The Marvel Cinematic Universe has had a whirlwind of a year after reaching the climax that its story world has been working towards — Avengers: Infinity War saw so many of our beloved heroes disintegrate into dust, along with 50 percent of the world’s population thanks to Thanos’ mastermind scheming. So how can the MCU possibly pick up the pieces of a mess this big?
It’ll start with 2019’s release of the Infinity War follow-up, Avengers: Endgame, the recently released first teaser trailer giving a glimpse at what’s to come. Marvel will surely remain impossibly tight-lipped about the film until its release, but the studio is already beginning to compile some of the films that will make up “Phase Four” of the franchise, which will begin after Endgame. Spider-Man: Far From Home will be our first taste of what the post-Endgame landscape will look like, but the newest addition to the lineup is a Doctor Strange sequel.
The Hollywood Reporter has revealed that Scott Derrickson is officially slated to return as director following his work on the first Doctor Strange film. A returning director is always a plus, since that typically ensures the sequel will remain consistent with its predecessor. Also returning will be Benedict Cumberbatch as the title protagonist, having already signed on for a second Strange film in the past. But the MCU is a much grander, more intricate franchise than most, and this film will have a lot more to take into account than your run-of-the-mill sequel. And after all that’s happened, how will Doctor Strange fit into this universe?
For those who might have forgotten the events of Infinity War (although who could forget that heartbreak?), audiences last saw Strange disintegrating into thin air after Thanos snapped his fingers and wiped half the population off the face of the universe. This, naturally, makes it incredibly unclear as to how his story will continue — but then again, our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is returning with his own sequel, despite poor Peter Parker himself being one of Thanos’ more devastating victims. A lot of these questions cannot be feasibly answered until the release of Endgame, but based on what we know about Strange’s character, we can begin to think about what role he might play in the future of the MCU.
Perhaps the easiest way to begin looking at it is from a small-scale perspective: how might Strange’s character continue along the narrative that was initially provided in the first film? If peace ends up being mostly restored after the events of Endgame (and that’s a big if), we could potentially find Strange back at his post in the New York Sanctum as a Master of Mystic Arts. It has yet to be seen if Rachel McAdams will be making a return as Dr. Christine Palmer, but hopefully the character will serve as more than just an excuse for another fleeting, lackluster MCU romance — McAdams certainly has more to offer, and a greater arc for Christine might help to soften that infamous Stephen Strange power complex. Another supporting character confirmed to return is Benedict Wong as Wong, fellow master and sidekick to Strange who was also present in Infinity War.
Aside from Strange developing his relationships with other characters, there are still lingering threats from the first Strange film that have not been firmly resolved. Strange defeated the powerful Dormammu of the Dark Dimension, where time is non-existent, by simply wearing him out in an endless time loop that frustrated the demon so much that he merely gave up and returned to his own dimension. While there’s a chance that that was the last of Dormammu, it feels as though his defeat was a bit of a temporary solution. And considering his origins in the Dark Dimension, he could potentially end up playing a role in the events of Endgame.
The Doctor Strange post-credits scene also left another loose end untied: Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), former mentor to Strange, is seen stealing the power that paraplegic Jonathan Pangborn used to regain the ability to walk. He was also quite put off by Strange’s decision to defy laws of nature when defeating Dormammu, setting himself up as another perfect antagonist who Strange will surely have to confront in the sequel.
But onto bigger, more unstable ground. Doctor Strange disappeared at the end of Infinity War, and while it remains unclear as to what the circumstances of his presence in the sequel will be, it is quite likely that he will be playing a major role in the cleanup of whatever catastrophe is wreaked in Endgame. After all, Strange is the person who saw the one possible future out of approximately 14 million in which the Avengers are able to defeat Thanos. That kind of knowledge will surely not go swept under the rug, and his character could easily be a crucial component of Endgame.
Considering Strange’s position in the battle against Thanos, whatever happens in Endgame will more than likely spill over into the Strange sequel. His ability to manipulate magic and time arguably makes him one of the more powerful figures in the MCU, so his role will likely include not only taking down Thanos but building a plan for what’s to come after. However, the context that this will take place in is hard to know: it cannot be said that Strange’s lifestyle will return to normal after all the chaos, and he might not even be back in New York after all is said and done — or the same dimension, for that matter.
For now, the Doctor Strange sequel is being eyed for a projected May 2021 release date. While seemingly distant, it’s only really a few films away in the world of the MCU. Much will have to remain a mystery for the time being when it comes to the future of Doctor Strange, but it’s reassuring to know that, at least for now, there is one.