. And for this film, he is a partner of Strange, and he is a mentor to Strange. You know that was something we wanted to play against in the comics. Because in the comics for as unbelievably creative and full of imagination as they are – we are desperate to recreate in cinematic form – there’s some things that are too obvious for modern day audiences. The jealous rival named [Baron Karl Amadeus Mordo], who turns against him when he shows any signs of talent – we specifically didn’t want to do that. It’s one of the reasons we cast Chiwetel because we wanted to have someone who had sort of unbelievable authenticity in delivering a lot of wackadoo lines and exposition. The other day on set there was a line, which is a spoiler so I won’t say it, but it involved a tongue twister of various names and incantations, and I said to Steven, who was on set, ‘Steven, maybe we can simplify this for Chiwetel. That’s a mouthful. I can barely say it”. Steven talks to Chiwetel. Chiwetel goes, ‘I got it. Don’t worry about me. I’m fine.’ Sure enough he says, and you go “why was I even worried? Why did I even question that line could be said?” He kills it. So he is very much an ally in this film.”
Chiwetel Ejiofor, the actor who portrays Mordo in the film, backed up Feige’s claims when asked if there is any innate jealousy Mordo has regarding Strange’s abilities:
“No, I don’t think of him as a kind of envious or jealous entity. He’s actually much purer than that. That’s what I mean by the comics create a slightly more two-dimensional aspect. But the place, Kamar-Taj, what it means and what it means to Mordo, is so strong and his defense of it is so deep and his loyalty is so committed–to the ideas of Kamar-Taj, to the reality of Kamar-Taj, and to The Ancient One, that he would react to any perceived threat but it wouldn’t come from a place of envy but from the dynamic of protection and loyalty.”
A very interesting change, for sure, and one that I hope turns into something interesting in the long haul for the franchise.
The other character who’s undergone a bit of a revamp in the movie is the character Wong, portrayed by Benedict Wong. Like the Mandarin before him, Wong is someone who started out as an Asian stereotype — with his original role in the comics being Strange’s manservant. Rest assured, Wong is no manservant in the film.
“Benedict Wong… is a very different incarnation of that character,” Feige told Screen Rant.
“He’s an amazing actor who has done an amazing job bringing this role to life. He is not the assistant manservant. He was loyal in the books, and certainly fulfilled a purpose… a stereotype going back to any number of white hero-asian driver, servant. That is not his role in this movie at all. Everyone in this movie knows more in Strange. Everyone is more talented when it comes – for 90% of the movie, to the magical abilities and the mastery of the mystic arts than Strange is, and Wong is a fellow warrior who has been a master in his own right. As we meet him in this movie, he’s tasked with protecting some of the most valuable relics and book Kamar-Taj has. He doesn’t have a lot of time to worry about Strange. So those are a few of the ways we’ve updated those characters.”
Doctor Strange’s director, Scott Derrickson also weighed on the character of Wong, starting with how he’s portrayed in the original Doctor Strange comic.
“Wong is… it’s a racial stereotype. I mean, let’s be blunt about it… So instead of being a sidekick, he’s a master of the mystic arts. Instead of being a manservant, he oversees the library at Kamar-Taj and is an intellectual mentor to Strange. So we kind of flipped everything that he was. And that’s where it’s related to the comics in that we took the things that were in retrospect, insulting, and elevated them in just the same way and that became suddenly ‘ah, this is a great character.’ And that seemed to work and has relatability only in that we basically inversed what his character was and then kept the name, kept him Chinese. You know, other than that, that’s about it I think to be honest.”
As someone whose familiarity with Doctor Strange begins and ends with the origin and crossover with Dracula, I’ve only seen bits and pieces of what they’re talking about in the interview, and can't speak as to how drastic of a change all this amounts to. But at the end of the day, these all sound like positive changes that can help elevate these characters above jealous enemy and Asian sidekick, respectively.
What do you think of these changes? Let us know in the comments down below!