This is another post in my “first impressions” series of posts, which focus on current films that I have watched in theaters that include reel librarians and/or library or archives scenes. The resulting “first impressions” posts are necessarily less detailed, as I don’t have the luxury of rewatching scenes and taking notes in the movie theater. I do, however, take notes as soon as I can after watching the film.
Here’s a trailer to get you pumped for watching (or more likely, rewatching) Avengers: Endgame.
My overall impression of the movie? LOVED IT. Except for one nagging question — which I will get into soon — I really can’t imagine how this film could have been done better or done more justice to the myriad characters and storylines. Masterful plotting, pacing, acting, and directing by all involved. I knew it was going to be 3 hours sitting in a movie theater seat, but the time went by quickly for me. Really, really well done.
But of course, I’m realllllly here to talk about Wong (Benedict Wong), the sorcerer librarian character we first got to know and love in 2016’s Doctor Strange. And I cannot talk about Wong’s role in Avengers: Endgame without spoiling the finale.
So y’all know the drill…
We good? Good.
Why didn’t they ask Wong?!
I knew Wong was going to be in Avengers: Endgame. There were several clues, including:
There was some hype and anticipation about the importance of Wong’s character to the Endgame finale:
As the surviving heroes are sure to attempt to use the Infinity Stones to undo the effects of the Mad Titan’s snap, they will need to someone to teach them about each of the Stones, and Wong is the leading candidate. More than a bookworm, Wong has also proven himself a formidable warrior in his own right, helping Iron Man and Spider-Man subdue Cull Obsidian during their initial fight in New York City. With Doctor Strange perhaps putting up the strongest fight against Thanos with his extensive magical knowledge on Titan, Wong will need to step up to take his place.
However, Wong’s encyclopedic knowledge of the Stones — which was highlighted in Avengers: Infinity War — was not utilized AT ALL in this film. SIGH.
About a third of the way through the film, the remaining members of the Avengers & co. (Black Widow, Captain America, Bruce Banner/Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Hawkeye, Ant-Man, Rocket, War Machine, and Nebula) are trying to piece together their memories of when they came into contact with the stones. They’ve figured out time travel, so now they need to figure when and where they need to travel back to, in order to steal the stones back in time. There is then a montage of them talking together and identifying dates, locations, and stones from their collective memories. (Minor rant alert: During these scenes, Natasha/Black Widow seems to be the ONLY ONE TAKING NOTES WHAT IS UP WITH THAT DUDES HELP THE TEAM OUT AND PICK UP A PENCIL OH MY GOD SIGH.)
And now for a MAJOR rant alert:
As this montage of scenes started playing, I literally said out loud in the movie theater:
“Why didn’t they ask Wong?!”
It SERIOUSLY bugged me that NO ONE thought to call Wong and ask if he could help them piece together the history of the Stones. And there is no good reason for this oversight, because Wong had explained the history of the Infinity Stones to Tony Stark AND Bruce Banner in Avengers: Infinity War. And as BOTH Stark and Banner survived and were in the room helping to assemble memories, then one or both of them should have remembered that Wong could be helpful in this instance, especially after Natasha figured out that New York was key. After all, the last time Stark and Banner saw Wong was in New York, and he left them to guard the New York sanctum.
And sure, Wong was probably busy — after all, he was one of the only remaining sorcerers left, if not THE remaining sorcerer, after the Vanishing — but they still could have called! That’s what librarians are here for, to help with research and answering questions! And it could have been a small thing, like, “Hey, let’s call Wong. He’ll know.” “Oh, he’s not available?” “Okay, gang, let’s try and figure this out ourselves.” IT’S NOT THAT HARD.
A major oversight and the only major flaw in the movie, in my opinion.
No, I’m not letting this go.
To Wong, thanks for everything:
But not all is lost. Wong still proves crucial to the final battle and, you know, saving humanity.
Right as Thanos and his army prepare to wipe out humanity, Doctor Strange and Wong show up via a portal. Across the sky, dozens of portals appear, each revealing more beloved Avengers and their allies, brought back to life by the Hulk’s recent turn in the Infinity Gauntlet. Then there is this pivotal exchange:
Strange: “Is that everyone?”
Wong: “What, you wanted more?”
This exchange demonstrates the camaraderie between the duo, as Wong looks humorously exasperated at Strange’s question. (And Wong is still visually on Strange’s right side — from the perspective of the audience — keeping up his role as Strange’s right-hand man. I first pointed out this visual trend in my Doctor Strange analysis post.)
But why is this two-line exchange of dialogue vital to the movie? Because it reveals that Wong is the one who actually assembled the Avengers! (Even though Captain America got to say that iconic line, it was Wong who did the ACTUAL WORK. Just sayin’.)
“While Doctor Strange was coming back from Titan, Wong took it upon himself to unite the world’s heroes and bring them to the Avengers HQ for the final battle against Thanos.”
Strange had to have brought the Avengers who were with him on Titan to the final battle, but it’s clear that Wong brought everyone else.
We then see Wong fight in battle and conjure a protective shield, larger than the ones seen in the screenshot above, when Thanos’s ship fires down on the battlefield. Wong remains center screen during this quick clip in the battle, visually positing Wong as a leader of his force. Other protective shields pop up across the battlefield, indicating multiple trained sorcerers. And that got me thinking that Wong probably has been spending a major part of the past 5 years training more sorcerers.
Yep, you can depend on librarians to get. Shit. DONE.
We next see Wong at Tony Stark’s funeral (sob!), standing beside Doctor Strange (again, from the audience’s perspective, on his right side).
And then that got me thinking about Stark’s last words to Wong in Avengers: Infinity War: “Wong, you’re invited to the wedding!” Did Iron Man ever actually get married to Pepper? If so, did he invite Wong?!
Alas, these will remain unanswered questions… 😉
Continuing the conversation:
Do you have any unanswered questions about Avengers: Endgame? Have you seen the film? Did you enjoy it? Are there more Avengers movies I need to revisit for this blog? Please leave a comment and share!
Here’s a snippet of the sequel’s plot, from the back of the DVD:
This film “[t]akes you on a globe-trotting quest full of adrenaline-pumping twists and turns — all leading to the final club in a mysterious and highly guarded book containing centuries of secrets. But there’s only one way to find it — Ben Gates must kidnap the President.”
So… in the first film, Ben Gates steals the Declaration of Independence; in the sequel, he “upgrades” to kidnapping the President. Okaaaaaaaaaaay.
That the word “book” is in the movie’s subtitle, that Helen Mirren co-stars in the sequel (she plays an expert on ancient Native American languages), and that the Library of Congress also gets a co-starring role! 😉
What do I NOT like about the film?
Uh, everything else. The talented cast is wasted in this paint-by-numbers, pedestrian action film. And it’s not just me! The film “earned” two Razzie Award nominations: Worst Actor for Nicolas Cage and Worst Supporting Actor for Jon Voight.
Eight minutes into the film, we get a wide shot of a scene that’s clearly set in a bookstore (not a library!). The sidekick, Riley (Justin Bartha), has written a book, and it’s clear he’s trying to cash in on the fame. (But the book he’s written will be an important plot point later.)
However, no one’s really interested in the sidekick.
Trouble in (archives) paradise:
We also learn early one that Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) and Dr. Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger, downgraded from 2nd billing in the first film to 3rd billing in the sequel, boo!) have broken up. But Gates needs to break into her house because of PLOT reasons that have something to do with John Wilkes Booth, the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, and the reputation of the Gates family.
As Gates puts it, “I need to get Abigail’s ID. She has access to the Booth diary page.”
Long story short, they do break in, and Gates pulls open Abigail’s desk drawer to grab her ID badge… which now reads “Library of Congress.”
There’s no explanation given, but it’s clear that Chase has moved from the National Archives to the Library of Congress within the previous three years. My thoughts for the reason why? Because of PLOT. 😉
And OF COURSE Chase comes home early — she’s been on a date! — and we get to see her all gussied up in a fancy dress and heels. She’s been on a date with the “White House curator” (another reel archivist?), and here’s his reaction to her home:
Connor: Wow. You work in a museum, and you live in one.
Chase: Pretty much.
Caught red-handed breaking into her house, Gates tries to smooth-talk his way out of the situation, but Chase sees right through him. The resulting conversation echoes their first conversation together from the first film.
Chase: Hand it over, Ben.
Gates: I need to see the Booth diary page.
Chase: You saw the page yourself. There is no treasure map on it.
Gates: No, it’s a cipher leading to a map. Anyone spectral-image the page?
Chase: No need to. The ink writing on the page is clearly visible.
Gates: It could have been erased or faded. You’re the director of document conservation. You know all this.
Chase: It’s not up to me. It’s not my department.
Gates: That department reports to your department. Come on. One look under infrared.
I do enjoy this bit of conversation, even if only to get a clue about her new job and title!
The white glove returns!
The next scene takes place in what I assume is a lab in the Library of Congress, where Chase is using a computer and infrared scan. The iconic white gloves, an essential tool in the archivist’s toolbox, do make an appearance, but it’s interesting to note that Chase only has a white glove on her left hand, and not her right hand while she’s using the computer.
This short scene is also notable for its use of modern archivist technology this time — no lemon juice or hairdryers this time! 😉
They do find a cipher on the back of the page — DA DA DUMMMMMMM! — and she sends the document to the scanner.
Chase takes off the glove on her left hand and pull outs a copy of the document from the scanner. You can see her white gloves in the background of the closeup.
“In the sequel National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (2007), we once again encounter Abigail Chase; she performs one “archival” function: she uses a computer to manipulate a digital image of a page torn from John Wilkes Booth’s diary, all the while either wearing or holding a white glove. This humorous image aside, we learn that she is now working for the Library of Congress and is Director of Document Conservation.” (p. 85)
The book of secrets:
The “book of secrets” is solved midway through the film. Remember Riley’s treasure-hunting book that nobody wanted to read? Turns out, he wrote a chapter about “The President’s Secret Book” and a secret seal. (The trio had discovered this seal on an adventure in London, for reasons of PLOT.)
It was definitely a moment for “suspension of disbelief” and massive eye-rolling, because the “President’s Secret Book” and secret seal feels like something both Chase and Gates would already know about, right? But at least Riley gets his moment in the spotlight.
Library of Congress connection:
So all of this secret book nonsense leads Gates to, naturally, have to kidnap POTUS in order to confront him about the book and how to find it. As you do. This leads them to the Library of Congress.
President: The book exists.
Gates: Where is it?
President: Where else do you keep a book? In the Library of Congress.
POTUS then gives Gates a code: XY 234786.
I immediately shouted out at the screen, “It’s a call number!!!!” And of course, it had to be a Library of Congress call number, which start with a combination of letters, followed by numbers. (Dewey Decimal call numbers start with numbers, 000s through 900s.)
And now we know why Dr. Abigail Chase had to switch jobs from the National Archives to the Library of Congress. I had mused it was for reasons of PLOT. And here’s where that plot point pays off…
Library of Congress archivist leading the way:
At 1 hour and 11 mins into the film, Chase leads the way to the Library of Congress. Doesn’t she look totally bad-ass in her black leather jacket? #ArchivistRoleModel
Riley: Where do we start?
Chase: XY is the book classification code. Stands for special collections, which means very special books.
Of course the reel librarian/archivist would figure out straight away that it’s a call number!
Note: The Library of Congress classification system generally follows the alphabet for the first part of its call number combinations, as you can see here, meaning there are potentially 26 major categories of call numbers. However, 5 of the 26 English language letters are not currently used for call number categories, being kept in “reserve” for future use. “X” is one of those letters not currently used for Library of Congress call numbers. (I, O, W, and Y are the other letters not in use.) So it could be possible, theoretically, that the Library of Congress could use the “X” category for secret collections not known to the public.
I loved how, in this screenshot below, you can spot two librarians on duty in the iconic round reference desk in the middle of the Library of Congress Reading Room. This film has both reel archivists AND reel librarians! 😀
We also get a shot of another reel librarian, or rather library assistant, opening up a back door and rolling out a library cart.
None of the reel librarians in this scene, however, recognize Chase.
Chase leads to the way to the alcove, which is labeled “Deck 7, Q-Z.”
But the book is not on the shelf, where the call number indicates it would be.
Riley: Maybe someone checked it out.
Chase: Why would he send us here if there’s no book?
The area of the Library of Congress, in which Gates finds the Book of Secrets, does not exist as an area of book shelves. These book shelves were constructed as a prop library in a previously empty balcony of the Library’s Main Reading Room, and dismantled after the scenes were shot.
And the director confirms this on the commentary track:
We also had to build this room, in the Library of Congress, true to the style of the Library of Congress. The last thing you want to do is destroy the Library of Congress. If a light falls off her, we’re gonna break a library. So the goal here was just to get this room to look like the Library of Congress.
Although the trio are being hunted down by FBI agents — because of that whole “kidnapping the President” thing — there is still time for humor.
Random FBI Agent: So Gates abducts the president, lets him go, and then heads to the Library of Congress? Why?
FBI Agent Sadusky: Maybe he wants to check out a book.
Escape from the Library of Congress:
The trio then try to elude the FBI agents on their tail. Chase leads Riley to the reference desk, where they escape down the secret stairs that lead to the basement of the Library of Congress. And OF COURSE the librarians on duty don’t notice this. Suspension of disbelief, y’all.
The two run past a circular piece of machinery, which you can see in the screenshot below, which the director revealed on the commentary track that he was fascinated by and had to include in the final film:
These are extraordinary places underneath the Library [of Congess]. Go in that door, you down stairs, there’s a whole transport system of books. I mean, look at that. That’s how books get sent around the library on these little elevators that go up and down. All right, I don’t know what that has to do with the library, but we’re shooting it.
I also loved how when the FBI agents came down the central staircase, a librarian immediately points the way to help them catch the adventurers.
Don’t mess with librarians! 😉
Reel archivist and librarian roles:
Once again, Diane Kruger’s portrayal of reel archivist Dr. Abigail Chase in this Class I film lands in the Atypical Portrayal category. She is a major character, and we see her both in and out of library and archival space, interacting with modern archival equipment. She is smart, funny, and not afraid to show her flexibility and resourcefulness when needed. She is a reel archivist role model!
Fun fact! During an American Library Association national conference in Washington D.C. a few years ago and a special tour the Library of Congress provided for librarians only, I actually got to go down those exact stairs and explore the basement of the Library of Congress! It’s amaaaaaaaaaaaaazing! The Library of Congress collection is actually spread out over several buildings, and they are all interconnected by the system of pulleys and conveyer belts you see in the film.
The tour guide was also a librarian who had been at the Library of Congress one of the days they filmed this scene for the film. Cool, huh? 😀
I have watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade many times over the years, and goodness, how this film holds up! It’s just a really solid — and really re-watchable — action adventure movie with romance and comedy perfectly mixed in. It’s the third film in the series, and in this installment, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) sets off to find the Holy Grail… and his missing father (Sean Connery), who is also a professor and historian. Such good casting!
Here’s a quick trailer for the film:
Facts, libraries, and research:
Before we get to the library scene, we first have to visit a pivotal scene that occurs 14 minutes into the film. After the introductory scenes of “Young Indy” and a glimpse of Indiana Jones in full adventurer mode at sea, we swing back to spy on Indiana Jones in the classroom. Instead of wearing a fedora and leather jacket, Indiana is in full professor mode in a three-piece tweedy suit, bow tie, and round glasses. (Put a pin in that, as we will revisit that costume.)
He writes “FACT” on the chalkboard, underlines the word, and then states what is arguably the most important speech in the entire film:
“Archeology is the search for FACT, not truth. If it’s truth you’re interested in, Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is right down the hall. So forget any ideas you’ve got about lost cities, exotic travel, and digging up the world. We do not follow maps to buried treasure, and “X” never, ever marks the spot. Seventy percent of all archeology is done in the library. Research. Reading.”
Why is this speech so important?
Not just because of the focus on the library, researching, and reading — that’s all gravy! — but because this character is setting up the rest of the film’s plot for us. Even though he’s in denial, we viewers know we’re set for lost cities, exotic travel, maps to buried treasure… and libraries!
The library scene:
Flash forward 10 minutes, almost to the half-hour mark of the film, to when Indiana Jones goes to Venice to meet Dr. Elsa Schneider (Allison Doody). She takes him to where his father was last seen, a local library.
Elsa Schneider: I have something to show you. I left your father working in the library. He sent me to the map section to fetch an ancient plan of the city. When I got back to his table, he’d gone, with all his papers, except for that scrap, which I found near his chair. Here is the library.
Indiana Jones: That doesn’t look much like a library.
Marcus Brody: Looks like a converted church.
Elsa Schneider: In this case, it’s the literal truth.
Trivia alert: The exterior is St. Barnaba church in Venice, but it’s actually still a regular church, not a library. (Bummer, right?!) The interiors were filmed elsewhere.
Below, watch a video of the entire library scene, which lasts about four minutes in total:
I love the “X marks the spot” reveal in this scene — harkening back to that pivotal speech in the classroom.
The reel librarian:
And of course the BEST PART of this scene is the reel librarian stamping his books, which exactly syncs up when Indiana Jones hits the floor tiles with the end of a metal post. (Suspension of disbelief? Yep.) It only takes three hits to crack the tile, and the closeups of the reel librarian’s face after each stamp are priceless. He never says a word, yet says SO MUCH through his facial expressions.
My favorite moment of this scene is when the reel librarian — an older man, dressed in a suit, formal collar, and bow tie — stares at the stamp in his hands, then puts the stamp atop the last book softly, in a daze, like he can’t fathom the power he just unleashed. Thus is the power of the library stamp! 😉
Reel librarian as comic relief:
This reel librarian is onscreen for a maximum of 30 seconds in a 4-minute scene (thus landing the film in the Class IV category), and the actor goes unidentified in the film’s credits. Yet he makes such an impact! Literally. 😉
This reel librarian is a prime example of the Comic Relief character type. The purpose of this character type is the most obvious of all reel librarian roles, to entertain, but the reel librarians of this type do not necessarily entertain themselves or other characters in the film — rather, they entertain the audience. Exclusively minor characters, the Comic Relief librarians serve as the target of jokes, and the audience is encouraged to laugh at them.
They are also the most extreme physically — note how the reel librarian in this film is rail-thin, which is emphasized by the slightly oversize nature of his suit. And these physical characteristics are part of the humor; marveling at this heretofore unseen and unknown strength (!), this reel librarian could not fathom that something other than his stamp could be making noise in the library.
Now for a few additional things I noted while rewatching this film…
First up, I enjoyed the peek at the signs at the end of each bookcase, which give hints about the organization and classification system for this part of the library collection. They’re obviously in the Arts & Literature section of the library, including literature, dramatic arts, and music.
Reel library goof:
I watched this film on Amazon Prime, which also provides trivia and goofs. I had never noticed this goof before, that when Indiana Jones gets to the top of the spiral staircase, you can tell the backdrop is made up of book spines glued on a black background, rather than real books. Wow!
You can click the screenshot below to view a larger image of it in a new tab. Tip: Look for the shadows on the shelf behind Indiana’s elbow, which reveal that the books are really just book spines.
A tale of two personal libraries:
The two Dr. Joneses like to think they’re so different — yet they’re so alike! And this goes to the state of their personal spaces, as well.
For example, here’s a screenshot of Dr. Jones, Sr., in his personal library at home, in the film’s introductory scenes. The room is lined with bookcases, but none of the items in the bookshelves — books, artifacts, scrolls — look to be very well organized or neatly arranged. Quite disheveled! And the father is dismissive of his own son.
But the younger Dr. Jones is equally dismissive of his own students — he escapes by his office window! — plus his own office, full of bookcases and artifacts, is equally messy.
Attention to detail:
I also appreciate the attention to detail in this film. In that same scene I mentioned above, when Young Indy tries to enlist his father’s help, we see a closeup of his father’s hands sketching a stained glass window in a small book.
We see that drawing again in the library scene, when Indiana Jones takes out his dad’s diary and flips to the page with the stained glass drawing.
A tale of two suits:
And here’s one final thing I noted this time around while rewatching this film. Remember when I said put a pin in the costume Indiana Jones wore while teaching? Let’s revisit that. And I used the word “costume” very deliberately, as Indiana Jones only looks truly comfortable when he’s in his leather jacket and fedora. His entire being — posture, manner, etc. — gets stiff when he’s wearing the three-piece suit and bow tie.
And notice just how similar that costume is to what the reel librarian is wearing:
Both of them are wearing a three-piece suit, a bow tie, and round eyeglasses. There are differences, of course: Indiana Jones’s suit is lighter in color, and a different texture, while the librarian’s suit looks shabbier, and his collar is more old-fashioned. Both bow ties have polka dot patterns, however, and it’s the same outfit formula. It’s like they’re wearing a uniform to do research!
Below is Benedict Wong’s charming interview — and his Manchester accent! — on the premiere’s red carpet event.
First impressions overall:
First, my impressions about Avengers: Infinity Warin general. Note about spoilers: I will try hard not to spoil the big reveals or the ending, but be forewarned that I might (indirectly) allude to outcomes or clues.
Overall, I really enjoyed the movie. The action and pacing kept the story going, and it was truly impressive how the directors, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, wove in character arcs throughout the multiple locales and action sequences. As one Vox reviewer highlighted, this movie mirrored onscreen how superhero comics do big crossover series in print. That the Marvel Universe managed to pull together all the myriad characters and story threads together — and did it well — is a Herculean feat, in and of itself.
I was also impressed with how expressive the CGI was for Thanos. I knew the Purple One was CGI, and yet I could not help but be moved by the genuine emotion captured in Thanos’s face — or rather, how they managed to capture actor Josh Brolin’s acting and emoting underneath all the CGI.
The ending… I will not spoil it, but I was impressed by how the ending raised the stakes. It connected back to the original comics series while also standing on its own. I also have to admit that one of my first thoughts after the movie ended was, “Now how are they going to get out of this one??!“
First impressions of Wong’s character in this movie:
I mentioned last week that the director of Doctor Strange had hinted that Wong had an important role in Avengers: Infinity War. And Wong had scored his own character poster, which featured him conjuring magical shields with his hands.
Wong plays a part in one of the major battle scenes near the beginning of the movie. Thanos has dispatched his Black Watch baddies, using a “divide and conquer” strategy, with Ebony Maw and Cull Obsidian heading toward New York to retrieve the Time Stone from Doctor Strange (the stone is in the Eye of Agomotto).
Bruce Banner also comes hurtling through time and space and (literally) crashes into the New York sanctum. He then warns them of Thanos.
Tony Stark — who was conveniently in Central Park with Pepper — quickly joins Banner, Strange, and Wong. Wong then goes into teacher/librarian mode and explains the stakes to Stark and Banner, through an illusion casting of the Infinity Stones. Wong is efficient and straightforward in this exposition, identifying and naming each Infinity Stone. This scene essentially functions as an abbreviated form of Wong’s Infinity Stone lesson to Strange in Doctor Strange; in that film, Wong did the illusion casting in the Kamar-Taj monastery, home to the monastery library. But in this film, it makes sense that Wong conjures the Infinity Stones in the entrance of the New York sanctum. We never get to see Wong the sorcerer librarian in his monastery library, but it is nice to see him using his librarian skills to help set up the stakes — and the plot of the entire movie — to members of the Avengers, as well as to the audience.
Side note: There is an Avengers: Infinity War prelude comic that reveals that Wong knows a LOT about the Infinity Stones, more than anyone else does. This suggests he has done some serious research in tracking down the history and provenance of each Infinity Stone, befitting his role as the Kamar-Taj Librarian. Henceforth, Wong will be known as the Supreme Researcher.
Back to the action… once again, Wong is just in time with his lesson, because the foursome then immediately square off against Ebony Maw and Cull Obsidian. Banner has trouble turning into the Hulk — there’s a funny bit when Tony Stark says something like, “You’re embarrassing me in front of the wizards!” — so Wong takes up the charge of protecting Banner.
Wong then ultimately defeats Cull Obsidian by transporting him to a snowy region/planet and then severs off the villain’s arm when closing the portal. It’s nice to see Wong victorious in battle in this movie, especially considering his previous battle at the end of Doctor Strange, which I went into detail in last week’s post. Stark is so impressed with Wong’s quick thinking and magical skillz that he shouts, “Wong, you’re invited to the wedding!” (We had learned earlier that Tony and Pepper are recently engaged.)
A quick note that amidst all the action, Wong does land a few jokes, including one about a favorite flavor of ice cream, delivered in his usual deadpan style.
Ebony Maw ultimately captures Strange, and Stark and Spider-Man — who has since joined the crew — pursue Maw’s ship. This leaves Bruce Banner to contact Captain America and Wong to defend the sanctum.
Ultimately, Wong serves the same role and fulfills the same character types as he did in Doctor Strange; he serves as both an Information Provider and Comic Relief.
Will we get to see Wong again?
Again, I will not (directly) spoil the end of the movie, but be warned that I may (indirectly and vaguely) allude to outcomes or clues.
If Wong returns in the second movie, then he might be key to restoring the world order. After all, he may turn out to be one of the only (if not the only?) Masters of the Mystic Arts left. However, Benedict Wong is not (currently) listed on the cast list for the Infinity War sequel, scheduled to be released next year. But that cast list is very short — only about three dozen names are listed as yet — so I will be on the lookout for any more news or clues of Wong.
Last but not least, I need to address the most important cliffhanger of the film… will Wong get to attend Tony Stark’s wedding??? We shall see… 😉
Have you seen Avengers: Infinity War yet? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts — but no direct spoilers, please!
Librarians should get hazard pay for the very real dangers that come with the job.
The sure-to-be-a-smash-hit Avengers: Infinity War opens this weekend, and if you’re a fan of the Marvel Universe series of films, then you’ll know that one of the (many, many) characters and heroes of the Marvel Universe is sorcerer librarian Wong, who was first introduced onscreen in 2016’s Doctor Strange.
Before we rush to see the new film in the Marvel saga, let’s get to know the sorcerer librarians from Doctor Strange a bit better, yes?
Library scene #1:
The first library scene in Doctor Strange is also the first scene of the film, period. The librarian is shelving books in the Kamar-Taj monastery library. The villains, headed by Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), break into the library and string up the librarian.
They kill the librarian in order to gain access to the chained-up books in the restricted section, and Kaecilius then rips out a secret spell from one of the books, which we later learn is the Book of Cagliostro. Such is the power of knowledge, eh? Librarians, who in this context are literally the gatekeepers to forbidden knowledge, should get hazard pay for the very real dangers that come with the job.
When I first watched this film in theaters, I literally thought, “Wow. Is this the first time onscreen that a reel librarian’s murder has begun a film?!”
This reel librarian, listed in the credits as the “Kamar-Taj Librarian,” is played by Ezra Khan, and he does get more backstory in one of the digital comics, Doctor Strange Prelude – The Zealot. This comic helped fill in some of the plot points and motivations for characters in the film, including prior interactions between the Kamar-Taj Librarian and Kaecilius.
Library scene #2:
Our next library scene introduces us to the new monastery librarian, Wong (played by Benedict Wong, who also gets 4th billing in the credits list, and is credited above the title). Thirty-five minutes into the film, Strange begins his studies in earnest and brings a stack of books back to the library. Wong has a deadpan, inscrutable face — he takes the “librarian glare” to another dimension! — and he has no patience for Strange. #TeamWong
The library entrance is dark and full of shadows, with dim lighting — like the inner sanctum of the library itself — and this is where the librarian’s desk is, a wide and solid wood desk stacked with papers and books. The walls are lined with overstuffed bookcases. Wong wears burgundy robes, fitting his station as a Master of the Mystic Arts. His head is shaved, and he does not wear glasses.
Wong introduces himself with one word, his name. Doctor Strange tries to make a joke out of his one name (“Just Wong? Like Adele? Aristotle? Drake? Bono? Eminem?“), which becomes a running joke throughout the film.
Wong ignores him and reads the titles of the books Strange has brought back (Book of the Invisible Sun, Astronomia Nova, Codex Imperium, and Key of Solomon), and then invites Strange on a tour of the library.
We get to see much more of the library — dimly lit with lamps, of course — which has rows of bookcases that slide in and out, full of books individually chained up. A very interesting shelving system!
We also get lots of exposition as Wong looks for and selects books for Wong to read next. This is one of the main roles that Wong fulfills, that of an Information Provider. And we get a LOT of information in the exchange below:
Wong: This section is for masters only but at my discretion, others may use it. You should start with Maxim’s primer. [He unchains a book.] How’s your Sanskrit?
Strange: I’m fluent in Google Translate.
Wong: Vedic, classical Sanskrit.
Strange: What are those? [points to the chained-up books]
Wong: The Ancient One’s private collection.
Strange: So they’re forbidden?
Wong: No knowledge in Kamar-Taj is forbidden. Only certain practices. Those books are far too advanced for anyone other than the Sorceror Supreme.
Strange: [unhooks a book] This one’s got pages missing. [This is the same book featured in the movie’s first scene, the book that Kaecilius ripped pages out of]
Wong: That’s the Book of Cagliostro. A study of time. One of the rituals was stolen by a former master. The zealot, Kaecilius. Just after he strung up the former librarian and relieved him of his head. I am now the guardian of these books. So if a volume from this collection should be stolen again I’d know it, and you’d be dead before you ever left the compound.
Wong then slams shut the book for emphasis. [This is a totally bad-ass move — and speech. I love how Wong makes it very clear that he cares deeply about his duty as the monastery librarian. Again, #TeamWong]
Strange: What if it’s just overdue? Any late fees I should know about? Maiming perhaps?
Wong responds in silence and hands him a stack of books.
Strange: People used to think that I was funny.
Wong: Did that work for you?
Strange: All right. Well it’s been lovely talking to you. Thank you for the books… and for the horrifying story… and for the threat upon my life.
Wong nods, turns, and chains up the book again.
This scene lasts only three minutes, but wow, does it pack a punch! And Wong establishes his sorcerer and warrior bonafides with the bare minimum of dialogue and facial expressions. In his first scene, Wong has already established himself as one of the most interesting and dynamic reel librarian characters EVER.
Library scene #3:
A few minutes later, at 43 minutes into the film, Strange returns to the library. Wong is sitting in his chair by the front table. He gets straight to the point.
Wong: What do you want, Strange?
Strange: Books on astral projection.
Wong: You’re not ready for that.
Strange: Try me Beyonce. Oh come on, you have heard of her right? She’s a huge star. Do you ever laugh? Oh come on just give me the book.
Strange is not one to take “no” for an answer, so the next scene demonstrates how Strange bends the rules to get what he wants. It’s a seconds-long scene played for comedic effect. The central joke is that Wong, sitting at his desk while Strange steals books literally behind his back, is listening to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” song, which can be heard through his headphones. Of course he knows about Beyonce! This scene also hints at Wong’s (hidden) sense of humor. The joke is ultimately on Strange, as it’s clear that Wong misled him about his knowledge of Beyonce, in order to put a check on Strange’s big ego.
But Wong is also not one to take this deception lightly. In the next scene, the Ancient One scolds Strange for not following “the rules.”
Ancient One: Like the rule against conjuring a gateway in the library?
Strange: Wong told on me?
Ancient One: Trust your teacher, and don’t lose your way.
I like that last line, because it clearly designates the reel librarian as a teacher in his own right and someone to be respected. After all, he is a Master of the Mystic Arts, like the librarian before him. Yep, librarians are educators, too.
Library scene #4:
Almost 50 minutes into the film, Strange heads back to the library, which now appears empty. Strange calls out to Wong; hearing no answer, he then heads straight to the restricted. Because OF COURSE. Strange grabs the Eye of Agomotto — which is itself an Infinity Stone and therefore very powerful — and figures out how to turn back time. He then uses the spell to resurrect the torn-out pages in the Book of Cagliostro. While I appreciate that he repaired the book — Strange could have a second career repairing books in libraries across the globe! — this was very reckless behavior.
Wong and Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) then burst in. Time to teach Strange a lesson.
Strange: I was just doing what was in the book.
Wong: What did the book say about the dangers of performing that ritual?
Strange: I don’t know. I hadn’t gotten to that part yet.
Mordo: Temporal manipulations can create branches in time. Unsuitable dimensional openings. Spatial paradoxes. Time loops! You wanna get stuck reliving the same moment over and over forever or never having existed at all?
Strange: Really should put the warnings before the spell.
It was at this moment that my husband yelled aloud at the screen: “You did get the warning before, you just didn’t listen. It was the librarian!” Damn straight. ♥
Wong: Your curiosity could have gotten you killed. You weren’t manipulating the space time continuum, you were breaking it. We do not tamper with natural law. We defend it.
Again, Wong steps up and exposes the consequences of Strange’s rash actions. At the same time, he highlights how the Kamar-Taj librarians are not just defenders of the books in the library, they are also defenders of natural law.
Librarian as teacher:
More exposition time! This scene continues with Wong leading a lesson about the scope of what the Masters defend and explains the roles of the Ancient One and the three sanctums of power, Hong Kong, New York, and London. Wong also explains about Dormammu, the evil force that Kaecilius has sold his soul to.
Wong is also the one who links Doctor Strange to the world of the Avengers, in one of the film’s most important lines:
“While heroes like the Avengers protect the world from physical dangers, we sorcerers safeguard it against more mystical threats.”
Wong’s lesson is not a minute too soon, because right after he finishes, they learn that the London sanctum has fallen, and that the New York sanctum is under attack. Strange gets sucked into that dimension and fights Kaecilius for the first time to defend the New York sanctum.
Librarian as warrior:
At 1 hour, 26 minutes into the film, the final big action sequence takes place in Hong Kong, where the third and final sanctum is. Wong has traveled to Hong Kong, and we see him leading a group of warriors. He directs the warriors to “choose your weapon wisely.”
Wong then picks up his own weapon, which looks like some kind of club relic.
Wong then declares, “No one sets foot in this sanctum. No one.“
And he stays true to his word, going outside to head Kaecilius off before he can enter the Hong Kong sanctum. The two square off, and Wong readies for a fight. Unfortunately, we don’t actually get to see Wong fight. By the time Strange arrives on the scene, the Hong Kong sanctum has fallen, and Wong has been defeated, dead in the rubble.
But luckily, Strange knows how to turn back time, so he manages to resurrect Wong, whose chest had been punctured by a rebar.
Librarian as comic relief:
In the midst of all the action and drama, Wong then provides two unexpected doses of comic relief. First is Wong’s stunned reaction after Strange resurrects him. Strange expects a lecture from the librarian.
Strange: Breaking the laws of nature, I know.
Wong: Well, don’t stop now.
Strange then figures out a way to beat Dormammu and get rid of the zealots, who get sucked up into Dormammu’s dimension. Strange makes a quip that echoes his earlier schooling from Wong and Mordo.
Strange: You should have stolen the whole book, because the warnings come after the spells.
Wong [laughs]: Oh, that’s funny.
Both Strange and Mordo stop and stare at Wong, who is cracking up and shaking with laughter. This is the first time Wong has smiled, let alone laughed!
Final library scene:
The films ends in the library, the same location where it began. As Strange puts back the Eye of Agamotto, Wong then sets up the upcoming Infinity Wars showdown.
Wong: Wise choice. You’ll wear the Eye of Agamotto once you’ve mastered its powers. Until then best not to walk the streets wearing an Infinity Stone.
Strange: A what?
Wong: You might have a gift for the mystic arts, but you still have much to learn. Word of the Ancient One’s death will spread through the multiverse. Earth has no Sorceror Supreme to defend it. We must be ready.
Strange: We’ll be ready.
Role of the reel librarians:
The two Kamar-Taj librarians we meet, one who begins the film and Wong who ends the film, primarily serve as Information Providers. We see the first librarian onscreen for perhaps a total of 30 seconds, while Wong has a much bigger supporting role, with scenes throughout the film.
Wong never really changes; he is steady and steadfast. He is who he is, a Master of the Mystic Arts and guardian of the library and natural law. And even though his laughter at the end of the film is surprising, we already got hints earlier in the film that he had a (hidden) sense of humor. I would argue that Wong, along with nurse Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), is one of the only characters in the film who remains completely trustworthy. He never loses faith in his mission, and the audience never loses faith in Wong. I would also argue that that trust also stems from the fact that he’s a reel librarian, as librarians are often used in cinema as shortcuts to establish trust.
Reel librarian roles are also frequently used to provide exposition and lead to clues that propel the plot forward. In each scene, Wong does both. Benedict Wong is also a first-class actor whose facial expressions and voice lend instant authority and credibility to the role. And thanks to his voice acting and verbal expression, his expository speeches never fall flat.
Wong also serves as Comic Relief throughout the film. His deadpan facial expressions and non-reactions to Strange’s jokes at the beginning of the film help lighten the mood, and the audience joins Strange in amazement when Wong cracks up at one of Strange’s jokes at the end of the film.
Librarian as right-hand man:
When I was preparing screenshots I took while watching my DVD copy of the film, I noticed that when Wong is shown with another character (usually Strange) and in a stationary position (i.e. not walking across the screen), he is shown almost always on the right side of the screen.
He’s also often seen on the right side of the screen in extreme closeup, as evidenced below:
Why is this?
I would argue that Wong — ever loyal, ever steadfast — is (almost) always on the right side of the screen because he is always right, period. He’s intelligent, he’s dedicated, he’s ready to defend what he believes is right. It’s visual affirmation that what Wong believes is right IS right.
Kaecilius tries to goad Wong before the Hong Kong fight, taunting Wong that he will “be on the wrong side of history.” But we know better. Wong will remain on the right side of history.
I think it’s also a visual pun that plays off the idea that Wong is the right-hand man of Doctor Strange. He may be a right-hand man, but he is not a sidekick; Wong supports Strange, yes, but he is not subservient to Strange in the film. (Unlike the comics, in which he is Strange’s servant.) The reel librarian is the master who teaches Strange lessons, again and again, but he also owes his life to Strange. In the end, they will face the future together, side by side. “We’ll be ready.“
There is one major exception to Wong being on the right side of the screen. When he laughs aloud at Strange’s joke, he is shown on the left side of the screen. The three major warriors are all in a row, with Strange at the center, Mordo on the right, and Wong on the left. (I repeated this screenshot below, so you don’t have to scroll up to doublecheck.)
I think Wong is shown on the left side of the screen in this scene to underscore the strangeness of this moment. The director breaks his visual shortcut for Wong’s character just as Wong breaks character by laughing aloud. It’s a subtle, but very clever, touch.
Changes from comics to cinema:
In the comics, Wong is depicted as Strange’s “tea-making manservant.” The director, Scott Derrickson, also co-wrote the script, and he changed Wong’s character from an Asian stereotype to a more active role. I applaud this change, because Wong ends up a very interesting character and an inspirational reel librarian. I also have to admit that it was very nice to see not one, but TWO, reel librarians of color featured in this film (even though one literally ends up, err, on the chopping block).
I do, however, feel obligated to point out the controversy created by the film’s script and casting, particularly the casting of Tilda Swinton, a non-Asian actress, who was cast as the Ancient One, a significant Asian character in the comics. The character gets reframed as a Celt in the film, and Swinton does a great job, as always, bringing gravitas and laser-focus to her role. She is totally believable as an ancient, mystical, wise being. But I have to admit discomfort in knowing that a major Asian role was recast with a white woman, and that Wong’s character was written, at least in part, after-the-fact in order to offset that controversial casting; Derrickson felt obligated to include Wong’s character in the film after rewriting the character of the Ancient One. (But you don’t have to have just one Asian role! If you wanted to put a more feminine, or androgynous, spin on the Ancient One, why not cast an Asian actress?!) You can read more about this passive-aggressive type of racism, called “Orientalism,” here in this very interesting essay, “Orientalism Is Alive And Well In American Cinema.”
“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.”
Although it’s clear that he did fight with Kaecilius in the Hong Kong showdown, we do not actually see Wong perform martial arts in the film, thereby avoiding another Asian cinematic stereotype.
I wanted to give a shout-out to Stan Lee’s cameo in Doctor Strange, which clocks in at 1 hour and 18 minutes into the film, during the chase and fight scene between the zealots and Strange and Mordo. Stan Lee is seen on a bus, reading a book and laughing, oblivious to Strange and Mordo slamming into the side of the bus.
The book Stan Lee is reading is Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, a book of Huxley’s experience taking psychedelic drugs and how that influenced this art. This cameo most likely plays off the long-held association between psychedelic drugs and the kaleidoscope imagery of the Doctor Strange comics (something Marvel disputes). Stan Lee laughs uproariously at the book he’s reading in this cameo, so perhaps he is dismissing this decades-long notion?
Last but not least…
Director Derrickon has also hinted that Wong has a significant role to play in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War film. We shall see! I plan on watching it this opening weekend and reporting back next week with a “First Impressions” type of post.
Are you looking forward to the Avengers: Infinity War film? Have you seen Doctor Strange? Please leave a comment and share!
Doctor Strange. Dir. Scott Derrickson. Perf. Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Benedict Wong. Marvel Studios, 2016.