This post contains spoilers for Doctor Strange.
It's one of those classic Hollywood finales: hero winds back time with ancient amulet powered by crystallized cosmic energy; hero's sentient cape flies him into a dark cross-dimensional demon's sublimating takeover; hero creates a time loop, provoking the demon to quit his world-conquering ways out of frustration; hero watches his enemy float into cloudy damnation as his skin dissolves off his bones; hero kicks back with his pals -- a job well done!
While Doctor Strange opts for this time-honored conclusion, director Scott Derrickson wasn't content with tying things up simply. The 14th Marvel movie really has three endings: one we see tacked on after the final battle, one sliced into the closing title sequence, then one final beat snuck in after the last credit scrolls off the screen. And true to the hour and 50 minutes that precede them, these final kicks of Strange are intentionally odd and filled with comic-book lore.
3. Mordo assumes his villain role for the inevitable sequel, Doctor Stranger
The final button on Doctor Strange drops from a mile away -- nothing screams future antagonist like an ally grimacing and grumbling about morals in the aftermath of a destructive battle -- while still landing with a thud. Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), frustrated after his discovery that Tilda Swinton's Ancient One sucked life force from the Dark Dimension in order to sustain immortality and pass on the cosmic teachings to her apprentice sorcerers, arrives to the doorstep of Jonathan Pangborn, the paraplegic who casts spells to heal his legs and walk again, demanding his powers. The ends do not justify the means for Mordo. If the Ancient One couldn't be 100% transparent about her world-balancing magic, no one deserves to wield the power (I'm glad Mordo isn't voting in this election). So with a sinister smile, Mordo strips Pangborn of his powers. BAD GUY: BORN.
This is catnip for comic fans, who may have been pulling for a Doctor Strange-Mordo face-off from the beginning. Doctor Strange debuted in the pages of Strange Tales #110 in 1963. A month later, comics titans Stan Lee and Steve Ditko introduced Baron Mordo, a fallen disciple from Strange's magic class, as the hero's archnemesis. The Biff to the Doctor's Marty, Mordo plagued the multiverse for ages. Doctor Strange wants to make his turn to feel tragic, but this scene trudges along with all the false confidence of the post-credit stinger from Ryan Reynolds' failed Green Lantern movie (who can forget that classic scene where a speck of yellow monster cloud transforms good guy Sinestro into yellow-suited evildoer?). This is not a Bucky-Captain America relationship, and this is not a satisfying act of menace. The silver lining: a few more minutes of Benjamin Bratt, America's sweetheart.
2. Doctor Strange talks to Thor so MCU fans have something to live for
Doctor Strange's mid-credits scene makes significantly less sense than the Mordo villain setup scene, but is significantly more fun. In the tease, none other than Thor joins Doctor Strange at his Greenwich Village lair, the Sanctum Sanctorum. We haven't seen Thor since the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, which all but bypass the eyebrow-raising conclusion of his last stand-alone, Thor: The Dark World, in which Thor left his Loki, disguised as their father Odin, on the Asgardian throne, and returned back to Earth to sweep his one true love confounding dream sequence in a cave pond. Joss Whedon can barely explain what happened. And now Thor's back in New York, searching for Odin -- and he needs Doctor Strange's help.
The scene is a jarring shot of exposition, and according to Derrickson, that was the point. "I liked the idea that when we get to that tag scene, you don’t even know what movie you’re in," he told ScreenCrush. Mission accomplished. The twist is that Derrickson didn't even shoot this scene; according to another interview, Taika Waititi, director of the upcoming third Thor movie, Ragnarok, wrote the scene before his movie went into production, flew to the Doctor Strange set, and filmed it for inclusion in Derrickon's movie.
If Doctor Strange's role as an Iron Man replacement wasn't obvious from the mechanics of the movie, the trumpets blare in this random recruitment. How do Thor and Strange even know each other? Isn't there anyone in Asgard with more magical knowledge than the Doctor who could help locate Odin? Where is Loki, and why is he not in galactic jail? I'm sorry, I can't hear any of these questions over the dog whistle signaling a third Avengers movie costarring Doctor Strange. There's a long history of Thor-Doctor Strange crossovers, but expect the sorcerer's appearance in Ragnarok to be a brief setup for 2018's Avengers: Infinity War -- the threequel already has a Hulk, after all.
1. Doctor Strange asserts his franchise potential by becoming Sorcerer Supreme
The requirement of post-credit teases means every Marvel movie suffers from Return of the King syndrome. Imagine if the heroes, bloodied and tired from their big fight, walked off into the sunset, promising to return for the next big brawl. Whedon knew how to navigate the stinger space -- the first Avengers offered a glimpse of Thanos, a big bad, from miles down the road, and the cast eating shawarma -- a joy. Setup strung across start-and-stop endings are brutal, but Doctor Strange's final beat is worth the extension.
For all the hyperactive, hallucinatory graphics, for every spell cast and rune blocked, Strange never gets a frozen-in-time splash page moment. A tacked-on ending does the trick. After saying goodbye to Christine (Rachel McAdams) and hanging up his Eye of Agamotto infinity stone, Strange returns to the Sanctum Sanctorum, primps his cape, and stands stoic, ready for what's next. Cumberbatch is a hero, commands the downbeat. There will be more of him to come -- a final title card promises it -- and the actual ending of the movie pumps you up for his return. No additional Avengers required.
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