Doctor Strange: where does it leave the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

Doctor Strange’s arrival on the scene could have a huge impact throughout the MCU over the next few years...

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

Warning: this article contains spoilers for Doctor Strange.

Doctor Strange is in cinemas all over the UK right now, with director Scott Derrickson proving himself very capable with the trippy visuals and Benedict Cumberbatch making a strong impression on his first trip to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

And although in some ways this film is quite far removed from the MCU, in others it’s a very important cog in Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios’ overarching mega-narrative.

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Here’s everything I picked up on in the film that could have connotations down the road. I’m basing this on one viewing, so if you saw stuff that I didn’t, please do let me know in the comments at the end…

Baron Mordo’s change of heart

To put the most obvious thing first, one of the biggest ways in which Doctor Strange has affected the future of the MCU is by setting the stage for its own sequel. Although there were a few cries of ‘Luke Cage!’ when a hoodie-wearing character was framed from behind, walking moodily in front of the camera, it was in fact Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo who popped up in that extra scene right at the end of the beautifully scored credits. 

The Ancient One believed that Mordo’s rigidity and Strange’s willingness to break the rules when necessary could make them a powerful force for good, but fans of the comics knew already that Baron Mordo was fated to turn against Stephen Strange.

The end credits scene made it very clear that Mordo is no longer on the side of the angels. He now believes there are too many sorcerers in circulation, and he seemingly has plans to purge them. His first step was removing the magic that Benjamin Bratt’s Jonathan Pangborn was using to help him walk.

Mordo’s quest to steal the magic of sorcerers around the globe seems like a ready-made storyline for the already-being-discussed Doctor Strange 2. Or, if they want to surprise us, maybe Mordo could team up with Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, striking a deal (like Loki did in The Avengers) to help The Mad Titan in return for extra powers. Time will tell, but it’s clear that Mordo’s heel turn will be a big plotline in future.

Thor 3’s storyline

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The mid-credits scene was also significant. The scene depicted Doctor Strange and Thor chatting together within the Sanctum Sanctorum, the New York base of the mystic masters of the movie. This ties in with the leaked set photos from Thor: Ragnarok, which show Chris Hemsworth’s godly goldilocks holding a business card with 177A Bleecker Street written on it. That’s the address of said sanctum.

Putting those things together makes me believe that this chat between Thor and Strange is in fact a scene borrowed from Taiki Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok (due in cinemas this time next year), in the same way as Ant-Man gave us a preview of the Bucky-in-a-vice scene from Captain America: Civil War. 

Handily for those of us who live off of plot details from future Marvel movies, Strange and Thor pretty much spelled out a section of Ragnarok’s story: Thor brings Loki to New York to search for Odin (although how Thor found out that Loki was parading as Odin at the end of The Dark World remains to be seen). We know that not much of Ragnarok takes place on our planet, but this nugget of info explains why we’ve seen some set pictures of Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston visiting Earthly locations. 

Exactly when this scene will take place in Ragnarok remains to be seen (my gut tells me it’s near the start, but what does my gut know?), but it should be fun to see Strange and Thor teaming up to track down Odin. If this beer-chugging scene is anything to go by, Waititi isn’t struggling to bring his wacky humour to the film.

A reckoning

Before Mordo left to become a baddie, he expressed a belief that Strange’s bending of the rules of time and space would have major consequences. In frantic bit of a dialogue that I wish I had the transcript for, Ejiofor’s character said something about a ‘reckoning’ being on the cards.

My reading of this scene is that Mordo isn’t talking about his own reckoning – the mission to reduce the number of sorcerers by pinching their magic, which was revealed at the end of the credits – but something else entirely. 

Additionally, Benedict Wong’s Wong explained to Strange at the end of the movie that word of their big bust up with Kaecilius and Dormammu would spread quickly throughout the Multiverse. Gossip travels fast across dimensions and universes, after all. 

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Again, this plot point could be used to instigate the plot of Doctor Strange 2 (no release date or villain confirmed yet) or Avengers: Infinity War (Thanos will arrive on Earth in April 2018) or both. Mordo and Wong both left their predictions pretty vague, but I’m sure we’ll see a villain or two showing up in the next few years claiming that Strange’s first big battle drew them to Earth.

Infinity Stones all revealed

Going back to Thanos for a minute: right at the end of the film, when Strange put the time-bending Eye Of Agamotto back in its holder, Wong told him that he probably doesn’t want to walk around with an Infinity Stone around his neck. Strange’s reaction was a comical one (“a what?”), but of course all of us watching have already learned a fair bit about these powerful gems. 

Now we’ve seen all five Infinity Stones in play: The Tesseract from Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers, The Aether from Thor: The Dark World, The Orb from Guardians Of The Galaxy, the gem from Loki’s sceptre which is now embedded in The Vision’s head, and finally The Eye Of Agamotto.

Thanos put on the left-handed Infinity Gauntlet at the end of Avengers: Age Of Ultron and vowed to “do it [him]self.” He’ll need to install the five Infinity Stones in that gauntlet to give him full mastery of time, space, matter, people’s minds and whatever else he wants to control. Right now two of them are on Earth, and have been used quite noisily over the last couple of years.

Thanos will surely have noticed Strange’s Infinity Stone usage from this movie, giving the wrinkly purple one yet another reason to come to Earth and wreak havoc. He’s a bit lazy, though, so Thanos won’t get up off his throne and travel to Earth to stake a claim for the stones until 2018. 

A whole new world(s)

A huge amount of fun was had in the visiting of different dimensions during Doctor Strange. Just as Thor gave us the gods of Asgard, Guardians Of The Galaxy took us to the grittier side of the galaxy, and Ant-Man showed us The Quantum Realm, Doctor Strange is a movie that opens up whole new landscapes and, with them, possibilities.

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Doctor Strange introduced rather a lot of new dimensions: the Mirror Dimension (not to be confused with The Mirror World from The Mighty Boosh, comprised of over 17 mirrors), where matter can bend and break without damaging the real world; the Astral Dimension, where you can float around outside your body and slightly knock things over in the real world; the Dark Dimension, a place without time where Dormammu hangs out and The Ancient One gets her extra-long-life powers; and, of course, we saw a load of tripped out Steve Dikto-esque planes that we don’t yet have names for.

These dimensions, notably, are all pretty good places to have a fight. I wouldn’t be surprised if we visited a couple of these locations again in Avengers: Infinity War, as Strange and co. attempt to keep the destruction wrought by Thanos away from vulnerable civilians. It’s also mentioned that the Mirror Dimension is a good place to lock someone up. That could happen at some point.

A new Sorcerer Supreme

Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One bit the bullet as Doctor Strange surged into its third act confrontation between Kaecilius and Mister Doctor, providing not only extra motivation for our protagonist but also allowing for that very sweet Astral scene where Strange and The Ancient One discuss destiny and seeing the future. And that’s not all: The Ancient One’s death also caused a job opportunity to open up. 

Planet Earth is going to need a new Sorcerer Supreme, but Doctor Strange stopped short of giving its title character this honour before, during or after its end credits. This is obviously Strange’s destiny, but since he’s only had one real mystical mission at this stage, you can see why this decision was made. 

Strange taking up the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme is bound to happen fairly soon, and when it does it will mean that the character’s dynamic will have to change greatly. He will go from being a pupil of other sorcerers to being their boss. That duty, and having a job title with the word ‘supreme’ in it, should suit Stephen Strange and his ego to a tee. Perhaps that’s a plot point for Doctor Strange 2.

Cameo opportunities aplenty

I try not to read many reviews before seeing a film, but this time around I couldn’t resist checking out a couple. One line from Uproxx’s review stuck with me while watching the film: “It’s obvious why they hired a big time star like Cumberbatch, because Doctor Strange is here to guide us through the next decade of Marvel movies, just like Downey did in the last decade.”

That’s a very good point, proven in style by the Thor: Ragnarok teaser from the mid-credits scene. Cumberbatch is right at the start of a presumably huge contract, and his character can help with all manner of weird situations, making Doctor Strange an ideal back bone for the next few years of Marvel movies. Just as Robert Downey Jnr’s Tony Stark, Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury and Clark Gregg’s Phil Coulson tied things together throughout Phases 1 and 2, Stephen Strange could easily nip in and out of future films at his leisure in order to serve the bigger narrative. 

The Astral Dimension could also be very useful for this, since it allows for quick cameos. Cumberbatch could just shoot some green-screen footage and have Marvel insert him into movies where a character needs a spot of guidance. For example, In the Spider-Man comic book run One More Day, Spidey turns to Strange’s for advice when Aunt May is close to death. Strange is out of the office so Peter has to make do with some pearls of wisdom from his Astral form. Little scenes like that could be very fun in future MCU films.

Enchanted items and uses of magic

Doctor Strange the character may be the Master Of Mysticism, but Doctor Strange the movie introduced some interesting nuggets of magic that could be used by different characters with less mastery of the mystic arts. Strange has bagsied the Cloak Of Levitation and the Eye Of Agamotto for himself, but there are probably hundreds of other enchanted items at play in this universe. 

When a really big baddie such as Thanos comes a-calling, could we see Strange dishing out some of these magical tools to his buddies-to-be, the Avengers? How much would you love to see Steve Rogers struggling to get to terms with some magic boots like the ones Mordo was wearing? I’d certainly pay to see that. 

There are also implementations of magic in the movie that could becoming recurring motifs. On the jokey side we got the re-filling beer tankard, and on a more serious note the capability for magic to alleviate serious injuries. Rhodey would surely love to hear about the latter possibility at this point. And Tony Stark’s next party would be a lot cheaper with the former on his side.

Going forward, then, we could see magical items popping up in the MCU on a regular basis for a variety of reasons: to save a character, to provide a laugh, or to fill an other-wise unfixable plot-hole, perhaps. 

Ability level raised, and hopefully stakes too

And finally, a plot point from Doctor Strange that could have huge ramifications in future MCU films: Strange now has the ability to manipulate time at his will. In the third act he used the Eye Of Agamotto in two major ways. First to turn back time, undoing the damage to Hong Kong, and second to create a time loop, in order to wind up Dormammu and convince him to retreat.

These abilities arguably make Stephen Strange the most powerful character in the MCU. A bit like the MCU equivalent of Christopher Reeve flying around the Earth at the end of Superman: The Movie, Stephen Strange now has a get-out-of-jail-free card for any time a situation goes south.

I’m really hoping that the introduction of this time-warping ability makes for some highly imaginative scripts in years to come, full of weird dimensions and dire consequences and hugely high stakes. How do you create a situation that Strange can’t easily magic his way out of? And what kind of consequences do you create for time-meddling?

The other option, of course, is to do what the Star Trek franchise did after introducing death-curing blood and inter-planetary beaming in Into Darkness: simply ignore the existence of the handy solve-any-plot-problem device when the next movie rolls around.

But, as I say, I’m hoping that the minds at Marvel take a more imaginative approach. If they take Strange’s powerful skillset into account when putting together all their future films, we could end up with an MCU where the third acts of movies never feature rehashing of old material. Where things look and feel different every time Strange gets involved in a big bust-up.

The Infinity War battle against Thanos – with all the Infinity Stones on the table – could well be mindblowing stuff, so long as the Russo brothers and the Marvel effects team expand on what we’ve seen already seen in terms of magic on screen. A fight where time, space, matter and minds can all be warped could be a cinematic spectacular like no other, if all goes to plan.

With any luck, then, Doctor Strange’s greatest legacy will be an injection of imagination to a sprawling mega-franchise to save it from ever stagnating. Well, it’s either that or the introduction of a hilarious, sentient cape. One of the two.