SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Doctor Strange. If you have not yet seen the film, and don't wish to know any details about its ending, please click away to another one of our wonderful articles, and save this one for later!
Fitting into the tradition of Marvel Studios origin films, Doctor Strange traces the narrative of the titular arrogant surgeon as he goes on a life-changing adventure that puts him on the path to become one of the most powerful superheroes on Earth. He is, however, not the only character who winds up undergoing a massive change. Playing a key supporting role, Chiwetel Ejiofor's Karl Mordo goes through a key transformation himself... and it's one that we will see important consequences from as the Marvel Cinematic Universe moves into Phase Four and beyond.
So what exactly happens with Mordo in Doctor Strange? That's exactly what we're here to discuss in this extended feature analyzing the ending of the Scott Derrickson-directed blockbuster. So strap in, and let's take a look at what we've seen from Mordo thus far, and what we can expect from him in the near and distant future!
Why Mordo Left Kamar-Taj
For years, Karl Mordo was a student at Kamar-Taj, learning in the ways of the mystic arts with The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) as his teacher. Like Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), he entered the Nepal training facility as a stubborn, close-minded individual - but after learning to open his mind and accept that there are elements of our universe he didn't understand, he became an incredibly powerful sorcerer at The Ancient One's side. He spent years as a loyal warrior for the forces of good in our universe -- proudly willing to take evil lives in order to spare innocent others -- but in Scott Derrickson's Doctor Strange we watch as a major revelation and an incredible abuse of power causes Mordo's faith to waiver, and for him to turn against what he formerly believed.
The first blow comes at the end of the second act, when Doctor Strange makes the unfortunate decision to reveal a dark secret that The Ancient One has been keeping -- potentially for centuries. While the Sorcerer Supreme forbade any of her followers from abusing dark magic and tapping into the power of Dormammu in the Dark Dimension, it turns out that she was actually doing it herself. Because there is no such thing as time in the Dark Dimension, The Ancient One tapped into it in order to extend her own life. It was discovering this that led Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelson) to see her as a hypocrite and seek Dormammu's power for himself -- but this was kept hidden from Mordo. When he does finally learn about it from Strange in the New York Sanctum Sanctorum, it most definitely rocks him to his core -- as he truly put all of his confidence in the ways of The Ancient One, and was very clearly disturbed to learn that she isn't the perfect force for good that she portrayed herself as.
Deeply troubled as he was after losing trust in his mentor, Mordo was still willing to fight with Strange to prevent Kaecilius from bringing Dormammu to Earth -- but it's this battle that winds up being the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back for the green-robed sorcerer. While Mordo is more than willing to kill Kaecilius and his zealots, what he's definitely not cool with is watching his surgeon-turned-wizard ally/friend bend the rules of nature to stop the encroachment of the Dark Dimension. It's foreshadowed early in the movie that Mordo has a serious problem with Strange using the Eye of Agamotto a.k.a. the Time Stone, and it's Strange's continued abuse of the talisman that drives him away from the Kamar-Taj.
For those familiar with Karl Mordo from the comics, this is a significant deviation from the way that the character was originally introduced, as Mordo was immediately presented as Doctor Strange's arch-nemesis in the hero's second issue/adventure. For the big screen adaptation, however, the filmmakers agreed that the best way to use him would be to make him Strange's ally at first, thus giving his relationship with the protagonist more weight and meaning. As co-writer Jon Spaihts explained to us in an interview,
For that relationship to have any resonance, it needs to be rooted in a human relationship. As you're saying, the character of Mordo as sketched in the early Doctor Strange stories was a transparently wicked, snarling adversary who was never really a good guy in order to turn traitor. So we needed to build a friendship first and have a bond to break. And now there's that emotional cargo between the two men, so when they cross paths again there will be an undercurrent of heartbreak. And that's good drama!
It's a tale that we've seen play out in dramas for centuries, as two former allies find themselves in philosophical conflict, and become enemies as a result. Over the course of Doctor Strange, the titular hero learns how magic can be utilized to help our world, while Mordo instead learns how magic can be utilized to corrupt it. It should make for some great narrative material moving forward in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
What's Next For Mordo?
Within the main portion of Doctor Strange, the last time we see Karl Mordo is when he is walking away from Strange and Wong (Benedict Wong) after together they have managed to save the world from Kaecilius and Dormammu. Those who stayed for the post-credits sequence, however, got an extra moment with the sorcerer -- and it's one that helps spell out what we can expect from him in the not-too-distant future.
After spending months away following the events in Hong Kong, Mordo finds himself in the workshop of Jonathan Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt) -- another former student from Kamar-Taj. It's during this encounter that the powerful wizard reveals that he has begun to understand a new way to look at the world of magic -- understanding that it corrupts and distorts natural laws. While crippling Pangborn, reducing him to the condition he was in before his studies in the mystic arts, Mordo explains that he now sees it as his duty to help stop this perversion and rid the world of sorcerers.
So who is Mordo going to go after? Well, pretty much anyone who was taught by The Ancient One certainly now has a target on their back -- but it's not exactly hard to imagine that Mordo is going to have a specific interest in taking down Doctor Strange. Not only was it Strange who was the messenger who revealed The Ancient One's dark secret and ultimately drove Mordo from his faith, but he also happens to simply be one of the most powerful sorcerers around.
Of course, in order to take out Doctor Strange and all of the other masters of magic in the world, Mordo is going to need both a plan and probably some assistance. It's entirely possible that he himself could wind up teaming with Dormammu -- as one of the first major Doctor Strange arcs in the comics saw Mordo using power from the Dark Dimension to take out the Sorcerer Supreme -- but we'd be just as happy seeing him work with another new character. Perhaps it could ultimately be the Marvel Cinematic Universe's way of introducing us to Mephisto.
That catches you up on what we can expect from Karl Mordo going forward, but there's still the question of exactly when we will start to see all of this unfold...
When Will We See Mordo Again?
It's made pretty damn clear in Doctor Strange that Marvel Studios has big plans for the future of the mystical side of their big screen comic book universe. So far the biggest evidence of this is the fact that both Doctor Strange and Wong have been confirmed for Joe and Anthony Russo's upcoming The Avengers: Infinity War. What remains up in the air, however, is exactly when we can expect to see Chiwetel Ejiofor reprise his role as Karl Mordo, as there are three distinct directions in which the franchise can go.
The first option is that, like Strange and Wong, Mordo will make his next Marvel Cinematic Universe appearance in aforementioned The Avengers: Infinity War. The Russos and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have discussed at length their efforts to have the blockbuster include every available character we've seen in the franchise thus far -- and that's a list that should include Mordo. That being said, considering Thanos should be taking up most of the film's villain time, it probably wouldn't give him ample opportunity to really start executing his master plan.
If we don't see Mordo's plan start coming into play in The Avengers: Infinity War, the second possibility is that it will begin to unfold in the still-untitled Avengers 4. Because we know literally nothing about the movie yet, it's actually legitimately possible that we could see the movie feature Mordo as a central villain a la Loki in the first Avengers. If Strange's new enemy does in fact team up with another dangerous entity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it may present a threat that Strange can't take on himself, leading him to call in the help of some superhero buddies.
The third -- and most likely -- choice is that we will really get to see Mordo start his arc as a villain in the not-yet-announced Doctor Strange 2. The benefit of saving Mordo for a direct sequel to Strange's first solo adventure would be that the narrative could really focus on the relationship between the former friends, and create deeply personal conflict without the distractions that come packaged with Marvel's capstone blockbusters. Sadly, this would mean not seeing the subject matter teased in Doctor Strange's post-credits scene until at least 2020 -- but we're willing to wait so long as it's quality.
What did you think of Mordo's role in Doctor Strange? What do you think his master plan will be? Who would you like to see him team up with? When do you think we'll get to see him on screen again? Hit the comments section below with your thoughts, and be sure to stay tuned for more updates about the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe!