SPOILER WARNING: Massive spoilers follow for Avengers: Infinity War. See that movie at least one more time before checking back here.
One of the best things about the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the characters. It's what keeps people going back for more to the point where putting all of these characters in one place led to Avengers: Infinity War making $1 billion dollars in less than two weeks. The MCU has made worldwide icons out of B-list superheroes, turning a guy like Captain America (Chris Evans) into a total badass or forging a critically acclaimed movie around a talking tree and raccoon. It only makes the somewhat underwhelming Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) all the more apparent.
Or, at least, he was underwhelming before Infinity War happened and shot Doctor Strange up my list of favorites like a damn rocket.
It's not that I didn't like Doctor Strange before. I liked him just fine, but I was more attracted to the magical world that he was operating in than the character himself. I think it's fair to say that Stephen Strange was no Captain America, Iron Man, or Star-Lord. Similarly, his movie is just fine, too. It's not bad, but it's about mid-tier Marvel. It was an origin film that did its job and set up a future franchise character that I'd want to see again but could wait. Little did I know that Doctor Strange's next major appearance (excluding cameos) would give him a major shot of adrenaline and prove just what value he has in the universe removed from the confines of a limited origin movie.
Part of the reason that I think Doctor Strange works so well in Infinity War is that we are seeing him at close to his max potential. Ultimately, none of these MCU heroes are meant to be by themselves. Like any great toy box, they are supposed to be played with together, and the real power comes from those combinations. In Infinity War, we see how Doctor Strange is supposed to play in the grander scheme of things. He's a defender of the realm with the multiverse on his shoulders, taking charge of the situation and recruiting the people he needs. This is exactly what his origin film was setting him up to be, and it's so much more fun than watching his ghost read books.
Another big part of Strange's appeal comes in pairing him off with the rest of the MCU, in this case, his perfect match: Tony Stark. The two are very similar characters and their egos continually clash throughout their time together. This pairing works far better than anything in Doctor Strange, in which most of the side characters are forgettable (with the exception of Wong, who also gets an Infinity War boost). Whereas Strange pretty much ran the show, in Infinity War Strange is forced to meet his match, giving his personality a little extra fire.
It's also nice to see Strange performing his duties as the wizard defender of the universe. His whole origin film was about accepting that role, and now we get the actual meat of what this job entails. Turns out that it involves being ice cold, such as when Strange promises Stark that he won't ever give up the Time Stone even if Stark and Spider-Man are in danger. The burden of the universe is just too great to worry about a few lives.
Of course, Strange does end up trading the Time Stone for Stark's life, which only highlights one the most awesome parts of the movie: Strange's vision of the future. Using the Time Stone, Strange goes deep sci-fi and looks to the future of over 14 million timelines in which they battle Thanos. They only ever win once. Strange is the only person who knows how they beat Thanos, so all the pressure is on him to make sure that it happens exactly like how he saw it. That means letting the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy lose, wiping out half of reality -- himself included. That takes a lot of guts, but Strange was willing to put himself aside for the greater good of the universe.
And, of course, we can't talk about Strange without bringing up the action. Strange is an MVP in this movie. His powers have grown exponentially from being barely able to conjure a shield. Now he has a whole arsenal of new spells at his disposal, like comic book favorites such as the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak (those red straps that held back Thanos) and the Images of Ikonn (all the clones he made). Strange was also a great team player, supporting other heroes with portals and platforms to jump around. He went mano a mano against Thanos for crying out loud, turning a black hole into a bunch of butterflies! He's still got those sparkly shields and whips, but this is Doctor Strange as he should be.
Avengers: Infinity War was a packed film, with plenty of other characters that needed attention, but I'm glad that Strange was given his due. Despite that ending saying otherwise, I'm way more excited to see what Doctor Strange 2 has in store. Plus, I NEED more of the Cloak of Levitation, the movie's other MVP.