SPOILER WARNING: This article contains spoilers for “Doctor Strange,” which is in theaters now.
Marvel’s latest big budget adventure “Doctor Strange” goes back to the movie studio’s roots. Following the massive all-hands-on-deck spectacle of this year’s “Captain America: Civil War,” “Doctor Strange” narrows its scope and tells the origin story of just one superhero. But by the time you sit through the entire credits, you’ll learn that the film also gave us an origin story for a potentially prominent supervillain as well.
In the Scott Derrickson-directed film, surgeon supreme Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) seeks out a mystical cure for his extensively damaged hands and instead finds himself on the front lines of a war between the Ancient One’s (Tilda Swinton) magical protectors of Earth and Kaecilius’ (Mads Mikkelsen) Dark Dimension-worshipping zealots. Working alongside Strange are two of the Ancient Ones strongest allies, Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong). But while Strange — a new practitioner of magic — doesn’t understand many of the rules imposed by the Ancient One, Mordo and Wong follow her lead without question.
The film sets up Kaecilius’ motivation thoroughly: after losing his entire family, the sorcerer discovers a dimension where time has no meaning — meaning death does not exist. In his quest to halt the march of time and prevent anyone from dying ever again, he summons the dread Dormammu to come and take Earth and merge it into the entity’s Dark Dimension, thus giving everyone on Earth a version of eternal life. As Dormammu begins merging the Dark Dimension with Earth, Strange flies right into the heart of the dimension for a confrontation. And Strange has a plan.
Strange uses the Eye of Agamotto (which is revealed to house the Time Infinity Stone) to enforce the concept of time on the Dark Dimension, trapping Dormammu in a time loop. Having never experienced time before, Dormammu is overwhelmed by the looping Stranges; every time he kills a doctor, another reappears “Groundhog Day” style. When faced with being trapped by time for all eternity or giving up Earth, Dormammu gives up Earth — taking Kaecilius and his followers with him in the process.
But in defeating Kaecilius and Dormammu, Strange unknowingly motivates an all-new enemy: Karl Mordo.
It’s established in the film that Mordo’s morals are rigid; he feels betrayed when he learns that the Ancient One tapped into Dark Dimension magic in order to extend her life, even though extending her life allowed her to fight evil for centuries. Similarly, Mordo is outraged when he realizes Strange abused the Eye of Agamotto and manipulated time freely — even though doing so defeated their enemy. As Mordo says, playing fast and loose with the natural order like that causes unforeseen problems; the bill will be due. Mordo turns his back on Strange and says he will not side with the hero due to these offenses.
It turns out, that final battle served as Mordo’s own origin story, providing him enough reason to go full on adversarial. As we see in the final post-credits scene, a cloaked Mordo pays a visit to Jonathan Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt), a former student of the Ancient One who learned how to use magic in order to give him the ability to walk again. Before Pangborn can defend himself, Mordo strikes him, sucking all the magical ability from Pangborn and leaving him a paraplegic once more. Standing over Pangborn’s pained body, Mordo declares that he’s finally realized that there are too many sorcerers on Earth, and his true purpose in life is bringing that number way down.
For fans of the “Doctor Strange” comics, this turn shouldn’t come as a surprise. In the source material, Baron Mordo was the second villain Strange encountered after battling Nightmare in his first appearance. So yes, Baron Mordo’s been a supervillain since his debut in 1963. Mordo was also a student of the Ancient One along with Doctor Strange in the comics as well, so that part went unchanged. But in the comics, it’s Mordo that plots to kill the Ancient One — a plot that Doctor Strange thwarts. That confrontation makes Strange Mordo’s sworn enemy. The film gives Mordo an entirely new justification and reason for standing in opposition to Strange.
And while a “Doctor Strange” sequel has not yet been announced, this certainly seems to set up Mordo as the villain for the follow-up film. Previously, director Derrickson has hinted that he might want to use Nightmare for the sequel. Could there be a supervillain team-up in the future?
Directed by Scott Derrickson and starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen and more, “Doctor Strange” is in theaters now.
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