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!
Blade Runner 2049 is not a remake of the 1982 cult classic Blade Runner; rather, it is a continuation, with Harrison Ford reprising his role as Deckard. Ryan Gosling stars as K, a police officer assigned to track down a rogue replicant. He begins by going to the Wallace Corporation’s Earth Headquarter archives.
Here’s a teaser trailer for the film:
Meet the archivist:
The archives scene begins 30 mins into the film. K stands at a long, wrap-around counter, behind which sits the archivist, played by Icelandic actor Tómas Lemarquis. It’s interesting to note that although this character is titled “File Clerk” in the credits, the subtitles refer to him as “Archivist.” I will refer to this character as the archivist throughout the remainder of this post.
Here’s their opening exchange, or rather, their initial reference interview:
K: Just checking in on an old serial number.
Archivist: Confirmation DNA?
K: I got hair. [hands him an evidence baggie]
The archivist then drops the hair into a scanner, which immediately brings up information on a central screen. I found it interesting that the archivist did NOT wear gloves to handle the evidence. (And put a pin in that, as we will revisit that point later.)
The archivist reacts swiftly and strongly to the information on the screen. I *loved* the archivist’s facial expressions during this scene.
Archivist: Oh! An old one. Pre-blackout. Huh. That’s gonna be tough. Not much from then. And what’s there is [clicks tongue] thick milky.
Luv, a replicant who is assistant to Mr. Wallace — remember, they’re at the Wallace Corporation’s Earth Headquarters — then gets an auto alert about the serial number and DNA scan. She asks to reschedule the client meeting she had been conducting.
We then cut back to the archivist, who is leading K down rows and rows of what look very similar to old-fashioned card catalog drawers. The cinematography is quite striking in the film in general, but particularly so in these scenes. The atmosphere feels almost holy and reverential, with the rows of card catalogs akin to pews in a church. But instead of feeling warmth or comfort from the reverence, we instead get a feeling of severity and sterility… perhaps because all the pre-Blackout data has been wiped? All of these records are blank, useless, broken. Yet they remain a monument to what was.
While they walk, the archivist chatters to K.
Archivist: Everyone remembers where they were at the Blackout. You?
K: That was a little before my time.
Archivist: Mmmmm… I was home with my folks, then ten days of darkness. Every machine stopped cold. When the lights came back, we were wiped clean. Photos, files, every bit of data… Fttt! Gone. Bank records, too. [Chuckles] Didn’t mind that. It’s funny it’s only paper that lasted. I mean, we had everything on drives. Everything, everything. Huh. My mom still cries over the lost baby pictures.
K: Well, it’s a shame. You must have been adorable. [deadpan sarcasm]
The archivist then opens a drawer and rifles through what looks like plexiglass microfiche, even holding one up to the light.
Archivist: Pretty fractured. Not much on it. One of the last gens, pre-Prohibition. Standard issue. Made by Tyrell.
Their exchange is then cut short, as Luv appears behind them at the end of the row. The archivist immediately shuts down, and in silence, bows to Luv, walks over, hands her the file, and then walks away. There is no question who holds the power in this scenario.
Luv then closes the drawer, introduces herself, and offers more help to K:
Luv: Another prodigal serial number returns. A 30-year-old open case finally closed. Thank you, officer. I’m here for Mr. Wallace. I’m Luv… Follow me. The ancient models give the entire endeavor a bad name. What a gift, don’t you think, from Mr. Wallace to the world? The outer colonies would never have flourished had he not bought Tyrell, revivified the technology. To say the least of what we do.
During this exchange, they walk through another collection of Mr. Wallace’s, a collection of rogue replicants encased in glass. This is the second peek into the Wallace Corporation’s archives, which are eclectic indeed. And not a little creepy.
Luv and K then continue down a shadowy corridor, the off-site storage for archives. No longer in the main cathedral of the archives, it’s like they are now walking along the cloisters.
Luv: Here. All the junk is in here. Lucky for you, Mr. Wallace is a data hoarder. [the door sticks.] No one’s been down here in ages. [shoves open the door] Sorry about that.
The lights automatically come on as they step in the room.
As Luv walks over to a specific drawer, she slips on a white glove to handle a “memory ball.” So the iconic white glove of the archivist DOES appear in the film — just not on the archivist! 😉
Luv: All our memory bearings from the time. They were all damaged in the Blackout. But there are sometimes fragments.
As the memory ball is read by a scanner, a computer screen reads: “Tyrell Archives: Video document.” I appreciated that this screen did confirm that we were, indeed, in the archives. 🙂
The video flashes fragments of an interview between Rachael and Deckard, an interview from the original film. This then sets up the eventual connection between Deckard and K.
The archives scene lasts about seven minutes in total, but sets the rest of the film’s plot in motion. It also emphasizes how vital archives are in society — and how the loss of archives adversely affects a society — as well as how important access is to archives.
Librarian: This is embarrassing. It’s embarrassing to misplace things.
Jonathan: Misplaced some data?
Librarian: Hmmm, the whole of the 13th century.
It’s clear that more than just the 13th century was wiped out in the Blade Runner universe, but there is a hint that some paper archives still exist, as when the archivist mused, “It’s funny it’s only paper that lasted.“
This is a major theme in the movie, that data is the soul of memory. And with no data or records, what happens to memory? What happens to our souls?
And I’m not the only one who thought along these lines. I came across this tweet from Dan Cohen, Dean of Libraries at Northeastern University:
Let’s talk about archives in Blade Runner 2049. There are multiple archives accessed during the film, and *implied* archives that no longer exist. They are all critical to the story.
Indeed, the story of archives parallels the story about memory.
Finally, I want to revisit the character of the archivist. While revealing vital background information about the world they live in now, the archivist reveals his personality. The archivist, although he looks quite severe with his leather shirt and bald head, comes across as animated, chatty, a little nerdy, even humorous. He definitely has no problem attempting to have a conversation with K, and it is not until Luv shows up that the archivist shuts down emotionally, like he has been “put in his place.”
Before Luv shows up, the archivist smiles quite a bit and infuses his lines with real feeling, as well as making amusing sound effects (like clicking his tongue), and making hand gestures. His vivid personality is notable in a film of blank demeanors and flat line reads from the replicant characters. My hat is off to the actor, Tómas Lemarquis, who makes quite an impression for just a couple of minutes of screen time.
Ultimately, the reel archivist in this film winds up in the Information Provider category. And the personality that shines through this reel archivist’s portrayal lands the film in the Class III category, film in which the librarian(s) plays a secondary role, ranging from a supporting character to a minor character with perhaps only a few lines in one memorable or significant scene.
Have you seen Blade Runner, the original or the recent sequel? What are your thoughts about this reel archivist character? Please leave a comment and share!
Blade Runner 2049. Dir. Denis Villeneuve. Perf. Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto. Warner Bros., 2017.
The 2006 film stars Salma Hayek, who plays Mexican immigrant Camilla, and Colin Farrell, who plays Arturo Bandini, the son of two Italian immigrants. Here’s the film description from Amazon Prime:
“Arturo Bandini (Colin Farrell), a young would-be writer who comes to Depression-era Los Angeles to make a name for himself. While there, he meets beautiful barmaid Camilla (Salma Hayek), a Mexican immigrant who hopes for a better life by marrying a wealthy American. Both are trying to escape the stigma of their ethnicity in blue-blood California. The passion that arises between them is palpable.”
The film is based on the book by Italian-American author John Fante and was first published in 1939 — but the book, and its author, fell into obscurity in subsequent decades. However, Robert Towne rediscovered and used the book as inspiration for the Depression-era (and Oscar-winning) dialogue he wrote for the 1974 classic Chinatown, and writer Charles Bukowski helped the book get republished and wrote a foreword for the 1980 reprint edition by Black Sparrow Press. The book is part of the “Bandini Quartet,” four novels about central character Arturo Bandini.
I had admittedly never heard of the book or the author before, but by all accounts, it’s an underrated gem of a novel — and both its style and subject matter have been extremely influential in the last few decades. For that reason alone, I’m glad I watched this film!
On paper, the film has a lot going for it: it’s based on a groundbreaking novel; stars two talented and award-winning actors; was written and directed by Robert Towne (the same one who rediscovered Fante’s work in the 1970s!); and was produced by Tom Cruise.
The final result, however, is frustratingly disappointing, all the more so considering the talent involved. Hayek and Farrell display very little chemistry onscreen — or rather, Hayek has sexual chemistry for days (and is the bright spot in this film), but Farrell cannot seem to, uh, rise to the occasion. Farrell has a natural Irish brogue, and acting with an American accent seems to have dampened his naturally charismatic personality. (Yes, an Irishman is playing an Italian-American immigrant.) There is also waaaaaaaay too much voice-over narration, an expository trick that falls as flat as Farrell’s American accent.
Reel librarian fake-out:
Within the first few seconds of the title cards, Eileen Atkins’s name came on screen against a backdrop of an open book, a fountain pen, and glasses on a chain. I immediately perked up at these often librarian-adjacent props and thought, “Oh! Perhaps Eileen Atkins is also playing a librarian!”
Alas, no. Fake-out! The first few minutes of the film reveal that Eileen Atkins plays Arturo’s no-nonsense landlady, not a librarian. She does wear glasses on a chain, but the open book in the credits turns out to be the guest registration book.
The real reel librarian:
Nine minutes into the scene, Arturo recalls a memory from when he lived in Colorado. (I didn’t get at first that this was a flashback scene, but then I recalled the librarian role was listed in the credits as “Denver librarian.”) He is in a public library, and he sets down a book on the front counter to check it out.
The librarian at the counter, played by Natasha Staples, is young, blonde, and attractive. She is also fashionably dressed in modern, stylish clothes (for the 1930s time period), and it’s obvious that she has made a considerable effort with her makeup and curled hairdo. She and her red lipstick definitely stand out amidst all the hazy earth tones of the rest of the library setting.
Here’s how their “meet cute” moment plays out, as Arturo sets down the book on the counter:
Librarian: You have nice hands.
Arturo: I do?
There is definite flirty eye contact happening between the two.
Then the librarian looks down as she stamps his card, her eyes registering his name. She looks up at Arturo.
Librarian: Bandini? You’re Italian.
Her face subtly hardens, and her voice flattens out.
Librarian: That’ll be two cents every day it’s overdue.
This is the librarian’s last line, and it is a clear dismissal. Arturo’s face falls as he realizes that the librarian is no longer interested in him, due to his name and Italian roots.
This library scene lasts only 30 seconds and includes the bare minimum of sets and props, including stacks of books and a stamper.
The reel librarian’s role:
What is the reel librarian’s role in this short scene? Although the reel librarian is onscreen for only a few seconds, she stands out enough to merit a Class III category, in which librarian(s) plays a secondary role, ranging from a supporting character to a minor character with perhaps only a few lines in one memorable or significant scene.
Primarily, this reel librarian serves as an Information Provider character type. In addition to helping set the library scene, her role reflects the discrimination toward Italian immigrants at that time. This scene provides necessary backstory for Arturo’s personal frustration and experiences suffering unfair treatment and discriminatory behavior due to his name, ethnicity, and background. The plot is then set for Arturo to meet Camilla, a Mexican immigrant who has also suffered discrimination to her name, ethnicity, and background.
It’s also interesting to note that this reel librarian partially fulfills the Naughty Librarian character type. It’s clear that she’s willing to be naughty… if the man has the right name, of course.
Ask the Dust. Dir. Robert Towne. Perf. Colin Farrell, Salma Hayek, Donald Sutherland, Idina Menzel, Eileen Atkins. Paramount, 2006.
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.