Doctor Strange surprised us all this weekend by raking in nearly $85 million in the United States alone, but that wasn’t the only surprise in the film. Moreso than perhaps any other Marvel property, Doctor Strange was packed to the gills with plot twists that kept viewers on their toes.
Vulture sat down with the men behind the movie, Jon Spaihts (whose upcoming projects like Passengers and The Mummy are putting him on the fast-track to screenwriting stardom) and Director Scott Derrickson, to discuss such twists.
The rest of this article contains some pretty major spoilers, so read on at your own risk!
When it was announced that Baron Mordo, a classic Doctor Strange villain, would be serving as a mentor and friend to Stephen as opposed to being his enemy, fans were a bit confused. However, the team behind the scenes was well aware of what they were doing with the character and had this to say about Mordo’s post credit scene.
Spaihts: It’s really about better serving the origin story as it’s written. In the original comics, Mordo is rather transparently wicked, and as a consequence, his betrayal doesn’t register — he really is an antagonist from his first appearance. To adapt that story to the more mature storytelling language of film… we had to establish a brotherhood and a fellowship. Building that friendship between Strange and Mordo was deeply satisfying, and then turning that character against his former school and comrades was a fascinating turn.
What I like now is that whatever drives him is going to be more complicated than a simple ambition for power, or a need to replace the Ancient One.He fought to save the world, and in his own rigid, stubborn way, he’s an idealist. Whatever he does next will be his own attempt to make the world a better place. And you know there is a lot to learn about Mordo’s own history in the cinematic universe…
Interestingly enough, Spaihts makes Mordo sound very similar to Kaecilius in his language here, could that be a hint for his future in the MCU?
Baron Mordo isn’t the only sorcerer that Spaiths addressed either, as he delved into the Ancient One as well and the decision to kill the character.
Spaihts: We went back and forth on that decision over time. It’s very much the Marvel method to test every possibility and play out the variations, so almost everything you see in the final film, we tried five different ways along the way.
In the comics, [the male incarnation of] the Ancient One lingers on even after Strange becomes Sorcerer Supreme, and in principle, the Ancient One is a centuries-old being who should be a rival in power to Strange himself. But in practice, he’s constantly getting in trouble and being rescued, and if he truly were Strange’s equal or better, he would go solve the problems Strange solves. So either you have an impotent mentor figure who constantly needs saving, or you have a too-powerful mentor figure where the question becomes, ‘Why isn’t that person leaping in instead of Strange?’ So it’s a cleaner story universe to move the mentor on once Strange has accepted the mantle.
The problem the studio faced with the Ancient One is one that Hollywood has struggled with for a long, long time; as Vulture notes, we’ve seen characters like Obi-Wan Kenobi and Dumbledore follow a similar path. So naturally, the studio left her character with a somewhat ambiguous ending:
Spaihts: We did have some reservations, honestly. I think her performance is one of the great revelations of the film, and some of the best work she’s ever done. It’s hard not to fall in love with that character. Happily, this is the world of Marvel Comics and she is a mystical being who’s 700 years old. There are ways of seeing her again that we can all imagine, and you’re certainly free to engage in rash speculation about what might happen next.
As speculated by some fans, Dormammu made his MCU debut in the film, and it was to the delight of many fans. If you’ve seen the film, you know that the sequence in which he appears is an important one to the story, but is also utterly unique to cinema, in general. Spaihts had this to say about him:
Spaihts: I’m delighted by that sequence and intensely proud of it. It’s an example, to me, of the central dynamic of Doctor Strange stories that endeared him to me growing up: As immensely powerful as he is as a sorcerer, he routinely ends up toe to toe with beings vastly older and more potent than he is. He’s obliged to find a way to win those battles through sheer doggedness and wit, and often through a lawyerly exploitation of the rules. He’ll get you on a technicality!
I was making my passionate plea for Doctor Strange as Daniel Webster, the guy who defeats a more powerful adversary through wit, and Kevin, masterminding his strategy for the entire Marvel universe, was very attuned to the idea of Strange as a manipulator of time in this film, per the power of the Eye of Agamotto. We thought, ‘Can we trap him using time?’ and that was the question that led to the sequence you see in the film, which originated in the first draft.
Another problem that the production faced was differentiating Dormammu from Thanos, another big bad of the MCU. Thankfully, they were very mindful of the way they created the character:
Spaihts: Certainly, it was a line we had to walk. There are powerful forces that pull the villains of Marvel films into a certain shape, and it takes a deliberate creative determination to give them different mechanisms. So yeah, to some extent, doing something the other movies weren’t doing was on our radar.
Perhaps the most important part of the movie was the inclusion of the Time Stone via the Eye of Agamotto. This stone is what’s going to tie Strange to the rest of the MCU, and will likely play a large role in his appearance in Avengers: Infinity War. However, including one of the Infinity Stones was not something to be taken lightly by the studio:
Derrickson: That was something that just evolved in the script-development process. It started with the idea that the eye had some time manipulation, but then the idea of putting the Infinity Stone just came into it somewhere in the development process from Kevin. But Kevin is the master mapmaker of how all of these things fit together. No other filmmaker knows the whole of what’s in Kevin’s mind for the long-term.
Spaihts: It is a very dangerous business to introduce the power at all, and we all agreed that it was essential to associate that power with a cost so dire that it is almost never worth using. In his first experiments with that power, Stephen Strange nearly fractures the space-time continuum. He nearly does incalculable damage to his life and the lives of those around him. With the massive manipulation he perpetrates at the end of the film, he puts the universe in danger, but because the entire world is already teetering on the brink of annihilation, the stakes make it make sense. Under any other circumstances, to do what he does would be insanely rash.
What was your personal favorite part of Doctor Strange? Sound off in the comments below!
Doctor Strange, now playing, stars Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Stephen Strange/Dormammu), Tilda Swinton (The Ancient One), Rachel McAdams (Christine Palmer), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Baron Karl Mordo), Benedict Wong (Wong), and Mads Mikkelson (Kaecilius).