Every movie, no matter how great or terrible, has plot holes. Some bit of logic that was overlooked by the filmmakers, or contradictory events in the story; they just happen.
Doctor Strange is another crowd-pleasing blockbuster from superhero factory Marvel Studios. It’s a rousing adventure that for the first time reveals the multiverse and brings magic to the Avengers’ superheroics. As much fun as the movie is, it’s not exempt from lapses in logic. If anything, the fact that it’s about magic makes it even easier for it to bypass common sense, because the entire thing is based on total suspension of disbelief. Almost any plot hole that pops up can be explained away with magic.
But if Harry Potter has taught us anything, it’s that even magic has to have rules. Here are Doctor Strange’s 15 Biggest Plot Holes.
15. A Really Big Promotion
Doctor Strange uses several “time jumps” in its storytelling. We know it starts during the events of Captain America: Civil War, because War Machine’s spinal injury was one of the cases offered to Strange while he was driving his Lamborghini before it crashed. We also know it ends shortly before next year’s Thor: Ragnarok. But the path it takes to get there is full of fits and starts. The first half of the film fast-forwards through several months of time from the car accident, Strange’s recovery, multiple attempts to regain the use of his hands, to finally his training at Kamar-Taj. Then the movie shifts into a different mode.
Starting with the scene where Strange uses the Eye of Agamotto to turn back time and read the stolen pages from the Book of Cagliostro, the rest of the movie appears to take place continuously, without any big jumps in time. During this sequence of scenes, he’s confronted by Mordo and Wong, the London Sanctum is destroyed, Strange is blown into the New York Sanctum, he explores it and fights Kaecilius there, and on it goes right up through to the climax in Hong Kong.
Smack in the middle of all this, impressed by his battle against Kaecilius, the Ancient One suddenly names Stephen a Master. It begs the question: How far along was he in his training at this point? The fact that mere seconds stretch to minutes while astrally projected means Strange studying as his body slept could expand his studies – but had no other student thought of it? Whether he was close to the end of his Kamar-Taj studies or not, we’ll never know.
But if the second half of the film takes place over the course of a single day and night, that was quite a hike up the totem pole. He started the day as a student, and was practically (but not quite) the Sorcerer Supreme before he went to bed.
14. The Miraculous Recovery
After all the heavy drama of the movie’s first half, things kick into high gear in hour two, with nearly non-stop excitement. There’s fight scenes, plot twists, and an apocalyptic invasion, all of it peaking with a mind-bending foot chase through a New York that’s like Inception on speed.
Before that big set piece, Doctor Strange has a brutal fight against Kaecilius and his disciples in New York’s Sanctum Sanctorum. It’s during this fight that he suffers a life-threatening injury in the form of a (mystical) blade to the chest. Strange quickly flees, stumbling through the Sanctum until he opens a portal to his old hospital, where his ex, Christine Palmer, treats him. It’s an exhilarating sequence that includes fisticuffs on the astral plane.
But when the fight is done and Christine has patched him up, Strange makes an insanely fast recovery. That stab wound was awfully close to his heart, yet a few short scenes (and a matter of hours, in-world) later, he’s taking on the mystical big bad in the Dark Dimension. One could argue that Strange’s having mastered the mystic arts aided in fast-forwarding through his healing. But if that was the case, wouldn’t his hands have been restored by the movie’s end, too? (They were shown to be still shaking in a final scene.)
13. The Locked-Up Books Without Any Locks
Where most of the items on this list could be explained away with the proper application of magic, this one’s just a big, fat, glaring oversight in terms of logic. In the library at Kamar-Taj there is a section of books dubbed ‘the Ancient One’s private collection, containing dark knowledge that no one but she could be trusted with. One of these books had the incantation for accessing Dormammu’s Dark Dimension and the power of eternal life.
Wong clarifies that “no knowledge is forbidden” for students, but these books contain the practices to use that knowledge for dark purposes. Seems like a good distinction. The problem? Nobody thought to add locks. Or, you know, keep them somewhere slightly out of public view. What good are all those chains and fancy frames if you could just give the chain a tug and instantly access a book capable of ending the world? If it’s the honor system, it’s insanely naive. And sure, the security system was intended to be the human master of the library, but both Kaecilius and Strange showed just how easy it was to get around that.
12. A Strange Eye
When Doctor Strange snuck into the Kamar-Taj library and used the Eye of Agamotto to read the missing pages from the Book of Cagliostro, it wasn’t long before Mordo and Wong caught him red-handed. They launched into a stern lecture about the dangers of messing with time (which we’ll come back to in a minute), and Wong put the evil volume back where it belonged.
So why didn’t they pull off the Eye of Agamotto from around his neck at the same time? Wong grabbed the book; Mordo could have snatched the amulet. The movie wants you to think the attack on the London Sanctum happens so quickly after their reprimanding of Strange that they didn’t have time to return the Eye to its little holder thing.
Story-wise, it really doesn’t make any sense that safeguarding an artifact of such power — it’s an Infinity Stone! — would be anything less than priority number one for a couple of master sorcerers. It was way more important than the book, especially since the book’s key pages had already been torn out.
11. Infinite Loop
To take down the ultimate villain, Doctor Strange knew it would require more than just magic. He would have to employ some human ingenuity that Dormammu would never see coming.
After hearing Kaecilius mention that the Dark Dimension is “beyond time,” Strange flies into the rift above the Hong Kong Sanctum to confront Dormammu in person. There, in the Dark Dimension, the good doctor cleverly uses the Eye of Agamotto to create a time loop, trapping himself and Dormammu in the same moment, over and over. He effectively makes Dormammu his prisoner in that never-ending moment, and bargains Earth’s freedom in exchange for breaking the loop.
So here’s the thing. How do you create a time loop in a dimension where time doesn’t exist? Not only doesn’t exist, but isn’t even capable of affecting it? Isn’t that like trying to make tomato soup without any tomatoes? You could argue that Strange was able to use the amulet to bring time with him to Dormammu’s dimension — especially since the heart of the amulet is the Time Stone, a powerful, primordial object with origins that precede the universe itself.
But time is a universal constant; we can swallow Strange’s ability to fiddle with it, but transplanting it wholesale from one place to another? That feels like a convenient stretch. It certainly reinforces the power of the Infinity Stones, though, if just one of them could defeat an entity as colossally strong as Dormammu.
10. The Flaw In the Plan
Before becoming a sorcerer, Kaecilius suffered personal losses. Although he dedicated himself to the Ancient One’s teachings, something happened that caused him to question her. The movie never reveals what triggered this rebellion — aside from some of the same innate arrogance later demonstrated by Stephen Strange.
None of this is hard to swallow; death of loved ones or fear of one’s own death is often the motivator for many a character’s actions. What’s hard to get your head around is how he expected to resolve his personal issues by ending the world. That’s like burning down a coliseum to kill a cockroach.
Kaecilius’ stated goal was to cure death by giving everyone on Earth eternal life — including, and especially, himself. He somehow discovered that the key to eternal life was to do what the Ancient One had done and tap into Dormammu’s power. But however the Ancient One had gone about it, she was savvy enough to do it without allowing it to taint her or harm the world. When Kaecilius did it, it opened a rift between dimensions that would allow Dormammu to consume the Earth.
9. Scrubbing In
After that spectacular chase scene through New York, the Ancient One arrives to smack down Kaecilius’ rebellion once and for all. But he manages to get the upper hand, mortally wounding her.
Doctor Strange rushes her to the hospital, where the surgical team prepares their attempt to save her life. Surprisingly, Strange himself dons surgical scrubs, a breathing mask, and latex gloves. Desperately wanting to save his mentor’s life, he picks up a scalpel, but finds that his hands are still too shaky to perform surgery.
Emotionally, in the heat of the moment, it’s understandable that he’d want to take responsibility for her life himself. But not only does the notion of Strange doing surgery at this time defy logic, it’s probably illegal. Consider the extent of his injuries after the car crash, and the many months of surgeries and healing that were required. Add months of his searching for experimental cures. Finally, we have to assume that he studied under the Ancient One for another period of several months, although the astral plane and the Mirror Dimension and all that could have helped to condense his training time. Even though it was mentioned that he was picking up sorcery remarkably fast, it was all told probably more than a year since he’d last performed surgery. Possibly a lot more.
Yet no one on staff at the hospital stepped up to say, “Um, he’s not really qualified to do this anymore, is he?” Not to mention the legality of him operating on someone when he was on record as being physical unable.
8. Weak Protection
We already know that sorcerers don’t seem to take security very seriously, if the “Dangerous Books” section in their library is any indication. It would seem that they consider the security of their three all-important Sanctums to be rather unimportant, too.
Look at the New York Sanctum. Its security consisted of one sorcerer (and a magic cape). It’s probably safe to assume that the London and Hong Kong Sanctums also had one master each, since London fell fast, and Hong Kong couldn’t stand against Kaecilius even with backup sent from Kamar-Taj.
Don’t forget: these three Sanctums are our planet’s only defense against mystical threats. Shouldn’t they have stronger safeguards, like several of the most elite master sorcerers stationed at each one?
7. Taking and Giving?
In the “tag” scene at the very end after the credits roll, we catch up with Jonathan Pangborn. Pangborn, as you may recall, was trained as a sorcerer but instead of becoming a mystical warrior, chose to return to his old life by restoring full use of his paralyzed legs.
Mordo soon appears and attacks poor Pangborn, claiming to have had a revelation that there are “too many sorcerers” in the world, upsetting the natural order of things. So what does he do? With a wave of his hand, he takes Pangborn’s powers.
Okay, so since when was this possible? Is it something only masters can do? And if a sorcerer’s powers can be stolen, can a non-magical person be given powers by a sorcerer? None of this was even remotely addressed in the movie, and came completely out of nowhere. Any storyteller will affirm that it’s not cool to change the rules in your last scene.
6. Turning Back Time
During the final fight in Hong Kong, Stephen Strange uses the Eye of Agamotto to reverse time to undo most or all of the damage Kaecilius had unleashed. By turning time back far enough, he’s able to restore the Hong Kong Sanctum, bring Wong (and presumably other sorcerers and civilians) back to life, and undo a ton of damage to the city.
So why not keep going? He could have taken things back further, to save the Ancient One from dying, and stop the London Sanctum’s destruction. Rewinding further, he could have prevented Kaecilius from stealing the pages from that book, or even gone back far enough to prevent himself from enduring all that nerve damage to his hands. And as the movie showed, he could exist outside of timeline changes, retaining everything he’d experienced and learned.
We have to assume the good Doctor was smart enough to know when to stop. Time manipulation is a violation of the natural order, after all; Mordo wasn’t wrong about that. So Strange was probably trying to minimize the damage by not turning things back too far. And since we saw him affect just an apple and then a book, we know that the rewinding effect can be localized, which is undoubtedly what happened in Hong Kong.
5. The Bill That Never Came Due
Man, Mordo loved to harp on this. Every time Doctor Strange even considered messing with time, Mordo turned into Mr. Buzzkill with all kinds of warnings about ripples in time, time loops, and alternate timelines. “Don’t use the Eye of Agamotto! It’ll have dire consequences to time and space!” Like that.
Even at the end of the movie, after Strange saved loads of lives by rewinding things a few minutes, Mordo was still all doom-and-gloom. “The bill always comes due,” he liked to say. The implication being: screw around with time, and there will always be a price to pay. He’s so uptight about Strange using the Eye to undo the whole Dormammu thing that you’d be forgiven for thinking Mordo’s actually arguing for the end of the world. (We think it was more in the neighborhood of “the ends don’t justify the means.”)
Except there were no consequences. Despite repeated mucking around with time — including creating one of those dreaded time loops to save the Earth — Strange never suffered a single consequence. Admittedly that could be saved for the inevitable sequel (or maybe Avengers 3), but there wasn’t even a hint of any lasting effects.
4. Where Y’all Been?
Doctor Strange is the fourteenth movie produced by Marvel Studios, and in several of the thirteen that came before, we’ve seen threats to the Earth of a mystical nature. Both Thor films featured attacks on Earth from other dimensions. A mystical being (Loki) attacked Earth with an alien army. Then there are those pesky Infinity Stones that keep popping up; including the one in Doctor Strange, we’ve now encountered five of the six — and four of them have actually been on Earth. And that doesn’t even get into all of the supernatural stuff that regularly turns up on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., like Ghost Rider or the Darkhold book.
If the sorcerers of Earth see it as their duty to protect Earth from mystical and extra-dimensional threats, they’ve been falling down on the job. Strange may have just signed up for duty, but the Ancient One has been around for a very long time, and we’ve seen the large number of butts she’s able to kick. So why have she and her sorcerers been keeping a low profile during all of these apocalyptic events?
Sure, the political wrangling of films like Captain America: The Winter Soldier or Iron Man 2 are outside of their purview. But the world could seriously have used the help of someone as powerful as the Ancient One during all these planet-sized threats. Why has she been holding back?
3. If a Portal Opens In the Woods…
After that one-on-three fight at the Sanctum Sanctorum, when Doctor Strange is stabbed by a mystical spear, he flees through a portal back to his old hospital so his ex-girlfriend can save his life. Good plan. Except…
He left the door open! You can’t just open a door to another part of New York City and leave it gaping wide open. There was probably a terrible draft coming into the hospital closet from that old mansion, and oh yeah, a lethal enemy bent on finishing him off. Dude!
Almost every other time we’d seen a Sling Ring used to open a portal, it would typically close after the person who’d formed it stopped rotating their hands. Except for that time the Ancient One opened a portal to Mount Everest and it stayed open until she walked back through it. And hey, Strange was barely clinging to life when he opened the portal to the hospital, so it’s not hard to imagine him leaving it open by accident. He had bigger issues on his mind.
2. The Three Sanctums
In the film, it’s explained that a super long time ago, a dude named Agamotto created his Eye amulet thing that Doctor Strange uses several times. He also took it upon himself to create a barrier around the Earth that would protect it from mystical threats. To that end, he built three “Sanctums” or mystical sanctuaries, in three major cities around the globe: New York, London, and Hong Kong.
So why were those cities chosen? We think it’s likely they’re built on lay lines, aka veins of mystical energy running beneath the Earth. Whether the cities already existed when Agamotto built the Sanctums, or the cities sprung up around the Sanctums, is never explained, but either explanation could logically fit.
But does anyone else think it’s awfully convenient that these three Sanctums just happen to be in three major cities — two of which (New York and London) also happen to have already played host to the biggest storylines in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? And while we’re at it, wouldn’t it make more sense, mathematically speaking, if the three special buildings powering an Earth-sized shield were placed at equidistant spots around the globe?
1. The Fickle Cloak
During the fight at the Sanctum Sanctorum, Doctor Strange narrowly avoided death several times, being severely outmatched by the enhanced skills and numbers of Kaecilius and his zealots. Only through some clever thinking and a little supernatural help did he manage to survive.
The most help he received in the Sanctum was from the Cloak of Levitation, a magic cape that allowed him to fly but also seemed to have a mind of its own. Not only did it protect him from Kaecilius’ attacks, it directed him to that cage thing that immobilized the villain.
But for all of those blows the Cloak blocked, why would it let him get stabbed in the chest? It could block all the other attacks, but the one that did the most damage, it just sat back and watched? Fickle much?