No Small Parts: Dr. Strange’s Physical Therapist #MCU #DoctorStrange #NoSmallParts @HoldbrooksMyth @MarvelStudios @DrStrange

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After participating in the Guardians of the Galaxy quarantine watch party, I published a post referencing the show business adage that there are no small parts. In doing so, I used Bereet as evidence supporting that adage. Today, I’m going to use the sympathetic physical therapist, played well by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith.

Character Growth

Like Tony Stark, Stephen Strange (slowly) grew from a self-absorbed jackhole to someone serving others, but unlike most others in the MCU did so by changing his methods. When the arms-dealing Tony Stark’s focus shifted from himself to others, his methods didn’t change. He still accomplished his tasks through weaponry. Thor still ran into battle headfirst relying on brawn more than strategy. Nebula’s plan for saving half the universe still involved murder, and her target was a family member. The Guardians in general were still scavengers looking for a payday to finance their universe-saving efforts. They worked with what they knew.

Strange was different. Off the top of my head, he was unique among the major MCU characters in that it wasn’t just his attitude that changed, but also his methods. Strange had to open his mind to other means to accomplish his goals. Strange’s circumstances largely removed his medical skills from his playbook, but he wasn’t being told to abandon them; in fact, he used them to help Dr. Palmer operate on him. The Ancient One’s point was that he had to add new skills. Experts “can often see in part but not the whole.” While I don’t believe in magic, as a general principle, this is certainly true. The more complex our base of knowledge becomes, the harder it is to understand everything necessary to solve large problems. But this is a superhero movie, so let’s stick with the magic. Strange needed to add magic to his repertoire, and while he could have used that magic to return to his old life, his new-founded altruism forced him to focus on a new skill set in favor of the old.

Bachelor’s Degree

In the prior post, I asked, “[H]ow can you appreciate that growth if you don’t experience its full progression?” That is, to appreciate the growth, you must first clearly establish the character’s starting point, which leads us to Holdbrook-Smith’s part.

Jump to 3:13 for an excerpt of the scene in question.

The physical therapist represents an important part of Strange’s own field, yet Strange responds to him with condescension (“Bachelor’s Degree”). Granted, Strange is emotionally compromised by his injuries, but Strange exhibited this same behavior earlier when discussing being a part of the emergency room team, and when criticizing the other surgeon, Dr. Nicodemus West (who could easily have been the subject of this post). The physical therapist was there to remind us of this specific character flaw at a time when we may have forgotten it. He also helped make it clear that even someone doing his job competently and exhibiting remarkable patience in the face of Strange’s insults, isn’t protected from them.

No doubt, this is a subtle point, but as I said before, actors with quick appearances, even if they have no lines and are relegated to the background, provide necessary color to scenes. Holdbrook-Smith did that for us, whether we were paying attention or not.

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Spreading It Too Thinly #StarTrek #StarWars cc: @kesseljunkie @williamshatner @BWingFactory #nerd

Last night, my cousin John and I had our monthly (or so) outing at Buffalo Wing Factory. As always, we talk about all things both political and nerdical. Of all the things we discussed, there was one point made that was wholly mine, rather than a consensus between our two views. It’s not that John hadn’t heard the argument before and accepted it in the context of Star Trek, but I took it to a larger level.

For all it’s bells and whistles, all of the new iterations of Star Trek will never (apparently) have what the Original Series had: character development. At first, this seems like a ridiculous argument, but I’m serious. It’s not that TNG, DS9, and the rest don’t have character development; the problem is that they spread that development too thinly across too many characters.

The Triumverate of Nerd

TOS had three characters: Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. Everyone else was secondary. Can any of the newer series or movies say that? No, they can’t. They’ve all moved from being about “the main characters” to being about “the ensemble,” and the result is that none of the characters mean anywhere’s near as much as the original three. As I’ve pointed out before, we know the year that O’Brien’s mother-in-law was born. That’s a bit crazy. If you’re filling in that level of detail about the most minor of characters, you’re not spending time on who matters most. Granted, TOS lasted less years than any of the other series, so inevitably we would have known more about the minor characters as future seasons were released, but it still would have been about the big three.

It’s Not Just Star Trek

I pointed out to John, a rabid Star Wars fan (seriously, check out his blog), that this isn’t just Star Trek. The original Star Wars trilogy was about Luke, Leia, and Han. Is Obi-Won Kenobi getting too important? Cut the bastard in half … or into thin air. Whatever. Same with Yoda. Bring them back as ghosts occasionally, but get them out of the action.

The Star Wars prequels became about the ensemble. While it should have been about Anakin, Obi-Won, and Padme, it wasn’t. Mace Windu, Yoda, and a freaking astromech droid were just as important. They got a ton of action independent of the main characters.

A Larger Trend

I haven’t done any serious math here, but this appears to be a larger trend, especially in light of the success of comic book movies. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It allows screenwriters to tell a different set of good stories. It’s also no longer “progressive” to just stick a minority on screen, make her a secretary, tell everyone she’s good at math, and rarely let her speak words other than, “I’m frightened.” I can understand a need to continue our social evolution, but it has its drawbacks with respect to the development of characters with whom the audience can relate. If we had the Avengers but didn’t have the benefit of two Iron Man movies, a Captain America movie, a Thor movie, and two Hulk movies, you wouldn’t care as much for those characters as you did (unless you had decades of development through reading their comics, which I do not have).

And this is why Picard will never have shit on original Kirk. Get over it and get off my lawn, you rotten kids.

Of course, Zap’s better than both of those sissies put together.

P.S. Opening day for Star Trek into Darkness is my birthday. Great gift, though it would be better if Cumberbatch were playing Sybok.

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