How 'Doctor Strange 2' Could Expand the Marvel Mythos

Filmmaker Scott Derrickson has a lot to play with when he returns to the sandbox he built in 2016.
Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Benedict Cumberbatch and Benedict Wong in 'Avengers: Infinity War'

The Avengers may be in the "endgame," but the aftermath for many of the characters involved is shaping up to be just as promising. As Marvel’s post-Phase Three plans continue to be revealed, it’s clear that the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t abandoning familiar faces. One of the familiar faces sticking around in the MCU is Doctor Strange. The sorcerer, portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch, will return alongside the first film’s director, Scott Derrickson. The first film, released in November 2016, made $677.7 million worldwide and earned an 89 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Word on a sequel has been surprisingly quiet over the past few months, calling into question the character’s place in the MCU following Thanos’ "Decimation." However, the sequel is very much a priority at Marvel Studios, with the script being written next year and cameras rolling in 2020 for an estimated 2021 release. The five years between the first and second film will be the largest gap for a franchise within the MCU, but the time gap opens up plenty of opportunities for new developments in the world of Doctor Strange. Here are six directions the sequel could head:

Sorcerer Supreme: Stephen Strange may have made great leaps in his magical abilities since his days as a surgeon — and facing down Thanos is as tough of a learning curve as you can get — but Doctor Strange has yet to earn the title of Sorcerer Supreme. He displayed a number of new tricks in Avengers: Infinity War, but his knowledge is still limited when compared to his comic book counterpart. To be fair, Strange’s journey to becoming the Sorcerer Supreme in the comics wasn’t immediate either. It was 10 years after his introduction before Strange finally claimed the title from his mentor, the Ancient One, in 1973. One of the best parts of Derrickson’s Doctor Strange was that it actually allowed Strange’s studies to take place across years, avoiding the sense that he managed to gain control over this entirely new aspect of the universe in a matter of days. While most of Marvel’s sequels pick up shortly after the events of the previous entry, there’s plenty of time between Doctor Strange and the sequel for Strange to become aware of the multiverse, refine his magic and claim the title of Sorcerer Supreme. Although, even if he does gain a new title, that doesn’t mean there won’t be those looking to take it away.

Mordo: Doctor Strange introduced Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) as an ally before seeing him disillusioned by the Ancient One’s (Tilda Swinton) hypocrisy and turning to villainy by the film’s end. In the post-credit scene, we saw Mordo stealing magical energies and claiming that the world has too many sorcerers. It’s easy to imagine that, in the five years since the first film, Mordo has traveled the world killing sorcerers, seeking to control all of Earth’s magic. Mordo seeking the title of Sorcerer Supreme seems destined to happen. But, instead of making the dark sorcerer the primary antagonist, Doctor Strange 2 should handle the character with patience and play the long game to get the most out of Ejiofor’s talents. Instead of pushing Mordo directly into conflict with Strange during the film, he should largely operate in the shadows, a hidden antagonist only revealed in the film’s climax. Mordo is best served for a final showdown, backed by Dormammu, in the third movie. Instead, the central antagonist should be another one of Doctor Strange’s oft-repeating adversaries.

Nightmare: Derrickson has previously expressed interest in introducing Nightmare in a sequel — and, given the director’s horror background, this should come as no surprise. Kaecilius wasn’t a bad villain for the first film (largely thanks to Mads Mikkelsen’s performance), but, as a very minor comic character, there wasn’t a lot to pull from in terms of making him interesting. This being said, Nightmare would be an opportunity to delve into the weirdness that the world of Strange deserves. Nightmare is the first foe Doctor Strange encounters in the comics, and, as ruler of the dream dimension, he can give form to the subconscious energies of sleeping humans. Just imagine the kinds of eldritch horrors and twisted visions of the world Nightmare could bring to life. Nightmare provides a chance for Doctor Strange 2 to have an entirely different visual look, stepping away from the Escher-inspired layouts of the first film and delving into something that falls closer to the artwork of Hieronymus Bosch.

Night Nurse: If there’s one major fault with Doctor Strange, it’s that Rachel McAdams is severely underutilized as Christine Palmer. The placement of love interests on the back burner is one of the MCU’s biggest faults. From Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) to Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), the MCU is populated by talented women whose roles are largely wasted as simply girlfriends. Doctor Strange 2 should take a page from Black Panther’s depiction of its supporting women and give Palmer her own agency and mission that works in tangent with Strange’s, but is not entirely dependent on him. Palmer’s comic book history is more interesting than her movie depiction would suggest. She is one of many Night Nurses, whose medical experience allows them to treat superpowered beings and deal with threats beyond what any hospital is equipped to deal with. One of these Night Nurses, Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), has been indispensable on Marvel’s Netflix series. In the comics, one of Palmer’s positions was working as a private nurse in an haunted mansion. The character’s connection to the supernatural could be amped up in the sequel, and she could not only treat magical ailments but also play a major role in protecting unconscious civilians from Nightmare’s invasive powers. Whatever she does, she should be far more integral to the plot than just being a love interest or a damsel in distress.

Clea: Switching gears to another love interest in the comics, Clea, the one-time wife of Doctor Strange, seems guaranteed to show up in the MCU. However, unless Rachel McAdams chooses not to return for the sequel, Clea’s role as Doctor Strange’s girlfriend should be altered so that she’s his apprentice instead. There’s arguably more narrative potential for Clea if she is Strange’s student, training to be the next generation of sorcerer. Since Doctor Strange spent most of the first film in the role of a student, it would be interesting to see his role reversed. Plus, the differences in teaching styles between Strange and Wong (Benedict Wong) could create some interesting dynamics. In the comics, Clea is the niece of Dormammu. This could also be played to interesting effect in the film if Strange and Wong are aware of her background and keep it hidden from her. Mordo could also re-enter the picture and reveal to Clea her heritage and attempt to train her as his pawn. This young woman could be the future Sorcerer Supreme or the future lord of the Dark Dimension, depending on whether Strange gets through to her. With the Infinity Stones presumably out of the picture, the stakes in Doctor Strange 2 need to be more personal and give these characters room to grow.

Expansion: While the cosmic side of the MCU is expanding with Captain Marvel and The Eternals, the magic side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is still largely untapped. With Marvel Studios currently looking to the stars for inspiration on where to go next, they should also be looking at the fantasy and horror stories that could arise from Doctor Strange’s wizardry. Just as James Gunn was once set to shepherd Marvel’s cosmic adventures, perhaps Derrickson could be the answer to the darker side of the MCU, eventually overseeing the process of populating it with characters like Ghost Rider, Blade, Hellstrom and Moon Knight. Doctor Strange 2 has the potential to not only expand on the mythos of its central characters, but also expand the MCU in ways fans have long been waiting to see.

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