'Doctor Strange' Writer on Time-Bending Twist and What It Means for Marvel's Future
[Warning: This story contains spoilers for Doctor Strange.]
Time is definitely on Doctor Strange's side in his battle against the dark forces of the multiverse.
Heat Vision breakdown
In the climactic moment from Doctor Strange, the fledgling master of the mystic arts bests Dormammu by using the Eye of Agamotto to manipulate time, trapping the villain in a loop that sees him kill Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) over and over — with the threat of them staying there forever unless the evil being agrees to leave Earth alone.
It was an unpredictable solution, and one that has big implications for future Marvel movies, with studio chief Kevin Feige suggesting it. (The Eye of Agamotto is an Infinity Stone and will surely play a larger role moving forward in the MCU).
In a conversation with Heat Vision, screenwriter Jon Spaihts weighs in on this and speculation that Stephen Strange is poised to take over the mantle of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) as patriarch of The Avengers.
One of the most mind-blowing things in this film was how Strange defeats Dormammu. How many times do you think Strange was killed before Dormammu gave up?
There is a deliberate ambiguity there. It's one of those places where you want not to over explain. But I think he dies dozens of times, if not hundreds of times in there. I think he really gets a taste of eternal sacrifice and sticks to his guns.
It's a way that nobody could have predicted. How do you come up with something like that?
It's one of the sequences I'm most proud of and there was a version not very different from what you see in the first draft. I was able to come back at the end of the project and do some more work to help bring the movie home and refine that still further. But I think the seed of the idea actually came from Kevin Feige in the room. We were trying to figure out how that final battle could go, and Kevin was focused on his long play with the Eye of Agamotto and the role it's going to play in his grand design in the cinematic universe — very focused on Strange's manipulation of time. It was Kevin Feige in the room who said, "Could he trap him in time?" And that led me to write the sequence that you see.
Unfortunately Robert Downey Jr. won't be playing Tony Stark forever, and people are already speculating Strange could eventually become the "new" Tony Stark – the character who ties the MCU together. Was that something that was on your mind writing this?
I can't speak for what's on Kevin Feige's radar. Certainly, for my part, I was just trying to serve this character well. There is a kind of vague parallel between the two of them. These are both rich, successful, brilliant men with a sardonic wit and an eye for the ladies. And they have fairly similar looks. Happily, I think the simple reality of having them played by these two very individual and talented actors will serve to differentiate them. As for whether Strange will inherit the mantle of the cocky patriarch of the Avengers, I have no idea. Obviously, no one wants to see Downey stop playing this role.
The Ancient One is dead and there is no Sorcerer Supreme at the end of this movie. Do you see Strange being up and running as the Sorcerer Supreme in the next Doctor Strange movie?
There's a partial answer to the question in one of the tags at the end of this film. But I think the question hangs out there. It's one of the possible points of origin for the standalone Doctor Strange story to come. As we leave the world, this smoking aftermath of this brush with nonexistence, it is an Earth without its protector. The aspiring replacement for that protector is green and new and still has a lot to learn and that's a world in peril. I think that could very well be the starting point for the following story.
The Cloak of Levitation was a real standout. How did you decide to make it an actual character?
We all agreed that the cloak's semi-sentience was an asset. That's an interesting tightrope to walk because in the comics, the amulet, the Eye of Agamotto, often operates as a Deus Ex Machina. It solves problems all by itself and makes trouble go away, so with the respect to amulet we pushed back on that quality, but with respect to the cloak, we loved that semi-intelligence that made the cloak nearly a character. It was part of our vision from the get go. The exact way in which it does what it does changed from my first stab at it. In my first draft, the cloak also played a semi-comical role in the Sanctum Sanctorum battle, but it had been introduced at a different time and it played a different role. The business you see on screen during that battle came along after me.
Sometimes fans complain the villains are a weak point in the MCU. Is that something that was in your mind as you were writing this film and how did you address that?
We were very aware of it, and we talked about it a lot. It's so important to get that right. Particularly in origin stories, it's often difficult to serve the villain well, because you have to introduce the hero, take them through their transformation, and coming of age and then somehow get to a conflict they can win before the end of the film. Often the villain portion of that story can feel rushed. But the gift that the origin story from the comics of Doctor Strange gave us is that its villains are integrated into it. And while we innovated a little bit about how that villain story was to be told, we preserved that quality whereby the conflict that our hero found himself in was baked into the story of that hero's coming of age.
What can viewers of Doctor Strange take away from what flavor you might be bringing to an anticipated upcoming project of yours, The Mummy?
I think a similar desire to legitimately explore the frightening and the cosmic. In The Mummy, I think we're going to see the first Mummy film in the entire Universal canon with the true power to terrify. The earliest [Boris] Karloff and Bela Lugosi Mummy movies were scary in a small way, perhaps a dated way. They were almost parlor movies. Subsequent movies have been more swashbuckling. This one is going to have all of that action and adventure, but a legitimate power to terrify. I think that's going to be the new experience of that film.
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