How Marvel Studios Has Handled Magic Leading Into Doctor Strange
Doctor Strange is more than just Stephen Strange's origin story in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It's also fully pulling back the curtain on magic and mysticism. After his surgical career his cut short, Stephen will learn how to channel these supernatural forces from The Ancient One, Mordo and Wong so he can properly defend our world from threats the Avengers can't handle. However, you'll note that we didn't say that Doctor Strange is introducing magic to this universe. That's because these strange (pun intended) forces have already been touched upon in other movies and TV shows, and before the Sorcerer Supreme's cinematic debut, we've decided to catch up on how the MCU has handled magic up to this point.
Let's start with the Thor movies, which effectively opened the MCU to alien and cosmic weirdness following the Earth-based Iron Man movies and The Incredible Hulk. Longtime Marvel comics fans know that the God of Thunder and his mythos are very much based in magic, but the MCU opted to go in a different direction. Thor and Thor: The Dark World make it quite clear to audiences and Asgard and other Realms are where magic and science are one and the same. In other words, all those amazing abilities and displays of power you see come from highly advanced science. So even though Thor's hammer only budging for the "worthy" and being able to channel lighting look like demonstrations of magic, they're really just due to alien science contained within. Sorry for the misunderstanding!
Warning: spoilers for Daredevil and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are ahead!
Up until Doctor Strange, the MCU movies avoided exploring magic, attributing any amazing feats of power to special technology or amazing cosmic forces. In The Vision's case, both. The TV shows, on the other hand, have had more leeway. Although Daredevil Season 1 was a grounded, gritty drama showing Matt Murdock battling organized crime in Hell's Kitchen, there were hints of mystical forces at work through Wilson Fisk's associates, Nobu and Madame Gao. Then Season 2 came along, which introduced The Hand, ninjas that could sneak around without making a sound. Nobu was also resurrected after being burned to death in Season 1, and we also learned he had been around for three lifetimes. Like any of us would be, Matt Murdock was flabbergasted by what The Hand could do, and we haven't seen the last of them. In the Daredevil Season 2 finale, they retrieved Elektra's body and put her into a store sarcophagus, likely to resurrect her at some point.
Then there's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which left the biggest pre-Doctor Strange stamp on magic by introducing Robbie Reyes, a.k.a. Ghost Rider, this season. Not only that, but we also met a group of scientists who were turned into ghost-like beings by combining their technology with a mysterious book called the Darkhold. Season 4 is only six episodes in, so there's still plenty of supernatural goodness on the way for the ABC series. However, Robbie Reyes believes he gained his powers when he "made a deal with the devil," and as revealed in the most recent episode, it was another Ghost Rider who was responsible for turning him into the Spirit of Vengeance.
All of this finally brings us to Doctor Strange, and rest assured, this movie won't follow in Thor's footsteps by later attributing the powers seen to science. This is the good ol' fashioned magic we've all been waiting for, as evidenced by one scene when The Ancient One shows off some kaleidoscopic freakiness to Stephen Strange. He says "This doesn't make any sense," to which she responds, "Not everything does. Not everything has to." That's right, when it comes to magic, one need not worry about the laws of physics. Even better, this isn't the only big MCU event coming up that dives deep into the magic pool. Iron Fist premieres on Netflix next March, and in case you're not familiar with the eponymous protagonist, he can channel his body's natural energies to boost his strength, speed and endurance thanks to his training in the mystical city of K'un Lun. Beyond that, there hasn't been any word on other magic-heavy MCU projects on the horizon (that we know of), though the door is certainly wide open for more magical/supernatural characters to be introduced to this expanding continuity, from Blade to Nightmare.
Doctor Strange hits all theaters in the U.S. this Friday, though many of you will likely be able to catch it tomorrow evening. Make sure to let us know what you think of the MCU's handling of magic up to now in the comments below.
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Connoisseur of Marvel, DC, Star Wars, John Wick, MonsterVerse and Doctor Who lore. He's aware he looks like Harry Potter and Clark Kent.