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We all know where the MCU is headed. In 2018, Avengers: Infinity War is expected to be the crowning glory of the blockbuster film franchise, uniting countless superheroes in battle against the Mad Titan Thanos. Thanos is seeking out the infinite power associated with the Infinity Stones — six immensely powerful gems that, combined, will grant him power over all of reality. In the comics, Thanos was able to use their combined might to literally snuff out a third of all life in the universe — the stakes really are that high!
How Does Doctor Strange Fit Into This?
The Infinity Stones have been hidden for an unknown time-period, but Thanos's machinations have brought them all out into play. Most troubling of all for the #Avengers, they keep turning up on Earth! Doctor Strange hints at why; it seems one Infinity Stone has been kept on Earth for centuries. Hidden within the Eye of Agamotto, the Time Stone was studied by the 18th-century sorcerer Cagliostro, who learned how to tap into its power. In the comics, the Infinity Gems have a cosmic relationship with one another, and can actually affect reality so as to be drawn to one another. With an Infinity Stone kept on Earth for centuries, it's no surprise that Earth is at the center of it all!
The climax of Doctor Strange bears witness to the power of the Time Stone. With the Hong Kong Sanctum destroyed, the Dark Dimension was finally breaking through, with Dormammu aiming to bring our reality under his rule. Doctor Strange used the Time Stone to reverse this, buying the Masters of the Mystic Arts some time, and then confronted Dormammu himself. A clever use of the Time Stone left the Dread Lord imprisoned in a time loop, and soon Strange had secured a deal that saved the world.
Why This Matters
Doctor Strange is different to every other #Marvel movie, in that the Infinity Stone is not presented as a problem, but, rather, as a solution. Previous films had consistently used the Infinity Stone as the object of a villain's desire — whether you're talking about Ronan, Malekith, or the Red Skull, we always saw the Infinity Stones as objects to be feared. Doctor Strange reminds us that the power of an Infinity Stone can be used for good as well as for evil; they don't have to be held in the hands of the villains.
This is a truly important point, because it shows the Infinity Stones as morally neutral — they aren't bad in and of themselves. They are only as dangerous as the man or woman who wields their power.
In terms of the overall narrative of the MCU, this is a truly important distinction. If the Infinity Gems are the problem, then the overall narrative is focused upon them. If the Infinity Gems are morally neutral, then the focus of the narrative shifts to the one who seeks their infinite power: Thanos himself. Doctor Strange subtly alters the MCU's overarching narrative in order to fix it in on the Mad Titan. It's a stroke of genius.
For me, then, Doctor Strange was a breath of fresh air. It moved out of the formulaic Marvel plots — where the Infinity Stone was coveted by the villain, and would bring doom to the world / cosmos / universe. Instead, it showed the Infinity Stone as the solution to the world-ending crisis, and in so doing it subtly adjusted the overall structure of the MCU. I'm impressed.