How does Doctor Strange's Captain America: The Winter Soldier name drop fit in the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline? The Russo brothers' first film had a big impact on the Marvel status quo and Captain America's (Chris Evans) future, and in amongst that was a tease meant to get fans excited for Strange's MCU future. It did just that at the time, but doesn't make a lot of sense now, especially after his MCU introduction.
At the heart of The Winter Soldier is the Bucky (Sebastian Stan) and Steve relationship, but the larger picture focuses on Hydra's infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D. This went all the way to the top with Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) pushing Project Insight through to meet their goals. This project involved the launch of three helicarriers that would patrol the world and be ready to take out any threats at a moment's notice - millions at a time. It is eventually revealed that the "threats" Project Insight will be targeting and killing are those who could potentially foil Hydra's takeover.
During Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) take sleeper Hydra agent Jasper Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernández) and force him to explain Project Insight. He confirms that the algorithm created by Arnim Zola can figure out any current or future threats to Hydra. He elaborates by explaining that the algorithm takes advantage of the "digital book" of the 21st century that examines bank records, medical histories, voting patterns, emails, phone calls, and even SAT scores so it "evaluates people's past to predict their future." He then name drops a collection of those targets: Bruce Banner, Steve Rogers, maybe even Moon Knight, and, somewhat surprisingly, Stephen Strange.
At the time of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Stephen Strange is a great surgeon but nothing more. He has no magical abilities or even any belief that such power exists in the world. The most that Project Insight may be able to determine at this point in Strange's life is that the arrogant and stubborn doctor could refuse to obey Hydra's commands. That's certainly enough to make him a target.
The confusing aspect isn't that he's a potential target, however, but more so that he is the only non-super (at the time) that Sitwell mentions by name. Out of the millions of people who would be singled out by Project Insight, a high-profile surgeon seems an odd one to namedrop alongside the Hulk; we see later in the film that both Tony Stark and President Ellis are targets, and that's just from the east coast. It makes sense knowing how important he will be, but Doctor Strange's journey to becoming a wizard only began after a random car crash; there's no reason for his magical powers to be a factor in Zola's algorithm, meaning Strange would be no different of a threat to Hydra than a random civilian.
So why is he mentioned by name? The real world explanation is that Marvel Studios was just planting seeds for a character they knew they were going to introduce soon but hadn't finalized the story for. After all, the Doctor Strange movie was announced a few months after Captain America: The Winter Soldier hit theaters, so this was likely the intent. In terms of continuity, aside from some bias on Sitwell's side, it doesn't add up.
- Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 05, 2019