While Doctor Strange is, for the most part, a refreshingly standalone affair, it still contains its fair share of references to the MCU, and crucially, plants several seeds almost certain to bear fruit in the films that appear later on in the franchise.
(At this point, I should conjure up the most powerful SPOILER WARNING I can muster, to ward off any unsuspecting readers yet to see Doctor Strange who want to watch it with all its surprises intact)
Road To Ragnarok
Let’s start by diving in at the deep end: the post-credits scenes.
The first of these sees the welcome return of #Thor, who meets with Strange to discuss the threat posed to humanity by Loki, whom the God of Thunder has brought to Earth to aid in his search for their father, Odin.
While diehard MCU followers will remember that Loki is likely responsible for Odin’s disappearance (the God of Mischief was last seen masquerading as the All-Father at the end of #ThorTheDarkWorld), Thor himself certainly appears to be none the wiser, and he soon asks Strange to assist him with his investigation.
The good Doctor obliges Thor’s request, on the condition that he and Loki leave Earth and return home to Asgard once their father is found, in a manner that implies Strange would like this to be a one-way trip.
This all appears to set the stage for #ThorRagnarok.
We’ve already been told that much of the action in Ragnarok will take place throughout the wider Nine Realms (and not on Earth), and it seems likely that this is because Thor (quite possibly with Strange in tow) will have embarked on his quest throughout the cosmos to find his missing dad.
If that’s so, it also seems entirely likely that the Master of the Mystic Arts will effectively exile the God of Thunder from our world once Odin is found, which in turn could have a correlating effect for Avengers: Infinity War and its untitled sequel.
After all, if Thor isn’t allowed back on Earth, how will he be able to join his superhero teammates when MCU Big Bad Thanos finally comes to town?
Well, #BenedictCumberbatch has confirmed he’s appearing in #InfinityWar, so it could be that Doctor Strange decides to rethink his position on the Thunder God and summons him to Earth, but let’s be honest: If the first Avengers taught us anything, it’s that Thor can always find a way back.
Mordo On A Mission
So what about the second post-credits scene in Doctor Strange? Here, we see former good guy Master Mordo reveal his true, villainous colors — which should come as no surprise to fans of the comics — by stripping poor old minor mystic Pangborn of his magical ability to walk.
Mordo’s apparent rationale for doing so (other than being detestable) is his newfound conviction that the world has too many sorcerers in it — with the obvious implication that he plans to cull this number considerably, no doubt with an eye to taking down former ally Doctor Strange once and for all, too.
Given the Ancient One has now kicked the proverbial bucket and left the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme vacant — Strange having only attained the rank of Master of the Mystic Arts by the time the credits roll — it seems a safe bet that when Mordo next appears in the MCU, he’ll be looking to claim this title (and the power that goes with it) for himself, and preferably over Strange’s dead body, at that.
Infinity (Stones) And Beyond!
Many fans theorized it, and Kevin Feige hinted strongly at it in a recent interview, but Doctor Strange finally makes it clear that the Eye of Agamotto amulet worn by Strange does indeed contain an Infinity Stone. As even the most casual MCU fan can no doubt tell you, the six Infinity Stones are the MacGuffin that ties the whole franchise together.
Objects of immense power, the Stones have appeared in multiple MCU films and are sought after by Thanos, who — if the comics are any guide, at least — plans to use their immense power to wipe out all life in the universe, as a gift to his true love, Death (yes, the guy LITERALLY loves the embodiment of death).
Prior to the release of Doctor Strange, the Space, Mind, Reality and Power Stones were all accounted for, leaving the location of the final two Stones open for conjecture.
Now, the Stone at the heart of the Eye of Agamotto is not explicitly stated to be the Time Stone in Doctor Strange, but c’mon — warping time is the Eye’s main function in the film, so it seems pretty unlikely that it houses the Soul Stone, now doesn’t it?
With the Time Stone now effectively crossed off the list, it means that fans can begin speculating on where the Soul Stone will show up in the remaining MCU films between now and Infinity War. The confirmation that Doctor Strange is closely linked to an Infinity Stone also indicates that the good Doctor’s role in Infinity War is likely to be a prominent one. Then there are the clues to things even bigger than the Infinity Stones.
Foremost of these is the introduction of the Astral Plane, which suggests we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what the MCU has to offer. Not only do we get to visit the Dark Dimension (and its ruler, the god-like Dormammu) in all its 1960s-Steve-Ditko-pyschadelic-pop-art-inspired-glory, there’s also a sense that the Astral Plane connects all the different realities we’ve seen before, along with much, much more.
Consider what appears to be a brief glimpse of the Quantum Realm first seen in the underappreciated Ant-Man, as well as the fact that the same trippy rainbow effect associated with the Thor’s Bifrost bridge transports Strange along his astral journey.
From this, we can conclude that the different dimensions and realms witnessed across the various MCU movies — including in the Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy sub-franchises — are not only interlinked, but part of a much wider, overlapping multiverse just waiting to be explored in future films.
Even more tantalizing is a brief reference to the Living Tribunal, made by Mordo during Strange’s combat training. Sure, it could have been a throwaway reference — a nice nod to the fans of the comics — but it could also be yet another sign that things really are about to go genuinely cosmic.
For non-comics readers, the Living Tribunal is the embodiment of cosmic judgement throughout Marvel’s multiverse, and if he (it?) plays a part in Infinity War — or whatever Marvel tries to top it with — could the other fundamental beings at the heart of the Marvel cosmology (including Eternity and Infinity) be far behind?
With Thanos quite possibly courting the personification of Death itself, it’s not outrageous to imagine that we might see a few more abstract, cosmic beings take the stage in Infinity War, not only providing Phases 1–3 of the MCU with a truly out of this world finale, but making Phase 4 a whole new ballgame as well!