In the lead-up to the highly anticipated conclusion to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s epic “Infinity Saga”: Avengers: Endgame, we’re taking a look back at the decade-long road it took to get to this point. We’re shifting things around a bit today by looking at a pair of films from two different MCU Phases: Phase 2’s Ant-Man and Phase 3’s Doctor Strange. (And no, we didn’t forget about Captain America: Civil War, but we think that one merits an article of its own.)
By this point in the MCU, there was a definitive “endpoint” set for the story of the original Avengers. In some ways, this had to have been a relief to Marvel Studios; things were pretty up in the air in regards to some of the actors’s contracts before this, so they had to keep that uncertainty in mind while writing the movies. Now that they knew just how many more movies they had to tell this overarching story (and how many with each actor) mapping out the films must have become easier.
However, there were also some downsides to this, one being that they now officially had a limited amount of time left to finish off storylines before the end. But this was the end of the Infinity Saga, not the end of Marvel Studios. How could they keep audiences invested in their movies if all the main characters were going to have to be written out in a few years?
It was time to throw some new characters into the mix. Introducing new heroes to the movies while the original ones were still around was a way to get fans used to and attached to them without the transition being so jarring. They had already had a hit with Guardians of the Galaxy, but it was time for some more solo films.
First up? 2015’s Ant-Man. This movie went through a lot of behind-the-scenes drama in the form of a director change, but in the end it turned out pretty well. Like Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of The Galaxy which had both been released the year before, Ant-Man introduced a new genre to the MCU: the heist movie. It received pretty positive reception from audiences, but didn’t get as much of that “MCU hype” as a lot of the other movies. Being sandwiched between large group films Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War probably didn’t help, but, much like the hero himself, the movie felt…smaller than most of the others in the franchise, even the other solo outings. Scott Lang’s corner of the universe was a lot of fun, but it was obvious he wasn’t quite the type of hero that could carry the entire MCU on his shoulders.
Doctor Strange was Marvel’s next introductory movie, and it was clear they were preparing to have the titular hero become an eventual MCU headliner when they chose the lead actor to be Benedict Cumberbatch, who already had a huge fanbase and experience as the leader of a series in Sherlock (which was, admittedly, a television show that was a far cry from the movies, but the point still stands). The movie also introduced things like the astral plane, alternate dimensions, and the mystic arts to the MCU, things that have and will surely continue to play bigger roles in the future.
The world-building in Doctor Strange was great, but the plot of the film has been described by a lot of people as “Diet Iron Man“. The similarities – selfish, snarky protagonist has a near-death experience and learns to become a hero as a result – really are difficult to ignore if you’ve seen both. And Doctor Strange admittedly has a bit more of a “going through the origin story motions” vibe to it (not nearly enough to make it a bad film, but enough to just slightly take away from the freshness of the new concepts and ideas it brought to the table). The movie didn’t quite feel obligatory like the first two Thor films did, but the sense that a decent portion of the reason for its existence was to set Stephen Strange up to “replace” Tony Stark is something that’s always in the back of the mind when watching.
Ant-Man and Doctor Strange proved that by this point in the franchise, audiences had enough trust in the MCU brand to give heroes they weren’t attached to a chance. They weren’t quite the juggernauts Marvel was going to need in a few years’s time, but there were still plenty of chances for these new heroes – and others – to prove themselves worthy and capable of headlining one of the biggest film franchises of all time.