It's no secret that the Ancient One — Doctor Strange's venerable mentor — has been completely redesigned for the #MCU. In fact, some aspects of that redesign have been pretty controversial; Marvel were attacked for #whitewashing the character when chose to cast Tilda Swinton to play the part. Co-writer C. Robert Cargill (perhaps unwisely) argued that the redesign was necessary so as to ensure the film got a Chinese release - a remark which garnered the film more controversy.
Today, I want to set aside the debate and hone in on how the character will be portrayed in Doctor Strange. Specifically, how will she relate to the central character?
1. Leader of the Masters of the Mystic Arts
The MCU's version of the Ancient One may live an isolated life, but she's actually tremendously active. She's assembled the Masters of the Mystic Arts: sorcerers who she trains to help protect the world from dark magic. These sorcerers use their magic to travel from place to place, combating evil and gathering dark artifacts to keep them safe. Discussing the character on set visits, Kevin Feige suggested that the 'Ancient One' is actually a title.
"We talked about the Ancient One being a title that has been held probably for hundreds and hundreds of years by individuals, but there’ve been various ones. The one we meet in this movie happens to be a female of Celtic descent. Most people, even those who surround her, have forgotten exactly where she came from because she’s been around, I think we state in the movie, hundreds and hundreds of years—they’re not sure exactly how long. So that was one way of doing a new interpretation of that character.”
The various Prelude comics have assured us that the Ancient One is in fact the Sorcerer Supreme of the MCU, and it seems that these two roles are woven together. As the Sorcerer Supreme, she stands as the world's defender against dark magic; as the Ancient One, she stands as a teacher and guide.
2. Seeking a Successor
The trailers have teased that the Ancient One has been peering through the mists of time, seeking out one specific person: Doctor Strange. This is because she wants a successor. Tilda Swinton explained:
"It's really important to The Ancient One that Dr. Strange does cut it, because The Ancient One needs a successor, or certainly needs a, you could say a son."
It seems that the Ancient One's time is drawing to an end. The potential she sees in Doctor Strange is that of a successor; she envisions him as the new Sorcerer Supreme, and the new Ancient One. That suggests that the interaction between the two could be fascinatingly intense.
In the comics, Doctor Strange inherits the title of Sorcerer Supreme after the Ancient One's death. It remains to be seen whether or not that will happen in Doctor Strange; it's possible that Strange may only take on the role of Sorcerer Supreme in the sequel.
3. Maker of Unwise Decisions
The (canon) Infinite Comic The Zealot teased Kaecilius's background, revealing that he's a deeply scarred individual who came to the Ancient One after reaching rock bottom. #Kaecilius's hope is that he can find some avenue of sorcery that can tear apart the barriers between the dimensions, reuniting him with the wife and child he tragically lost.
It's not hard to see parallels with Stephen Strange. Where Kaecilius lost his wife and child, Strange loses the only thing he cares about — his profession and vocation. Devastated, he spends his fortune trying to find a way to restore his damaged hands, and ultimately wastes his last penny on a hopeless quest to a faraway land. There, having reached his own personal rock bottom, he too is offered a shot at redemption.
This suggests that the Ancient One has a habit of reaching out to people who have suffered crises that have shaken their beliefs; they are then open to the realization that the world is far more mysterious than they ever thought. The danger, of course, is that this means they're teaching the secrets of the universe to some of the most wounded people in the world. Sooner or later, that was always going to backfire; Kaecilius was inevitable.
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The Ancient One looks set to be a fantastic character. We don't know if she'll survive Doctor Strange, but whether she does or not I suspect Tilda Swinton's portrayal will win us all over. As controversial as she may have already been, she's set to be a fantastic mentor!
Are you looking forward to Doctor Strange? Let me know in the comments!