[As you might have guessed, this post includes major plot points from Doctor Strange. Read at your own risk.]
Doctor Strange’s big emotional turn comes when a character that has been the source of controversy bites the dust. After being gravely injured in battle, Tilda Swinton’s The Ancient One dies on an operating table, but not, however, before offering sage counsel to the hero. But does that mean a major figure has just disappeared from the burgeoning franchise? Or will this be another Coulson situation? When The A.V. Club got on the phone with the film’s writer Jon Spaihts, we asked just how seriously we should take her story’s conclusion. “It certainly should not be taken as a trick,” he said. “It is very solemn and very real.” Spaihts did qualify that statement, though: ”However, this is a mystical universe and the character is centuries old, and so people are certainly welcome to speculate irresponsibly.” So feel free to be skeptical, but do so at your own peril.
More Doctor Strange certainly seems in the cards—this is Marvel we’re dealing with—especially based on the second end credits scene in which Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) announces his presence as a future threat. Though fans of the comic books will immediately identify the character as a bad guy, in the film he gradually morphs from Stephen Strange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) champion into a skeptic into a full blown evil-doer. “Mordo as depicted in the earliest comics is such a mustache-twirling villain that you’d have to be a fool not to spot him at once,” Spaihts explained. “So in our more realistic world of Doctor Strange we needed a more nuanced and subtle character.”
In those last frames, Mordo goes to see Jonathan Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt), a character Spaihts said he devised in the first draft. Pangborn used The Ancient One’s teachings to heal his paralysis, and appears in a scene early on that sends Stephen on his journey to Kamar-Taj. But Mordo doesn’t visit him to make small talk. Instead, he violently takes Pangborn’s power away, declaring that the world has too many sorcerers. “When it came time to figure out what the tag of the film could be, Pangborn stuck with us,” Spaihts said. “It became the perfect moment with which to illustrate the completion of Mordo’s turn, and getting to write that at the very end was one of the most exciting parts of the process for me.” The decision of to place this moment in the coda came after careful consideration. “The Marvel process is a rigorous one so it’s generally a safe assumption that we’ve road tested ten variations on whatever we finally landed on,” he said. “So, yes, we absolutely talked about very different ways of guiding Mordo to his turn.”
Doctor Strange is one of two blockbusters Spaihts, who also wrote Prometheus, has out this year. The other is an original work, Passengers, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, who, of course, is also a member of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact, while Passengers was shooting in Atlanta, the sets for Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 were being constructed nearby. “[Pratt] finished our movie, walked across the lot from one starship to another and started Guardians 2 the very next day,” Spaihts said.