It’s an interesting move and one that will reportedly put Strange in the mentor and father figure role previously held by the late Tony Stark in Spider-Man: Homecoming and various other MCU movies, and, to a lesser extent, Nick Fury in Spider-Man: Far From Home – though Nick Fury is less “father figure,” more “drill sergeant.”
With Doctor Strange now playing a role in the third movie, it just lends more evidence to my guess that Sony and Marvel are building up a cinematic multiverse between them. The very title of the Doctor Strange sequel, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, proves that Marvel, at least, is opening up its world to the multiverse. But it appears Sony will be in on the multiple worlds action, as well. With his ability to connect to multiple timelines and dimensions, Strange might even be the reason Jamie Foxx’s Electro is appearing in the universe of Tom Holland’s Peter Parker when he first appeared in the Sony Spider-Man movies toplined by Andrew Garfield.
Beyond that, I’m excited to see Tom Holland get some time to play off Benedict Cumberbatch. Spider-Man and Doctor Strange haven’t had much of a chance to interact in the MCU so far, aside from a few scenes in Avengers: Infinity War. But now that Tony Stark is gone, they’ll be allowed to more fully explore that dynamic, and I personally am eager to see how they do. The Sorcerer Supreme and the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man have a great mentor-mentee relationship in the comics, with perhaps no interaction between them being more memorable than the one in Amazing Spider-Man #500. In it, Peter Parker, who is struggling with the weight of being Spider-Man, gets stuck in some time loop shenanigans and is forced to relive various pivotal moments of his life with the choice before him: Would he do it all the same way now that he has the chance to rewrite the past? Would he willingly choose to still become Spider-Man, with what he knows now, with all he’s lost?
Because Peter Parker is who he is – one who will do the right thing no matter the cost to himself – he chooses yes, even though it’s a decision that all but breaks him. He screams in rage and pain right as the Peter Parker of the past screams as the spider bites him.
Enter Doctor Strange.
As a defeated Peter crouches huddled in despair, Strange prompts Spider-Man to do the thing he’s always done: Get up one last time. Get up one last time and follow his voice through the time loop and out of the darkness.
It’s Doctor Strange who ultimately saves him, acting as the angel Clarence to Peter’s George Bailey. As he leads Peter through time to crucial points in his life in an It’s a Wonderful Life-style retrospective, it gives the struggling Spidey a new perspective on what he’s accomplished as Spider-Man. Doctor Strange shows Peter that what he’s done has made a difference in the lives of many, that is has caused positive ripple effects, and that being Spider-Man is not a burden, but a gift.
It’s not exactly a cheerleading pep talk – that’s not Stephen Strange’s style – but it’s the honest truth Peter needs to hear at a time he most needs to hear it. It’s a hallmark of his innately compassionate but often guilt-riddled nature that Spider-Man struggles with the gravity of the responsibility on him and he has a hard time letting go of the people he could not save, the villains he could not stop. More than any other of Peter Parker’s mentors, Stephen Strange has always recognized this struggle within Spider-Man and gifts him with the knowledge Peter needs to keep going. Stephen Strange is not a comforting role model, nor even the one who interacts with Spider-Man most, but he’s perhaps the one who sees Peter the most clearly.
If Marvel can capture this dynamic between Holland and Cumberbatch, or at least close to it, it will make for a richer and much more interesting third Spider-Man movie. The MCU version of Spider-Man is a very young, naive version of the superhero, less Spider-Man and more Spidey. But already, we’re seeing him grow up on screen. The wide-eyed teenager in Spider-Man: Homecoming was changed by the events of Avengers: Infinity War and the Spider-Man of his third movie will be further matured and changed by the events of Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home. He may only be 16, but he already has memories and burdens on him that no kid should have to bear. He’ll only have more as his responsibilities increase, and I hope the inclusion of Stephen Strange in the third Spider-Man movie means they’ll explore this. It would be excellent to see the relationship between Spider-Man and Doctor Strange move to the forefront of the MCU – or the Marvel-Sony multiverse.
Spider-Man 3 is set to hit theaters on December 17, 2021. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is set to hit theaters on March 25, 2022.