Marvel movies aren’t know for their impressive secondary characters. They easily blend into the background and mostly help to deliver exposition to build up the titular character. Aside from that, they can be easily discarded.
This issue has persisted from the first Marvel movie, Iron Man, to the latest, Doctor Strange. This issue is very complicated, but to Marvel’s credit, it has tried to be proactive about it. The most recent character it had to develop was Wong in Doctor Strange, and if you know anything about the comic books, he is anything but an exemplary Asian character. But this isn’t the character that we see in the movie.
I recently got the chance to talk to Benedict Wong who portrays Wong and we got to talking about how the character of Wong was developed into a modern, multi-dimensional Asian character who can hold his own with Doctor Strange. In the comic books, Wong is a manservant who plays harshly into Asian stereotypes. The version in the movie is very different and in a position of power. A stark contrast from the comic book archetype. This was one of Benedict Wong’s favorite aspects of the character.
“I loved what we’ve done with Wong. I love that we left his manservant, tea-making duties in the 60’s and made a Wong of our time. He’s been updated. He’s Strange’s drill sergeant and intellectual mentor. This is a librarian you do not mess with. It’s an interesting dynamic you have with [Wong] and Doctor Strange.”
Doctor Strange is the hero in the story, but for much of the movie he’s more of an arrogant prick than a knight in shining armor. That’s greatly juxtaposed in scenes with Wong—who is sullen, quiet and dignified. As the keeper of the library, he keeps a watchful eye on important scrolls. From here, a unique friendship between Wong and Doctor Strange develops.
When in contention for the role of Wong, Benedict Wong went through the source material and discovered the character’s less than sterling history. He wasn’t too excited of playing this character unless he was different, but luckily, director Scott Derrickson and Marvel President Kevin Feige agreed with him.
“When I got the job and I was reading the source material, I had one of my first meetings with Kevin [Feige]. I said, we’re not doing this, right?’ Feige immediately said no we’re not. I said great, cause neither am I. It was lovely to be singing from the same pen sheet. It’s a real credit to Scott [Derrickson] and Kevin [Feige] for what they’ve done with the character. We’re expanding and we’re exploring it.”
This was done when Doctor Strange was being developed. Scott Derrickson and Kevin Feige decided early than the character was going to be different from the comic books, but the particular details of the character still needed to be fleshed out and Benedict Wong brought a new element with his take on the character. The comic book Wong served more as a comic relief character but the movie take is more comically curt. For a while there, the audience doesn’t even know if Wong speaks words.
“I added that sardonic twist. That look, that stare. It’s [Wong’s] domain in Kamar-Taj. You’re following our hero (Doctor Strange) and he comes into [Wong’s] domain and [he’s] seen these people come and go. [He’s] seen the upstart, [he’s] seen the ego, the arrogance. It makes an interesting dynamic packing that ego,” retorts Benedict Wong.
Wong was my favorite character in the movie. Doctor Strange was a lesser version of Tony Stark and we’ve seen that character before. Wong was in less scenes but jumped off the screen way more. His character drew you in and demanded to be heard, respected and admired. These are the qualities that a secondary character should always have, but for some reason don’t in Marvel movies.
He is just one character in the Marvel universe and even at that, he still falls for the same mistakes past Marvel movies have fallen for. Wong not in many scenes and lacks dialogue, but he is a great step for Marvel. There have been great secondary characters in comic book movies. A few great examples are Harvey Dent, Alfred Pennyworth and Commissioner Gordon in The Dark Knight, and I feel Wong is one of the Marvel characters to have an impact like those character did for their respective story.
Secondary characters aren’t supposed to be the stars of the movie, but they should at least matter and have a purpose. Wong did in Doctor Strange. The process of receiving impressive Marvel secondary characters has been slow, but it’s improving. Now if only Marvel could do something about its villains and female lead characters, but that’s a discussion for another time.
The next time we’ll see Wong will be in Avengers: Infinity War due out next year.