The Doctor Strange 2 post-credits scene brought another Hollywood A-lister into the MCU. Charlize Theron, who plays Fast and Furious character Cipher, has added one more franchise to her belt as Clea, the niece of Dormammu. Her appearance is brief and fleeting, just enough to get us wondering about Doctor Strange 3.
Theron’s introduction is much the same as Harry Styles showing up in the Eternals post-credits scene, where the pop icon teleports in as Eros, brother of Thanos, another nod to the burgeoning cosmic nature of Phase 4. Their surprise entrances are akin to professional wrestling, leaning on wide-eyed recognition to fuel our excitement, with Marvel Studios no doubt hoping to convert fans of either into further Disney Plus subscriptions and cinema tickets.
Certainly, the shock makes for effective eyebrow-raising in the moment, but employing the same gimmick twice in close proximity generates diminishing returns. Rolling out familiar faces is only as good as when those faces appear, and what they do thereafter, and in this case, it all seems a bit shallow.
For those unfamiliar, the surprise entrance is a common trope of pro wrestling where someone unexpected suddenly enters a match or event. It can be a highly anticipated return, perhaps from injury, or a stunning reveal that someone’s now signed with a new company. Edge coming out of retirement at WWE Royal Rumble 2020 is a perfect example.
The second his music hits, you can feel the electricity in the arena. People are on their feet in disbelief, completely blindsided by the R-Rated Superstar’s homecoming to the squared circle. AJ Styles walking through the curtain in 2016 yielded the same collective awe.
They were involved in the same match during different years, an annual 30-participant free-for-all, with the winner challenging for the world title at WrestleMania. The perfect opportunity to dazzle the audience with leftfield additions to the roster.
Adam Cole at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn 3; Jon Moxley at AEW Double or Nothing 2019; Sting at AEW Winter is Coming 2020; wrestling is full of moments like these. Larger than life characters revealing themselves at the opportune time to create larger than life moments that dominate fan discourse for months afterwards.
It’s a tried and tested way of garnering massive reaction, with the key component being a marriage of the right performer, at the right place, at the right time. Like ardent comics readers, wrestling fans have seen versions of every narrative arc repeated ad nauseam, whether they be sudden run-ins from a new villain, or a veteran that’s decided to have one last run. What always gets us is the execution.
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Jon Moxley appeared at the end of AEW’s first official pay-per-view as a proper company, mere weeks after he’d left WWE. It was the moment it became clear WWE had actual competition in American pro wrestling again for the first time in decades. A new stable, the Undisputed Era, formed around Adam Cole after he sneak-attacked top hero Drew McIntyre, changing the playing field of NXT overnight.
Marvel’s current penchant for dropping unexpected castings during the mid-credits epilogues has none of this. These gigantic celebrities are shown with little context or urgency. Harry Styles is now part of the biggest cinematic universe going – so what?
Theron will be galivanting around the multiverse with Benedict Cumberbatch while Dom Toretto chases her in muscle cars. OK, cool, but what does it actually matter?
Time was, MCU post-credits scenes were just as worthwhile as the films, either because of their immediacy, or their sense of danger – or both. Remember Nick Fury approaching Tony Stark about the Avengers Initiative? How about seeing Thanos for the first time? The Maximoff twins after Captain America: The Winter Soldier felt monumental, though none other than JK Simmons coming back as J Jonah Jameson in Spider-Man: Far From Home might be the pinnacle.
They fuelled theorising on nights out until their contents were addressed, and we’d reconsider everything with the latest information. We don’t know anything about what Eros is going to do, nor do we have any real clue what’s up with Clea.
In fact, unless you’ve got a real deep knowledge of Marvel comics, and we’re talking deep here, you don’t even know who either of them are. They’re just characters played by people you very likely recognise.
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The overall power dynamics haven’t been shifted somehow. Their presence hasn’t changed anything, at least not in any way that’s apparent. They’re there just to be there, in a way that feels cheap and predictable.
That’s the thing that wrestling is often so good at avoiding. Timing is everything, even if it’s an open secret. Jon Moxley was hotly-tipped to be moving to All Elite Wrestling, but there was a full pay-per-view going on – when would he make his move?
This year’s Royal Rumble featured Johnny Knoxville from Jackass, because when you’ve got 30 slots to fill anyone could be any number. Anticipation with a wide berth of possibility gives an edge of unpredictability to even the most mechanical of stories.
Marvel’s painted itself into a corner with its post-credit teases. We go in expecting these snippets to be there, containing something not present in the preceding movie. So Marvel has to excite us in an allotted timeframe that occurs at the same point in all of its projects. That doesn’t leave much room for spontaneity.
Curiously, Eternals has a second scene after the credits, where we get a hint of Mahershala Ali’s Blade. This is considerably more effective than the first, and only serves to highlight how lacklustre Styles and Theron’s moments are.
Blade’s already part of the fabric of the wider universe, and he hasn’t even fully shown up yet. Eros and Clea will be around, but who knows when we’ll see them again, and more importantly, why should we care?
Wrestling has a penchant for this sometimes too: AEW has developed a habit of bringing on former WWE talent that’s becoming formulaic. But occasionally you’ll get a perfect storm like CM Punk confirming he’s back in business during an episode of AEW Rampage. We’d all guessed because the show was happening in Chicago, Punk’s hometown, but still seeing him make his way down to the ring was surreal.
Sometimes it’s just about doing something that previously seemed completely implausible. That’s what it felt like when Nick Fury first introduced himself, or Thor met Doctor Strange, or Ayesha pointed towards Adam Warlock’s chamber in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2.
The MCU needs to find a new brand of ridiculous, or it mightn’t be the thing we’re still talking about after we’re done watching.