Rachel McAdams' 'Doctor Strange' Character Makes Improvements On Marvel's Typical Female Romantic Leads
For women who love Marvel, seeing a new movie from the studio always comes with mixed emotions. For every bit of excitement and enthusiasm women may find in crazy action scenes and witty one-liners, there also tends to be no shortage of disappointment over many of the movies' depictions of women. Sure, there's the badass Black Widow and the upcoming Captain Marvel, but by and large, Marvel doesn't often deliver female characters as interesting, three-dimensional women. So it was a pleasant surprise to see that in Marvel Studios' latest offering, Doctor Strange , Rachel McAdams' character has a storyline more complex and compelling than most of those in the past.
Christine's journey in Doctor Strange marks an impressive step forward for Marvel's crop of female romantic leads. All too often, women in the MCU have been relegated to supporting roles or one-dimensional love interests. Take Jane Foster in the Thor movies, or Pepper Potts in the Iron Man films; both women appear in their movies solely to support, argue with, or romance the male superhero leads. Their personalities can be summed up in a few words, and they're rarely, if ever, seen alone or doing anything separate from their love interests. And even female characters who are arguably leads, like Black Widow in the Avengers movies or Gamora in the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, tend not to fare much better. Sure, they get more screentime, but their backstories and plot lines are often less-developed than their male peers.
In Doctor Strange, Christine might superficially seem like the same type of Marvel love interest as the women above. She's a doctor at the hospital where her ex, Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) works. On the job, she and Stephen banter and flirt; when he gets hurt, she stays by his side and cares for him. She's left behind when Strange leaves for Nepal, and the next time she's seen, it's back in the hospital, when Strange is hurt and needs her help. She's quick to assist him, and vocalizes her worries that he's putting himself in too much danger. While, on paper, that might sound like a pretty typical supporting role, in actuality, that's not the case at all.
Christine is shown to be an incredibly capable professional at the top of her field, not only a talented doctor but a woman in command; in one scene, she mentions trying to get Stephen to work for her in the ER. And in the scenes in which she rescues him, it reads as a reversal from the norm, in which male superheroes rescue their damsel-in-distress girlfriends. Instead, Christine is the one saving her superhero ex-boyfriend, Stephen.
The movie, and McAdams, make a real effort to move Christine beyond the kind of cliche role so often seen on the big screen. Some spoilers ahead. In Christine's first conversation with Strange, it's revealed that the two have been romantic in the past, but are (mostly) platonic now. They flirt a bit, but it's mostly for fun, and the duo seem totally at ease with each other. Their banter reveals that the potential for reconciliation is there, but they're not pining for each other or fuming over past mistakes. They're simply adults who once had a relationship, but are now mature friends and colleagues.
As for Christine's own life, separate from Strange's, the audience doesn't learn much; we never see her alone or with anyone other than Strange. Yet the movie's writing, and McAdams' affecting performance, make it seem like Christine has a full life off-screen. She's an accomplished doctor who performs difficult surgeries, and despite her complicated relationship with Strange, she makes it clear that she isn't spending her days waiting for their romantic reconciliation. When Strange gets hurt, she goes to his side and helps him recover, but she doesn't appear to be putting her own life on hold in the meantime. Take, for instance, a painful scene in which a depressed and angry Stephen yells at Christine that life without the use of his hands isn't worth living, even if she's in it. A typical romantic interest would likely be upset over that line and excuse Strange for his behavior in a time of crisis. Not Christine, though; she says, "now's the part where you apologize," and walks out when he doesn't.
Even when Strange leaves for Nepal, Christine isn't shown pining for him or wishing he'd come home. In fact, it's implied that he's the one upset with the way things were left, as Strange emails Christine several times without getting any response. Later, when the duo reunite at the hospital due to Strange's injuries, Christine seems relieved that he's (relatively) OK, but she doesn't exactly jump into his arms. She doesn't hide the fact that she still cares about him, but makes no effort to revive their relationship or apologize for their lack of communication. Rather, she treats him like a friend, albeit one who requires her medical help in order to survive. Christine's sense of self-worth, full personality, and strength as a doctor don't change simply because her ex-boyfriend has decided to make a quick visit home. Even when she and Strange kiss towards the end of the film, it's a brief peck on the cheek expressing her sadness that their lives are going in opposite directions, rather than a romantic reconciliation or sign of Christine melting for her movie's hero.
All in all, Christine's storyline in Doctor Strange marks an impressive step forward for Marvel's crop of female romantic leads. All too often, women in the MCU have been relegated to supporting, one-dimensional love interests, and while Christine isn't completely progressive — her role does boil down to that of a love interest, and too little is seen of her life outside Strange's — her on-screen portrayal is still significantly different from most of the studio's other female characters. And hopefully, in future Doctor Strange films, Christine's role will only continue to expand, changing not only this franchise, but Marvel movies overall, for the better.
Images: Walt Disney Pictures