I'm not the only one wondering how the Marvel Cinematic Universe is going to add the oddball characters of [Ant-Man](movie:9048) and [Doctor Strange](movie:559685) into the big MCU picture, right? Please tell me I'm not the only one... Ok, good. But maybe that isn't the right question, maybe the thing to ask is, Does Marvel even have to add these characters to a larger plot?
Just Be Yourself
It's beginning to feel like the really big story in the MCU is getting pretty well contained within the Avengers and the Avengers-related movies of Captain America and Thor. Even the excellent Iron Man 3 didn't feel the need to add to any MCU/Infinity Stone plot, and that turned out pretty well, so why should there be an expectation that Ant-Man or Doctor Strange would need to even make a passing reference to Thanos?
At this point it seems like all a Marvel movie needs to do is have an Infinity Stone enter the story for it to really advance the larger plot. What's kind of strange is that by Marvel announcing their five year, Phase 3 plan of movies, it sets up an expectation of how everything is going to lead to the Infinity War. But maybe there shouldn't be any expectations except for the studio to continue making the kind of smart, well-made superhero movies that Marvel has been excelling at.
Saving It For the Cross-Over Event
Just as with Marvel's comic books, having one character who has their own title cross over into someone else's book is a big event. This is one of the reasons Captain America: Civil War is a big event movie for the MCU. Already, that movie will be looking to have Iron Man and Black Panther along with Black Widow, Flacon and probably Spider-Man and who knows, maybe a Hulk or Thor could show up. In the grand tradition, as it is shaping up to be perhaps the last Captain America movie, it's going to be a super spectacular mighty Marvel crossover movie.
Even if a character has a history in the comic book universe of being a card carrying member of the Avengers, like Ant-Man and Doctor Strange, it shouldn't necessarily be expected that these characters will be making their way in to the Avengers fold in the MCU. I think it is important that Marvel makes significant changes from the comic books in the MCU. While the books make for fun speculation material when thinking about the MCU, they can't be a strict blueprint - these movies still need their surprises.
Micro & Macro World Building
Just as with the comic book universe, any new title in the cinematic universe should simply open up and add to that universe in a unique and entertaining way. This is what Ant-Man and Doctor Strange should do first and foremost. All of the MCU's characters can have their own universes within the larger MCU that they can explore and deepen without necessarily having a drastic impact on some other character's world. More often than not, Marvel characters can have years worth of adventures in their books and not leave their own micro-universe and I don't see why it has to be any different in the MCU. Sure, there could be ways to wrestle the Guardians of the Galaxy into hanging out with Black Panther, but honestly, I'd much rather explore more of the Guardian's own unique world than see them in a cross-over.
I think it's great that Black Panther is being introduced through Avengers 2 and Captain America 3 and that this character is being established right off the bat as being an integral part of the Avengers world. With time and contracts running out on characters like Iron Man and Captain America, it's obvious that Marvel does need to set up some new superheroes to carry the Avengers torch and the way they've established the tone of the Avengers related movies so far. The fact that the Captain America: Winter Soldier directors are in place to continue telling the Avengers tale makes it feel like Black Panther and Spider-Man are the perfect kind of characters to comfortably slip into the line-up.
Fit in By Standing Out
I'm excited to visit the worlds of Ant-Man and the more off-beat Doctor Strange, and I hope that neither of them turn out to be Marvel One-Shots. I think Ant-Man is the character out of the two that could comfortably fit into the Avengers' world, but I'm also happy to see him stick to the west-coast world of the MCU. Doctor Strange may be the coolest and most interesting thing Marvel currently has planned as this character, more than any other in the next couple years, can open up the MCU in some really unique ways.
Whether or not either of these characters contribute to some larger story arc that is going on in the Avengers or Captain America: Civil War movie shouldn't diminish the possibilities that lie within the unique worlds that their own movies will focus on. What Ant-Man needs to do is make his crazy micro/macro world the kind of place that is full of possibility and makes audiences want to return for more. Doctor Strange's world is so full of bizzaro characters and the sort of mystical sorcery that we haven't seen from Marvel yet, that I have no doubt it'll be a truly unique experience and, like Guardians of the Galaxy (hopefully), that the good Doctor will be able to comfortably stand on his own.