With each installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), we see the hero bring something different to the table. Sometimes, it’s a small course alteration (Ant-Man, Thor: The Dark World), while others will flip the table and reset the series entirely (Captain America: Civil War, The Winter Soldier). Doctor Strange resides somewhere in the middle of that scale, introducing never-before-seen elements that drive the overarching story, as it still remains consistent with the universe as it stands now.
That being so, there are a handful of plot points that set up a whole lot for the remainder of Marvel’s Phase 3. Here’s what we were able to catch.
1. The introduction of magic and mysticism into the MCU
The MCU has traditionally been firmly rooted in science and reason. Run through the Avengers’ original roster, and we have: a man who built his own super-suit, another who became a giant green rage monster following a lab accident, a soldier enhanced by a genetic serum, and two trained assassins. Then there’s Thor, who even as the Norse God of Thunder, passes his own “magic” off as science we simply don’t understand yet. That all changed with Doctor Strange, and it set the stage for more heroes to follow suit.
In Doctor Strange, the Ancient One describes sorcery as beings harnessing and manipulating the fabric of reality through sheer force of will. As she states matter-of-factly, “not everything makes sense; not everything has to.” Across the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we see this proliferating. Ghost Rider’s recent arc on Agents of SHIELD teases at a decidedly supernatural origin for the anti-hero. In 2017, Netflix’s Iron Fist will feature a hero whose traditional origin story revolves around Danny Rand defeating a dragon and harnessing the power of its melted-down heart. Suffice it to say, magic and mysticism have officially become an integral part of the MCU, and we have Doctor Strange to thank.
2. The Time Stone
Up until recently, four of the six Infinity Stones had been seen and accounted for across the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The list as it stands right now:
- The Space Stone: As seen in Captain America and The Avengers as the Tesseract. It was used to open a portal for the Chitauri into New York, and its energy was harnessed to teleport Thor and Loki back to Asgard at the conclusion of The Avengers. It currently resides in Odin’s vault.
- The Mind Stone: This particular gem made appearances in both Avengers movies, first in Loki’s mind-control scepter from the first installment, and most recently embedded in the forehead of The Vision after helping create Ultron.
- The Reality Stone: You may know this one as the Aether, as seen in Thor: The Dark World. The Reality Stone deals in dark matter, and came damn close to unmaking the universe thanks to the efforts of the Dark Elves. It currently is in the possession of the Collector, played by Benicio Del Toro in Guardians of the Galaxy.
- The Power Stone: This one was the MacGuffin of Guardians of the Galaxy, used by Ronan (played by Lee Pace) and eventually recovered by Starlord and the rest of the Guardians. Currently, the Nova Corps are keeping it safe in their vaults on Xandar.
That leaves just the Time Stone and the Soul Stone, the former of which made its first appearance in Doctor Strange, doubling as the Eye of Agamotto. In the film, we see the Time Stone utilized by our titular hero to undo the damage done to one of the three Sanctums, winding back time for a redo of sorts. That leaves one last Infinity Stone, likely to appear in Thor: Ragnarok.
3. The stage is officially set for Thor: Ragnarok
As it is with most Marvel movies, there are two brief end credit scenes in Doctor Strange that set the stage for what’s to come. The first features Thor, who’s been brought in by Doctor Strange to explain why he’s returned to New York with his brother, Loki. Thor claims they’re in Midgard again to track down their father, Odin. Then, Strange proceeds to offer his assistance. This appears to set the events of Thor: Ragnarok in motion, with a recent set photo showing Odin living on Earth as a homeless man. Whether Ragnarok will include much of (or any) Doctor Strange isn’t clear, but it seems like he’ll at least be the catalyst for tracking Odin down.
4. The newest Marvel villain
Marvel has long sought out a villain with the staying power of Loki. Unfortunately, they’ve fallen short in virtually every attempt, failing to create a big bad compelling enough to last more than one film. Doctor Strange features a similarly one-dimensional villain in Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), but in the process also manages to lay the groundwork for another, infinitely more interesting bad guy: Mordo.
In the comics, Mordo is Doctor Strange’s arch-rival, acting as the Sorcerer Supreme’s primary dramatic foil since the early 1960s. Marvel’s Doctor Strange film takes a slightly different tact, casting Mordo as a friend and ally of Strange, before discovering the Ancient One harnessed the power of the Dark Dimension to keep herself alive indefinitely. Initially, this appears to lead to Mordo simply walking away from Strange and company. The second end credits scene though shows us a far more nefarious purpose.
In it, Mordo tracks down Jonathan Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt), the man who originally led Strange to the Ancient One. Mordo proceeds to punch straight into Pangborn’s chest, siphoning away his powers, and ominously stating, “I finally figured out the problem: too many sorcerers.” When we’ll see Mordo again is unclear, but it sounds as though we’ve finally found our next great Marvel villain.
5. An MCU beyond Robert Downey Jr.
The writing’s been on the wall for awhile now concerning Robert Downey Jr.’s future in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Making upwards of $50 million a film, he’s the most expensive actor in the franchise by over twice the next highest paid on the list. Beyond that, it’s unclear if he even wants to stick around past the third Avengers movie set to release in 2018. And while there have been rumblings concerning Iron Man 4, it’s not hard to see that Marvel’s not going to be without a Plan B should Downey depart.
Enter Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange. Everything about his role practically screams “leading man,” and it’s already obvious that he’s going to be an integral part of the MCU narrative moving forward. Marvel is clearly preparing for life beyond Robert Downey Jr., and should they ever choose to part ways, they’d have a worthy new A-list leader in Cumberbatch’s Sorcerer Supreme.
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