We're now just 10 days out from the release of Avengers: Infinity War, which means the speculation over who will survive to fight another day in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is about as rampant as it's ever been (until tomorrow, when there will inevitably be more). At this point, with numerous future films still unannounced (Black Panther and Spider-Man already have sequels on the way, so they're likely safe), a big chunk of the MCU's collection of heroes is fair game, among them Dr. Stephen Strange, played by Benedict Cumberbatch.
Cumberbatch made his debut in the MCU in late 2016 in the first Doctor Strange solo film. Since then he's appeared briefly in Thor: Ragnarok and looks to have a prominent role in Infinity War as both the Sorcerer Supreme and the guardian of the Time Stone (held inside the Eye of Agamotto amulet). With all of that in mind, he seems poised to be a major player in the next phase of the MCU... unless he isn't. As strong as Strange may be as a character within the universe, in reality he still doesn't have that one essential thing that guarantees a future in superhero cinema: an announced sequel.
Speaking to Radio Times this week while on the Infinity War press tour, Cumberbatch again expressed uncertainty over his character's future at Marvel, reminding us all that the promise in the Doctor Strange credits that he would return has already been fulfilled.
"It’s only [written at] the end of the first film, 'Doctor Strange will be back.’ I have been back, in Thor: Ragnarok, and obviously in [Avengers: Infinity War]," Cumberbatch said, essentially restating a point he made in another interview with MTV a few days earlier.
Cumberbatch also noted that, since he hasn't seen the finished film yet, he can't even be sure how much of his character made it into Infinity War.
“I haven’t seen the film, so God knows, [the footage that's already been shown] might be it,” he said.
“They might have just teased me into a London fan-fest because, ‘Oh look, you’re in a bit of the film.’ And that might be all of it.”
Now, up to this point, all of these remarks could read as the star of a movie simply teasing out his character's fate for the benefit of fans, keeping any secrets he might actually have to himself until after the film is released. After all, Infinity War's production was so secretive that fake script pages were handed out, even the cast doesn't know the full ending, and virtually no one will see the entire film until its premiere next week. With all that taken into account, it's easy to see why Cumberbatch is avoiding saying anything definitive. Then there's this:
“So there’s nothing to say, either contractually or otherwise, that [Doctor Strange is] coming back again," he said.
That adds an interesting wrinkle to the uncertain future of Doctor Strange. Chris Evans is apparently at the end of his original contract with Marvel, but that's after three Captain America films and four (as far as we know) Avengers films. Cumberbatch has only made one Doctor Strange film, made a brief appearance in a Thor film, and, assuming he survives Infinity War, shot material for two Avengers films. It's entirely possible that Avengers 4 will indeed be it for his character, because Marvel's been keeping the fates of most of its characters following their struggle with Thanos under wraps for some time, but this is Stephen Strange we're talking about.
In the world of Marvel Comics he's one of the most powerful humans in the universe, the Sorcerer Supreme, a member of the Illuminati and a sort of elder statesman among superheroes. At a time when it's possible that other Marvel stars who've been around longer are preparing to hang up their costumes, you'd think a character like Strange would stick around to help anchor the next phase of the shared universe. According to Cumberbatch, though, nothing is guaranteed beyond Infinity War at this point, so we're either waiting just a bit longer for Doctor Strange 2 or waiting forever.
Avengers: Infinity War is in theaters April 27. What do you think? Is Stephen Strange sticking around?