Doctor Strange is clever and unique in a lot of ways, but the actual plot feels like a placeholder template that came free with the screenwriting software. The villains are paving the way for an invasion from an otherworldly evil that manifests itself as a glowing pillar of light. The hero is essentially Tony Stark if he'd gone with a different major in college. This article, however, is about the main human villain, the evil sorcerer Kaecilius, played by Mads Mikkelsen in eye makeup that makes him look like he's due for a huge settlement from a sunglasses manufacturer.
Conjure up some Visine, dude.
Kaecilius is as dumb as a suitcase full of farts. He has less strategic foresight than a plankton. His is an incredibly simple task, to the point where failing to do it actually requires him to take several much more difficult steps than he needs to -- which he does, for no goddamned reason. It's the supervillain equivalent of trying to burn down a house and accidentally renovating it instead.
It's for good reason that Kaecilius is the subject of Part 4 of our weeklong series on misguided villains, which we're calling "Wait, What Was Their Plan Again?"
Things Go Off The Rails In Literally The First Scene
Doctor Strange opens in a temple in Nepal and what appears to be a library full of ancient, magical books, being tended to by a single librarian. Kaecilius and a dozen or so of his closest friends stride in like they own the place (it's not explained how they got in, but we will soon see them using magical portals to travel, so apparently it was that). Using a combination of magic ropes and hatchets, they chop the head off of the librarian and drop it into a bucket which it seems they brought for that exact purpose. Kaecilius then grabs a specific book from the rack, flips to a specific spot, rips out a few pages, and drops the book on the floor.
A murderer and a litterer.
And there it is. Mere minutes in, Kaecilius has already fucked up his mission in two ridiculous ways that will dictate the rest of the plot. At this point the Ancient One, played by an alarmingly bald Tilda Swinton, shows up to instigate a fabulous M.C. Escher chase scene so elaborate and creative that it likely distracted you from the fact that the film's villain probably shits crayons.
Wait, What Was Their Plan Again?
The stolen pages, we find out later, contained a ritual to awaken an ancient evil named Dormammu. The rest of the movie revolves around hunting Kaecilius down and thwarting his plan to use Dormammu's power to create an immortal (albeit hellish) existence for all of humanity. Seems straightforward, as villain schemes go.
Doctor Strange, meanwhile, begins his Hero's Journey at the temple, and in an oddly clumsy scene, he happens to be strolling around the Masters Only section of the library, where he grabs a totally random book off the rack. He then casually flips it open to see that pages are missing. That's right: Of all of the hundreds of books in the library, he happens to grab the exact one that's key to the entire plot. They couldn't have had it off in its own special case or something, so there'd be a reason for it to draw his attention? Whatever, it doesn't matter.
Strange is informed by the grumpy librarian that the book is a series of spells that can manipulate time. The librarian then tells Strange that he'll murder anyone -- including Strange -- who attempts to steal one of the sacred books on his watch. But that is no match for the plucky doctor! Strange is intrigued, and learns just enough magic to open mini-portals to steal three forbidden books right behind the librarian's back! It's an adorable bit of magical slapstick ...
... Wait. Stop the movie.
WHY THE FUCK DIDN'T KAECILIUS DO THAT?!?
It Seems Like Stealing The Pages Undetected Sure Would Have Helped
From the start, the protagonists know exactly what the villain is doing, because he stole precisely one spell. They know carrying out his plan means attacking certain cities (where other temples are located that grant Earth magical protection), and so organize their strategy around it. Boy, shit sure would have been easier for Kaecilius if he'd managed to steal those pages without anybody knowing about it. He probably would have had enough of a head start to summon Dormammu before anybody caught on. If only there was some way to quietly steal books behind the librarian's back. Some method so easy that even a brand-new recruit can master it ...
"But they'd notice the book missing!" you might say. Sure, but that book was packed full of time-based spells -- they'd only know that the book was missing, not who took it or what the thief wanted with it. Or he could have stolen the book through a tiny arm-portal, ripped out the pages he needed, and then put it back in its spot. Nobody would have noticed until the next time they cracked it open, which would have been when Strange did it a few weeks/months/whatever later. Or, if Kaecilius wanted to leave no trace at all, just make a copy of those pages, then return the book.
"We can open portals to anywhere on Earth ... except FedEx Office."
Instead he obtained the spell in the one way that A) would announce to everyone that he had done it and B) would also telegraph his exact plan. Even if there's some technical magic reason he can't do the tiny portal trick and still has to show up in person, just stealing the whole book would have made a huge difference in terms of obscuring his intentions. What, did he not want to have to carry it home? "The Ancient One would still have deduced his plan, probably!" OK, then why not steal, like, six books? The one you want and five more random ones to throw them off the scent?
Or steal those pages, but take the extra five seconds to put the book back on the rack, so it's not even clear what you came for. Maybe they'll think he had a beef with that librarian. "Maybe he wanted the Ancient One to know what he was doing!" OK. Why? Because he's arrogant? That's not much better -- for all he knows, the good guys have some spell at their disposal that can completely undo his thing. In fact, they totally do!
But Wait, It Gets Stupider
In the end, Kaecilius and Dormammu are foiled by Doctor Strange, who by that point in the film is able to master the powers of time manipulation. This pretty much makes him a god, it turns out, with the ability to totally incapacitate a huge mystical demigod in a parallel universe.
How did he gain these powers? Why, from that book of time rituals -- aka the rest of the book Kaecilius casually left on the floor in the opening scene. It contained easy-to-find instructions for how to use an amulet called the Eye of Agamotto to bend time and do whatever the fuck you want. That amulet, by the way, was also kept in the library, a few feet from the book. He could have grabbed it on the way out. But even if Kaecilius didn't know what the amulet was (why wouldn't he, though?), simply grabbing the whole book at least would have prevented others from using it, since he knew it contained a bunch of spells related to what he was trying to do (and would therefore logically contain something that maybe could jack up his plan).
Are we nitpicking? It just seems like if you have a genius main character, he should have a bad guy to match wits with, not somebody who probably can't finish shaving without getting into an argument with his reflection. It also feels like the sort of thing that could have been fixed in about the second draft of the screenplay. Maybe you make it so the book isn't in the library at the start, maybe it was considered lost and had to be discovered by Kaecilius in a remote ancient tomb or some shit. Maybe Doctor Strange then has to go steal it back from the bad guys, and that's what makes him want to dive into it and learn both what the bad guys are doing and how to counter it with time magic. We don't know, we're spitballing here.
Tomorrow we'll look at a particular self-defeating doomsday plan that bad guys from keep trying anyway, in our next edition of "Wait, What Was Their Plan Again?"
Make sure to check out the rest of the series:
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Sometimes the stories after the stories are even stranger.
For as much as people love them, the 'Star Wars' movies have gotten rather awkward from time to time.
Bawitdaba, pass the green beans.
Going for that 16th minute.