As Marvel’s summer success comes to a close, the studio is preparing for the premiere of Doctor Strange, the second film in Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Doctor Strange marks a significant thematic shift for Marvel, as it will introduce the concept of alternate dimensions to the MCU and open up a world of new on-screen plot possibilities. In the film, titular protagonist Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) gains access to “a hidden world of mysticism and alternate dimensions,” thanks to help from his mentor, an enigmatic figure known simply as the Ancient One.
The Ancient One, who is originally portrayed in the comics as an elderly Tibetan man, is the universe’s Sorcerer Supreme, who has spent decades traveling the earth and honing his mystical powers. He decides to take on apprentices in his old age, in the hope of passing along his wisdom. The Ancient One is a compelling character with a rich backstory, and nobody recognizes that more than Tilda Swinton, who takes on the role in Doctor Strange. In a recent interview, the actor revealed she is pushing hard for an Ancient One prequel.
While talking to Screen Crush, Swinton said:
I’m pretty confidently dropping hints in [Marvel president] Kevin Feige’s ear about a prequel, I’m constantly harassing him about that. I don’t know if it’ll get anywhere…Just leaving the odd hint. Writing the odd note and putting it in his pocket. Writing lipstick messages in his mirror. Just seeing how far we get.
She also hinted at Ancient One appearances in future Marvel titles, saying that joining the franchise is “like being asked to join the circus.”
So, Swinton is definitely game to reprise her role in a future MCU film, it’s just a matter of whether or not studio execs are as enthusiastic. Any Doctor Strange spin-offs will likely be contingent on the upcoming movie’s box office success – though the film is slated for a release without much competition. Though emotional sci-fi original Arrival could draw some attention a week later, and Disney’s Moana will undoubtedly create an upset around Thanksgiving, Doctor Strange seems ready to rake it in come early November.
The main detriment to the idea of an Ancient One spin-off is arguably the controversy surrounding Swinton’s casting. Many fans were surprised and upset to learn that a white woman had been cast to play the traditionally East Asian character. Though Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson and Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige have both attempted to explain the casting decision, and Swinton herself calls the controversy a “misunderstanding,” it may yet cause some backlash at the box office. Likewise, any spin-off centering on Swinton’s contentious role would almost certainly rehash the same conversations and generate negative attention.
Though it’s been confirmed that we will see Doctor Strange in upcoming Marvel films, it’s unclear whether or not the studio will bother to bring back the Ancient One. This could be the best course of action moving forward, since, even though the production team claims to have rebranded the Tibetan character, her “mystical” powers and stylized costume still clearly evoke East Asian tradition. Perhaps, though, as Swinton says, the film will reveal something to us that completely erases our concerns about the role. We’ll just have to find out next month.