This November, Marvel Cinematic Universe fans will be treated so something we haven’t truly experienced yet, magic. That’s right! No more “magic and science are the same thing” nonsense. Doctor Strange will bring us spell-casting and sorcery. The cast for the upcoming wizard flick has quite a few big names; Benedict Cumberbatch will be playing the titular role, Academy Award nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor is fellow sorcerer Baron Mordo, Tilda Swinton is the Ancient One, Rachel McAdams plays someone…and Mads Mikkelson is starring as the undisclosed villain. Recent set photos have been posted that hint at the plot and characters of the film so let’s take a look at who’s who in Doctor Strange.
The Ancient One
In the Marvel Universe there is always a powerful wizard tasked with protecting the Earth from all mystical and other-dimensional threats known as the Sorcerer Supreme. The Ancient One, an old hermit who lives in the Himalayas, is that sorcerer. Before we ever meet Stephen Strange, the Ancient One has been protecting the planet for hundreds of years (effectively earning the “ancient” in his name). The centuries old wizard seeks out potential successors to the title of Sorcerer Supreme and prepares Stephen Strange to take over the role from a young age, unbeknownst to the future doctor. When we finally meet Strange the Ancient One passes the title to the doctor and now lives in solitude, helping provide wisdom when needed.
In the upcoming Doctor Strange film, The Ancient One is played by Tilda Swinton. The casting of a woman in the role seems to be an effort to promote the gender fluidity and asexuality of such a character. The Ancient One is meant to be seen as more of a celestial being rather than a human one. Tilda Swinton has successfully played a similar role as the angel Gabriel in 2005 film, Constantine. Swinton’s role should be prominent in the first act and then diminish as the film goes on.
Mordo is European nobility (Hence the “Baron” title I suppose) reigning from the Transylvania area. As a young man he sought out the Ancient One in order to succeed him/her as Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme however the hatred and corruption in his heart made it so that he would never be chosen to be Earth’s protector. That inner darkness leads him to make a deal with inter-dimensional demon Dormammu; to plot against the Ancient One and the wizard’s apprentice Stephen Strange. Mordo goes on to become Doctor Strange’s chief rival and enemy throughout the Marvel comic book universe.
Chiwetel Ejiofor is playing Baron Mordo and it looks like he and Strange have a friendlier start to the relationship than most tellings of Strange’s origin. It is unknown how the chase for the Sorcerer Supreme title will effect the relationship of the two characters because Marvel has wisely kept their plans under wraps. We will most likely see Mordo and Strange team up against a greater threat (more on that in a bit) after Strange is chosen as SS, probably followed by a Mordo double cross in the bid for more power.
Speaking of greater threats, Mads Mikkelson is confirmed to be playing a villain for the Doctor Strange movie but no confirmation as to who that villain is. My best guess? The powerful being known as Nightmare. The appropriately named villain rules the “Dream Dimension” (I didn’t make this up) and is constantly a threat to the Marvel Universe. Nightmare is all-powerful in his domain but is usually foiled and out-witted once he rolls onto Strange’s turf. As his name suggests, Nightmare has the ability to manipulate and feed off people’s dreams; a problem that only the Sorcerer Supreme is equipped to handle in the MCU.
As I previously mentioned, the villain for the Doctor Strange movie has yet to be announced but if I were a betting man I’d put my money on Nightmare. Nightmare has the most human personality and interactions of all of Strange’s big name villains. The recent set photos of Mikkelson show him with creepy red eyes and a grey tunic, an appearance that fits with the comic book iteration of the character. The other potential big name Strange villain is Dormammu, a demon from another dimension that wears armor and has a flaming ghost/skull face…so I think Nightmare is the more logical choice.
The titular character of Doctor Strange, does not start off as the hero type. Stephen Strange is an arrogant, egotistical, and self-centered surgeon living the good life when a car accident leaves his hands irreparably damaged. With the source of his pride and power gone, Strange travels the world looking for nontraditional ways to heal his ailment. Rumors and stories eventually lead him to the Himalayas where he encounters the Ancient One. After an incident with Baron Mordo and a test of character the Ancient One chooses Strange as the successor to the title of Sorcerer Supreme. With that title come the knowledge of countless spells, the power of mystical artifacts, and the responsibility to protect the Earth as Master of the Mystical Arts.
Cumberbatch was not universally praised after his casting, as many believe a person of color should have been used, but there is no reason to believe that an actor of his caliber can’t nail the role. Stephen Strange is quite the character in the comic books and if the MCU plays their cards right they can have a spiritual successor to RDJ’s Iron Man. Expect Stephen Strange to appear in future films potentially including Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War.