Doctor Strange expands the scope of the Marvel Studios film series. Characters regularly talk about the “multiverse,” a concept tragically central to basically every major mainstream comic book story of the last few decades. And characters frequently take far-out trips to outer realms of sub-reality, into dark macro-micro dimensions beyond space and time. Coming in at the midpoint of the MCU’s Phase 3, Strange marks an important step outward, establishing some core concepts that may point toward the megafranchise’s future.
There are also, of course, a couple of post-ending sequences, which definitely point ahead to some future developments in some upcoming sequels. Let’s discuss them! SPOILER ALERT!
The Mid-Credits Scene
Dr. Stephen Strange sits in his office, looking well-ensconced in his new role as Earth’s main defender against mystical forces. Across from him is a visitor, someone who definitely doesn’t like tea: Mighty Thor, god of Thunder and Civil War non-combatant.
Strange tells Thor he’s in charge of monitoring any extra-dimensional threats to Earth. Apparently, Thor has brought one such threat to Earth: his brother, Loki. Thor explains he and his brother have come to New York to find their father, Odin. Strange offers to help them. Also, Thor drinks a lot of beer.
This scene is setting up Thor: Ragnarok, which arrives on Nov. 3, 2017. We knew the film would somehow feature Mark Ruffalo’s runaway Hulk, and now it seems Benedict Cumberbatch will also join the cast. (Actually, it’s possible this scene will actually be in the movie – much like how the Ant-Man post-credits scene appeared in Civil War.)
The last time we saw Loki, he was sitting on the throne of Asgard impersonating his lord father Odin. Thor thought Loki had died in his battle against (sigh) the Dark Elves. During Age of Ultron, the Thunder God had a vision in (sigh) a mystical pool, which led him to depart Earth for points cosmic. Given what he says in the post-credits scene, it sounds like he has uncovered Loki’s deception. But the nature of that deception may be more complicated than we know. The end of The Dark World implied Loki had staged a quiet coup – but is it possible Odin wanted Loki to impersonate him?
Throughout comic book history, Odin has frequently set off from Asgard on one quest or another. That’s a remnant of the character’s mythological origins: In Norse tales, Odin often sets off on wandering trips to Earth, usually in some sort of disguise. Comic Odin also has a fixation on Ragnarok, the impending demise of the gods, and his attempts to avoid Ragnarok almost always wind up causing Ragnarok. Start theorizing: Is Odin the bad guy in Thor 3? (Probably not.) (But maybe!) (What is bad, really?) (Anything would be better than Malekith.)
The Post-Credits Scene
Good old Benjamin Bratt appears for just one scene in the main part of Doctor Strange. He plays Jonathan Pangborn, a man who somehow overcame near-complete paralysis and now spends his afternoons playing NYC street ball. It’s Pangborn who points Strange toward his destiny – and, unexpectedly, it’s Pangborn who returns after the credits to point us toward Doctor Strange 2.
We see Pangborn get attacked by Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo. Mordo had spent most of the film as a mentor-sidekick to the main character, and the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) makes it clear he is a powerful sorcerer. But Mordo also fervently believes in maintaining the “Natural Law” and is let down twice: First, by the Ancient One, who has been drawing power from the Dark Dimension to maintain her immortality; and then again, by Strange, who uses the power of the Eye of Agamotto to twist time backwards.
This offends Mordo on what appears to be a purely moral level, sending him wandering off on his own. By the time we see him again, he’s had a good long think about things. He’s decided the true purpose of sorcerers is “to twist things out of their proper shape.” And, as he steals the little bit of magic that keeps Pangborn standing up, he explains he has figured out a big problem: The world has “too many sorcerers.” Easy to assume who he’s gunning for next.
Mordo’s arc in Doctor Strange is a bit confusing, in some respects, and depends quite a bit on other characters delivering exposition about his motivation. It’s clear that Mordo, like Strange, has a troubled past, and personal demons he has either overcome or accepted. The Ancient One explicitly states that Strange will need Mordo’s “strength” – but the film lands on the idea that Strange is a more powerful sorcerer – or, more precisely, that Strange can balance the dark forces of magic, in a way that Mordo considers offensive. While Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius is clearly established as freakishly similar to Strange, Mordo is more like his opposite number: He doesn’t think the laws of nature should be violated, and his rigid adherence to that doctrine has apparently led him to anti-sorcerer extremism.
Ejiofor’s Mordo is quite different from the Mordo of the comic books. Baron Mordo – first name Karl, literally from Transylvania – was a traitorous student of the Ancient One, who sought to overthrow his teacher. Actually, comic Mordo more closely resembles the film’s Kaecilius. (In the comic books, Kaecilius is actually a subordinate henchman to Baron Mordo.)
And, in the comic books, Baron Mordo’s big problem is his preference for utilizing the Dark Arts. So you could argue that Comic Mordo has a bit in common with the film’s Strange. Actually, if we take the film’s Ancient One at face value, the Sorcerer Supreme needs to balance some use of Dark Dimension magic.
It’s interesting, on a deep-thematic level, to consider how the adaptation shifts Mordo’s motivation. In the comics, Mordo was a figure who sought power for his own gain. The post-credits scene of Doctor Strange implies the film’s Mordo is seeking power for a vaguely justified reason: Removing the influence of sorcerers from the world.
And actually, it’s not entirely clear from this post-credits scene that Mordo will be the bad guy in a putative Strange sequel. It’s equally possible that Mordo will become an antagonistic figure to Strange, but a force for good against some deeper darker powers. (Mephisto, maybe? Heck, Eternity?) In that context, think of Mordo as Strange’s Loki, or his Punisher: Less a villain than an anti-hero.
Either way: Benjamin Bratt’s career in street basketball just suffered a minor hiccup.