Spoiler Warning: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)
One of the biggest questions heading into Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was who would serve as the primary antagonist to Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). In the end, it turns out Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olson) was the film’s primary antagonist, attempting to use the Darkhold to kill and steal America Chavez’s (Xochitl Gomez) multiverse traveling powers so that she could reunite with Tommy (Jett Klyne) and Billy (Julian Hilliard) in another version of earth. It was not a surprise to see Wanda embrace her worst impulses and become a villain, as it was suggested she might fall for the temptations of the Darkhold at the end of WandaVision.
Having lost Vision (Paul Bettany) twice now and her sons Tommy and Billy, Wanda finds herself at the peak of her powers but at her worst place mentally, making her more dangerous than ever. Regardless it was still a shock to see Wanda go from protagonist back to antagonist after audiences came to root for her in WandaVision. It seemed more likely that Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) would have served as the primary antagonist for Multiverse of Madness after he swore to rid the world of sorcerers who abuse their power at the end of Doctor Strange.
Mordo does make an appearance in the Multiverse of Madness, but his role is nowhere near as significant as was expected. Despite Mordo not playing a massive role in Doctor Strange 2, it still does not change his conflict with Strange. Mordo’s hatred for Strange has likely intensified after he tampered with the Book of Vishanti in the film, making Mordo one of Strange’s greatest adversaries in the coming Marvel phases.
Mordo Brings Stephen to Kamar-Taj
Mordo and Strange’s relationship begins when Strange attempts to seek out Kamar-Taj in the hopes of healing his hands the same way that Jonathan Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt) healed his spine. Strange has difficulty finding Kamar-Taj, but Mordo hears Strange asking people about it and decides to follow him. After Strange wanders down an alleyway, he is attacked by a group of muggers, who are foiled by Mordo who comes to Strange’s defense. Mordo brings Strange to Kamar-Taj to meet the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), but he’s kicked out after Strange disrespects their practices.
Ironically, it is Mordo who convinces the Ancient One to let Strange back in, telling her that he has strength and he must not be lost to the darkness. To quell the Ancient One’s fears of Strange’s narcissism, Mordo states he too was not perfect when he came, only desiring revenge, but she gave him the power to overcome this desire and defeat his inner demons. With a war coming against Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), Mordo claims they need a man like Strange. Because of Mordo’s pleading, Strange is brought back in and given a chance to train.
During Strange’s training, Mordo is a crucial ally, helping him use his sling ring and training him for combat. When the Ancient One abandons Strange atop Mount Everest to motivate him into opening a portal for the first time, Mordo seems concerned for Strange, pondering going in after him. Strange’s closest friend during his time at Kamar-Taj is Mordo, but as audiences know this friendship was not to last. While training together, Strange asks Mordo why he would follow someone he knows nothing about, to which Mordo says it’s important to trust your teacher and not lose your way. Mordo was saved spiritually by the Ancient One after the loss of his wife and to him, he owes her everything.
In a way, Strange sows the seeds of his conflict with Mordo, as after he fights Kaecilius he reveals to Mordo that the Ancient One had been drawing off the dark dimension to stay alive. Strange rattles Mordo’s faith, the same faith that had kept his demons in check and prevented him from giving in to more violent inclinations.
The Rift Between Stephen Strange & Mordo
Before dying, the Ancient One tells Strange that he needs Mordo’s strength just as Mordo needs Stephen’s flexibility and ability to break the rules to serve the greater good. It can be argued that the Ancient One had taken power from the Dark Dimension to live because there was no worthy successor or anyone else capable of dealing with mystical threats at the time. It explains why she admired Strange’s resolve to do what it takes to benefit all.
After the death of the Ancient One, Mordo believes the contrary, that it was her abuse of the dark dimension that led Kaecilius to his betrayal as a consequence of interfering with the laws of nature. Strange is able to get Mordo to come with him to fight Dormammu, but when Strange uses the time stone to reverse Kaecilius’ victory and deceive Dormammu into capitulating, Mordo draws the line and declares he’ll no longer serve Kamar-Taj.
There were no catastrophic consequences for the Ancient One drawing from the dark dimension or Strange using the time stone. Still, Mordo believes by interfering with nature’s laws, the consequences will eventually catch up in a way that destroys the reality they’ve been trying to protect. In the film’s final end credit scene, Mordo takes back Jonathan Pangborn’s power to heal his spine and declares the biggest problem is that there are too many sorcerers wielding an intense amount of power.
Mordo is not necessarily wrong, as the powers they deal with are so strong that giving them to so many people could result in disaster. Wanda’s takeover of Westview was a prime example of the danger of the powers they deal with, but if Mordo had his way, Strange would not have given up the time stone, and the snap / Thanos’ victory would have likely been permanent. In that sense, the Ancient One may have predicted the future because Thanos would have decimated the universe without Strange’s flexibility.
Mordo is the Sorcerer Supreme in Multiverse of Madness
In Multiverse of Madness, Mordo is the sucerer supreme of a different earth known as Earth-838. When Strange and America meet with Mordo, Strange tells America that Mordo attempted to kill him multiple times (off-screen) on Earth-616. To Strange’s astonishment, Mordo hugs him and greets the duo with kindness, but to their dismay, Mordo inevitably drugs them, turning Strange over to the Illuminati for judgment.
Mordo emphatically states that this Strange is no different from their own, as Earth-838 Strange had used the Darkhold to try and kill Thanos. Due to Earth-838’s Strange using these powers, an incursion almost occurred, forcing the Illuminati to execute him to save their universe. Wanda shows up before any judgment is cast, and Mordo and Strange brawl, with the latter winning. Strange claimed that this Mordo deposed Earth-838 Strange to become sorcerer supreme himself, but there is never any direct evidence that this is the case. It’s a rather underwhelming return for Mordo, as no real progress is made in his conflict with Strange. Earth-838 Mordo is simply a mechanism to introduce the Illuminati. With Strange returning to Earth-616, it’s unlikely that anything that happens between these two will have any bearing on their future conflict on Earth-616.
In an alleged deleted scene for Multiverse of Madness that the film was to open with, Mordo goes after Wanda in her orchard to kill her for abusing magic in Westview. Mordo was supposedly decapitated in this scene, which would have meant the end for his character on Earth-616. It certainly would have been a jarring way to start the film. It was likely not included because it would have been a poor payoff to Mordo’s declaration of war on sorcerers. The anticipated conflict between Strange and Mordo would have never occurred.
While they fight on Earth-838, this is not the same vengeful Mordo as the one in Strange’s universe. This Mordo might have played a role in Earth-838’s Strange being executed, but he’s still faithful to the mystic arts, serving as the sorcerer supreme. Earth-616’s Mordo has lost his way and given into his past demons, making him more volatile and deadly than ever before. Hopefully the sparing of Earth-616’s Mordo means he will serve as a greater antagonist in the coming Doctor Strange movies and audiences will finally get that on-screen confrontation between him and Earth-616’s Strange.
While the two are certain to butt heads in the future, there’s a chance Mordo could return to the mystic arts if Strange is able to help him keep his demons in check like the Ancient One did. Together with Wong and Strange, Mordo would prove a crucial ally in protecting the multiverse, adding a much-needed strength to the trio. Still, only time will tell if Mordo becomes a greater adversary or rekindles the friendship he once had with Strange.