One of the biggest mysteries surrounding the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most mystical movie is just which villain will be going up against the titular Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). So far the only confirmed villain from the comics to appear in the movie is Baron Mordo, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor. However, as we’ve reported previously, Mordo in this movie appears to still be an ally and friend to Doctor Strange and his mentor, The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and has not yet fallen to evil. He may still fall, either later in this movie or in a sequel, but he’s not the main threat. Instead, the main antagonists of the movie remains unnamed.
The only thing that has been confirmed regarding the mystery villain is that the character will be played by Mads Mikkelsen, whose motivations and role in the plot have been described by the filmmakers:
Marvel Studios president and Doctor Strange producer Kevin Feige elaborates further. “We will take audiences through sort of a guide to the multiverse, other dimensions, and there are amazing things out there — wonders that are going to be hopefully visually extremely interesting and unique to this movie,” he says. “But there are also very scary things in these other dimensions.” According to Feige, is the job of sorcerers like Strange and The Ancient One, played by Tilda Swinton, to protect humanity from such “scary things.”
So, where does Mikkelsen’s antagonist fit in, exactly? “Mads’ character is a sorcerer who breaks off into his own sect,” says the Marvel Studios boss. “[He] believes that the Ancient One is just protecting her own power base and that the world may be better off if we were to allow some of these other things through.”
Although Broussard and Feige are happy to talk about the nature of Mikkelsen’s role, they are not, at present, revealing the actual name of his character. “I’ve seen lots of names thrown around,” says Broussard. “No one has quite picked the name that we’ve chosen for him. It would be fun to conceal that, if we can.”
Mikkelsen doesn’t appear to be wearing a costume that lines up with any particular Dr. Strange villain from the comics, but he does have that sinister makeup, including heavily damaged eyes and cracked skin flecked with purple. Interestingly, he doesn’t appear to be alone in this, as set photos also show Dr. Strange and Baron Mordo running from characters with similar eye makeup:
These are presumably members of the sorcerous sect that Mikkelsen is supposed to be leading, but the scarred eyes on all of them may also suggest something more. Mikkelsen’s character is motivated by a desire to tear down the barriers between different realities, allowing greater access to the wonders of the multiverse. Strange, Mordo, and the Ancient One all seem to be dead set against that, as they fear the “scary things” lurking in those other realities.
Many of Dr. Strange’s villains in the comics would meet the definition of “scary things” from other dimensions. His gallery of rogues includes demons, dimensional conquerors, tentacled abominations right out of an H.P. Lovecraft story, and weirder beings still. They tend to be extraordinarily powerful, greater even than a mighty sorcerer like Dr. Strange, who mainly works to keep them from entering the Earthly dimension in the first place. Because Strange bars the way these entities try to find ways around him, such as using human beings as pawns
Which sounds an awful lot like Mads Mikkelsen’s character.
It would explain a great deal if Mikkelsen is not playing a classic Dr. Strange villain but the puppet for one. Maybe Marvel’s playing coy about who he’s playing because his character is going to be a switcheroo, where they reveal someone far worse is working through him. Are those weird eye effects the result of demonic possession or of channeling power granted by an eldritch being? A number of Strange’s villains in the comics have tried to slip around the sorcerer’s defenses in that manner, using human slaves and servants to clear the way from the inside. The question is, which Dr. Strange villain could be pulling Mikkelsen’s strings? We’ve heard no casting announcements or rumors about other villains, but many of Strange’s inhuman adversaries would probably be created by CGI anyway. Here are a few of the major Dr. Strange villains we at MCUExchange think could be contenders:
Mephisto is essentially the devil of the Marvel universe, a demonic being who lives in a dimension very similar to our concept of Hell. He makes deals with human beings, granting their desires in return for their souls, as souls give Mephisto more power and strength within his own realm. This supernatural wheeler-and-dealer would be a perfect fit for Mikkelsen, whose villain roles are often of the soft-spoken yet sinister kind, exactly what you’d expect from a tricky demon trying to steal your soul. Mephisto could be possessing a human host or even assuming human form as he engages in his temptations. The issue here is it’s not quite clear if Marvel can use Mephisto: his film rights are a little murky. It’s widely assumed that he’s tied to the Ghost Rider rights (which have returned to Marvel), but Marvel has never confirmed that. Peter Fonda’s character in the first Ghost Rider movie ostensibly played Mephisto, but is never identified by name during the film and in the credits is listed as Mephistopheles. The film character also didn’t visually resemble the comic character at all. These changes may have been a dodge to deal with the fact that Mephisto originally appeared as a Silver Surfer villain, and the Silver Surfer is notoriously tied up with the Fantastic Four movie rights.
Of course, if you’re going to have some sort of CGI monstrosity as your villain and then create a new human villain to act as their spokesperson, why not go with something truly alien? Shuma-Gorath is an enormous cosmic horror that has conquered numerous realities before setting its sight on our own. The creature is so powerful that even allowing it to enter our reality means we’ve already lost. Shuma is responsible for some of Strange’s darkest moments in the comics, including the death of the Ancient One and Strange’s own suicide. It often acts through mortal cultists, which would certainly seem to fit with Mikkelsen’s sect of rogue sorcerers. Being an unknowable entity from dimensions of madness and chaos means that a movie featuring Shuma-Gorath as the villain would almost certainly need some sort of human cult-leader to provide an emotional anchor for the villainy: enter Mikkelsen. That necessity underscores Shuma’s biggest drawback, however, which is that he’s an impersonal villain. All of these other villains have a lot of personality that could be brought out by a compelling actor doing voice work or CGI motion capture. Shuma-Gorath is more remote, and in a movie would probably be played more like Sauron in the Lord of the Rings films, an ominous and overwhelming presence that hangs over the movie, but not an outright character.
Nightmare is a parasitic being who lives in the realm of dreams, feeding off the fears of mankind. Within dreams Nightmare is a god, capable of manipulating his environment to suit his whims Freddy Krueger style, but his only influence on the waking world is through tormenting the minds of dreamers. He’d love to consume more fear, even if it means driving the human race insane with terror, and he’d equally love to manifest on the material plane, but Dr. Strange usually stands in his way. Like with Mephisto, Nightmare is a deceitful and wily villain, reliant on trickery and messing with his enemies’ minds more than direct confrontations. He has occasionally tried to use human beings as his pawns (once notably possessing the body of a sleeping Dr. Strange), since they can affect the material world whereas he cannot, so perhaps Mikkelsen is his minion. Also like with Mephisto, Mikkelsen could easily play both a human servant and provide the voice for a CGI Nightmare. This is a little less likely, though, as Nightmare doesn’t have quite as many great stories under his belt as some of these other villains (and therefore less material for the filmmakers to draw on) and while he sometimes manipulates humans he doesn’t usually have a bunch of henchmen or cultists.
The Dread Lord Dormammu is probably the most likely candidate. Strange’s arch-nemesis and inter-dimensional warlord, Dormammu has tried numerous times in the comics to enter our dimension by recruiting mortal sorcerers to his cause, projecting his will into the minds of humans or into lesser avatars of himself. Dormammu controlling Mads Mikkelsen would also be good foreshadowing for Baron Mordo, who in the comics ended up as a servant of the Dread One himself, lured by promises of power. This possibility is further amplified by the confirmation that Dormammu’s domain, The Dark Dimension, will be appearing in the film. The only thing that makes this less than likely is very minor: Dormammu in the comics is usually a very passionate, megalomaniacal villain, while the villains Mikkelsen has usually played in movies are more restrained schemers. That could simply mean that the MCU Dormammu will be a different take on the character, perhaps one with a less fiery temper.
Which of these villains will appear in the Doctor Strange, if any of them? It’s too soon to say for certain, though odds favor Dormammu. We’ll let you know as soon as we learn more, but at least we can say with relative confidence that it won’t be most of these schmucks.