Doctor Strange is being widely touted as the first Marvel film in a while to significantly upend the general understanding of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, mainly inasmuch as it will introduce the concept of mysticism and magic (as opposed to science-as-magic as seen in the Thor movies) to the mega-franchise. Indeed, this would mark the most significant leap forward for the MCU since Guardians of The Galaxy added entire new solar-systems worth of worlds and characters to the mix several years back, and with similar broad-reaching implications.
But now, a curious quote from Doctor Strange actor Benedict Cumberbatch has raised the possibility that the film could bring an even bigger (and much more terrestrial) shift than anyone had been anticipating.
The quote in question comes from a response to a recent interview question put to the Sherlock star by ScreenRant, wherein Cumberbatch was asked about the pressure of bring such an important new character to the bigger Marvel Universe picture and responded:
"I think playing any iconic role when you’re stepping into big shoes, into the shadow of people who have come before you and you can’t process that in a movie to movie basis … I’m excited to see where the Illuminati and whatever else might happen, how that works, and where it ends up. So, yeah, I’m aware of his place within the comic pantheon of it all, the Marvelverse, but I don’t email Kevin saying, “When are we doing next film?” I’m excited to see. I’m excited to see. And as you know, from all these previous incarnations, they play out in unexpected ways from the comic format and journey, so they manage to both fulfill that magical space of doing things that seem to please diehard fans and bring something new as well. So, I guess that’ll be the centerpiece for this guy’s journey."
As befits the famously talkative star, that's quite a lot of words for a sentiment that ultimately boils down to "I don't know yet." But what's sure to jump out to many fans is the use of a single word, "Illuminati," which carries with it the possibility that Doctor Strange himself may have just (unintentionally?) revealed the next big story turn for the broader Marvel Universe continuum.
While the name "Illuminati" originated with a short-lived "secret society" (an ideological-offshoot of Freemasonry, specifically) that was suppressed for pushing secular social-reforms between 1776 and 1785 in Bavaria, it has since been co-opted to identify both a dizzying number of (often nefarious) organizations in popular fiction and as a shorthand for alleged "real-life" conspiracy-theories throughout the 19th, 20th and 21st Centuries. But in the pages of Marvel Comics circa-2006, it was the name of a secret group of highly-placed and/or politically-powerful superheroes who met in secret to manipulate and control the events of the Marvel Universe from behind the scenes; with the original membership including Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Mr. Fantastic, Professor X, Black Bolt and Prince Namor (Black Panther was also invited, but declined over ideological objections).
It's unclear exactly what form or function The Illuminati would take in the Cinematic Universe - if that is indeed what Cumberbatch's words imply. In the comics, The Illuminati were shown to have had limited success in keeping major events in Marvel history from having spiraled out of control; but they were also unable to prevent several major tragedies and their (then) most recent decisions exacerbated the tense situations that led directly to the catastrophes of Civil War and World War Hulk.
Screen Rant will have more on this and other Doctor Strange news as it develops.
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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.