The Marvel Cinematic Universe officially kicked off Phase 3 earlier this year with Captain America: Civil War, which pitted most of the heroes established throughout Phases 1 and 2 against each other in the debate over the Sokovia Accords. Now, the second entry in Phase 3 is set to introduce an entirely new hero to the MCU – Stephen Strange a.k.a. Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) – as well as new mythology in the form of mysticism, magic, and sorcerers.
Along with the Sorcerer Supreme, the upcoming Marvel Studios film will introduce a host of new characters, including sorcerer mentor the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), fellow Masters of the Mystic Arts Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong), as well as the movie’s main villain and former student of the Ancient One, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen). While on the set of Doctor Strange, director Scott Derrickson and Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige spoke about the villain in particular, discussing Kaecilius’ beliefs and how they differ from the Ancient One and Doctor Strange.
In an interview with Screen Rant on the set of Doctor Strange, Feige revealed that Kaecilius was formerly a part of the Ancient One’s Master of the Mystic Arts in their home of Kamar-Taj (an isolated community located near Tibet). Prior to the beginning of the film, Kaecilius “defected” from Kamar-Taj with a group they call zealots because “they believe The Ancient One is not being truthful in the way that she is teaching magic, is teaching sorcery.” Feige expanded on the “philosophical break” between Kaecilius’ group and the Ancient One’s Masters:
“They believe she is withholding secrets that should not be withheld, and think that maybe it’s not a bad thing if other dimensions absorb our reality. In fact, that could lead to benefits such as immortality. They may also lead to destroying the entire world as we know it. But it is definitely a philosophical break that he has from the rest of the sorcerers that is his primary angst over the course of the movie.”
The different philosophies that Feige mentions between Kaecilius and Doctor Strange will be at the heart of the conflict in the film. But, while establishing and developing the villain, Derrickson noted that it was important for Kaecilius to be somewhat sympathetic – both in terms of the viewers’ perceptions of the character, and to Stephen Strange. In many ways Kaecilius seems to be the personification of the evil side of the new powers introduced in Doctor Strange. But, at the end of the day, the director said Kaecilius is “a man of ideas,” and Derrickson likened the antagonist to other famous movie villains:
“My favorite thing about [Kaecilius] is he is a man of ideas. And that to me what always is compelling about villains, you know. I am much more interested in how they think than in what they even do. My favorite villain being John Doe in Seven who does these extraordinary things and is so scary, but – for me – the scariest scene in that movie is the ride into the desert when he articulates why. I got terrified, I felt nauseous watching that movie, because I was like ‘oh my God, he makes sense.’ Oh my God, how can this be?! You know, and it was that watertight logic of what he says. Same thing with The Joker in The Dark Knight. … So I’m not saying our villain is as great as John Doe or Heath Ledger’s Joker [laughs] but he is a man of ideas and to me that’s what makes villains compelling.”
Of course, one of the major criticisms of Marvel movies has been that the villains are underdeveloped, with motivations that are either thinly explained or downright confusing to the viewer. In many cases, Marvel films have employed faceless armies of antagonists – The Avengers in particular, though Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: Age of Ultron are also guilty of this practice. It remains to be seen whether Kaecilius and his zealots will rise above the Marvel villain pattern or fall into it, but Derrickson at least hints toward plenty of development of Kaecilius.
Feige, for his part, explained that Kaecilius will be tied into the magic introduced in Doctor Strange so as to help audiences understand this entire new realm of mythology being added to the MCU. Doctor Strange will be diving into a part of the Marvel Comics mythos that has yet to be explored in the live-action universe, and Kaecilius is another way for the film to immerse viewers in that new mythology. Feige said:
“I think in the case of any – you want to have characters that inhabit the same world when introducing a new world, a new mythology for lack of a better term. You want to explore that as much as you can. Kaecilius doesn’t know Strange from a hole in the wall. He predates him. But when you’re teaching an audience about sorcerers and that reality and you’re going to talk about the past anyway and you’re going to get into their history anyway, much better to tie-in your bad guy with that.”
Certainly, as Feige explains, Kaecilius will help to explain the history of magic and mysticism as it relates to the MCU, offering more depth beyond the Ancient One’s views that she shares with her Masters of the Mystic Arts. Plus, as “a man of ideas” Kaecilius will provide a contrast to Stephen Strange as he learns of both sides of the mystic arts. But, since Doctor Strange is tasked with introducing an entire new side to the MCU, it remains to be seen how Derrickson, Feige, Cumberbatch, Mikkelsen and everyone else involved in the film help to elevate Kaecilius to a villain worthy of facing the Sorcerer Supreme.
Doctor Strange opens November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man: Homecoming– July 7, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017; Black Panther – February 16, 2018; Avengers: Infinity War – May 4, 2018; Ant-Man and the Wasp – July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel– March 8, 2019; Untitled Avengers – May 3, 2019; and as-yet untitled Marvel movies on July 12, 2019, and on May 1, July 10, and November 6 in 2020.