Stephen Strange being on the hit list for Project Insight prior to being the Sorcerer Supreme:
Strange is famous for being a talented surgeon, and he could operate on other targets who may not have died straight away. This was implied in an interview with Kevin Feige: "So is Stephen Strange the Sorcerer Supreme? Probably not at that point in The Winter Soldier. Is he an unbelievably talented neurosurgeon whos opinionated and kind of arrogant? Probably. That might put him on the list."
The scene with Kaecilius trying to convince Strange to join him really drives the point home that he would never have accepted the regime Hydra wanted to bring.
Also, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. dropped the hint that Nick Fury, not wanting Coulson to know it was Kree blood that brought him back from the dead, entered it into S.H.I.E.L.D.'s own records that it was emergency surgery performed by Stephen Strange that saved Phil's life. As HYDRA had infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D., they had access to those records, so they assumed Strange was secretly a S.H.I.E.L.D. medical consultant! In actuality, Fury probably just pulled his name off a list of the best surgeons in the country, with no clue Stephen would be targeted or would later become a superhuman himself.
The song "Shining Star" by Earth, Wind & Fire. The song is about fulfilling your potential by following your dreams. Within the context of the movie, it fits Strange's Character Development. Throughout the movie, Strange initially starts out as preserving his own reputation and career. After his accident, Strange tries in vain to repair his hands, but later finds a true calling as the Master of the Mystic Arts. In other words, Strange realizes that his accident has opened doors for him.
Strange seems to have an obsession with time, as he has a wristwatch collection, and later, thanks to the Eye of Agamotto, becomes a Time Master. This is very fitting for a Doctor, who, while studying his/her career, has to schedule him/herself to attend all the classes, study by his/her own and, later on, practice at the hospitals with real patients. Not to mention that surgeons, specially those who work on particularly delicate areas (like a neurosurgeon), need extreme precision and efficiency, two concepts commonly associated with punctuality and good use of time; and, of course, in emergency cases, that need to be attended at soon as possible, time is a decisive factor. The very first indication of the movie's overaching theme of time? Strange asking another surgeon to cover his watch, as the ticking sound is distracting. Thematically, it's stalling for time while Dr. Strange saves a patient's life.
Why didn't Doctor Strange use the Eye of Agamotto to heal the Ancient One's wounds? Because it would have caused one of the time paradoxes Mordo and Wong were so worried about. Sure, this wasn't directly spelled out, but the fact that The Ancient One's prophetic powers were failing is indicative that her time was up, one way or another.
Earlier, while practicing with the Time Stone, the beginnings of time being splintered is shown. This is because Stephen had just created a time paradox by adding back a page that had been stolen, something which should be impossible.
The magic from the Eye of Agamotto wraps around Strange's wrist like a wristwatch. Fitting, considering the Eye of Agamotto is the Time Stone.
Stephen subjecting himself to experimental surgeries and treatments (none of which actually worked), combined with his rush to get back to form as soon as possible without taking proper time to heal may have exacerbated his condition. Compare his tremors when his bandages first come off to shortly before his trip to Nepal.
While explaining to Strange who Dormammu is, Mordo and Wong mention that while Dormammu craves to consume all realities and worlds, he holds a particular desire for Earth, the reason of which they don't explain at all. But his motives should be apparent by the end of the movie when it is revealed that the Eye of Agamotto is the Time Stone. That means that for centuries, if not millennia, the MCU Earth has been exposed to two Infinity Stones (the Tesseract and the Eye of Agamotto before the events of The Avengers; the same Eye and the Scepter since then). That much power concentrated in one world probably acted as a beacon drawing Dormammu to Earth.
When he finds out that Kaecilius can manipulate the real world, Dr. Strange sends everyone to the Mirror Dimension so that Kaecilius and his followers can't affect the real world. Unfortunately, Dr. Strange doesn't realize that Kaecilius' power relative to the good guys is increased several times over in the Mirror Dimension. So, accidentally, the Doctor has put himself at a disadvantage in a fight to keep Kaecilius from affecting Earth - foreshadowing that later, he will intentionally put himself at an even bigger disadvantage in a fight to keep Dormammu from affecting Earth.
Something tangential - Strange's broken watch has sentimental value to him, and he wears it through the movie. It's fitting that someone who wields the Time Stone has a broken watch on his person.
Timeline: context clues and the greater MCU timeline mean that this film takes place beforeCaptain America: Civil War. Of the released movies and shows, only Civil War was set in 2016, in the spring, while season 2 of Daredevil and Luke Cage were set in fall/the end of 2015. The light snow in New York in Doctor Strange keeps with the winter feel, meaning the film is set around January 2016 or so. The first stinger with Thor is set months later, bringing it in line with the late-2016 setting of Spider-Man: Homecoming and Thor: Ragnarok.
Why is Dormammu defenseless against the Time Stone? Aside from it being an Infinity Stone, and therefore an incredibly powerful artifact, it's said more than once that Dormammu's dimension is timeless; so, despite being basically omnipotent, he has no concept of time, and knows no ways to counter or at the very least try to resist the Time Stone's effects. Notice how Kaecilius and the Zealots are able to break out of a backwards-flowing time stream despite being far less powerful than Dormammu.
Also, one might wonder why Dormammu's patience runs out long before Strange's does, considering Dormammu is still able to torture Strange for the rest of eternity. However, for an omnipotent being like Dormammu who's probably never experienced frustration before, having his infinite existence compressed into such a tiny moment as well as being utterly thwarted must be far more intolerable than the pain of being killed over and over again would be to a mortal like Strange. Indeed before long Dormammu is outright BEGGING to be freed of the time loop, as if simply being forced to experience time like this is painful/frightening for him.
Even more than that, Dormammu is an entity accustomed to an eternal perspective: when he's told they can stay stuck in the loop "forever", he knows how freaking long that is. Strange, a mortal human, can say they'll be infinitely trapped without actually having to comprehend or confront its full implications: to him, "eternity" is simply too big to grasp, save as an abstract concept, so he's not as intimidated by the prospect.
Dormammu is "beyond time," Strange is not. When time rewinds at the end of each loop, Strange's injuries and experiences are rewound along with it. Every iteration of the loop starts with Strange landing on the same spot and saying the same line because Strange doesn't even know whether it's the first, second, or thousandth time through the loop except by Dormammu's reactions. Only Dormammu, not Strange, actually perceives the endless repetition.
The movie came out in the United States the weekend that Daylight Savings Time ended. Appropriate for a movie where turning the clock back was so important.
Why did Strange's astral form seemingly get super-charged from the defibrillator? Because magic is all about calling upon the power of other planes. On the astral plane, the material plane is an "other plane". Not to mention that being in his astral form likely made it easier to channel power than normal. When on the Material Plane, sorcerers have to actively channel energy to achieve results but while projecting Strange is already doing that, so having his body shocked mainlined the power right to his astral form... and right into who he was fighting.
When Strange does hand to hand fighting with the help of magic, this takes the form of strings of energy extending from his fingers. This is reminiscent of his earlier physical therapy where he was strengthening his fingers by pulling against elastic strings. He probably would have been doing that day in/day out for weeks at least. Thus, when making an instinctive use of magic, it takes a form that he is intimately familiar with.
In addition, Strange is a surgeon, and (as he mentions) is sworn to "do no harm". So instead of manifesting energy as an edged or even blunt-force weapon, something designed to wound or kill, he manifests it as a rope, something more useful for tangling up an enemy or their weapon.
Some commentators have said that Strange is quite similar to Tony Stark. While these similarities are mostly superficial and their character arcs are very different, it is worth noting that while Strange is based on mysticism, Iron Man is a purely tech-based hero. As such, said slight similarities may be a case of the MCU coming full circle.
Strange having less difficulty quickly performing precise spellcasting gestures as the movie progresses, in spite of his hands being just as damaged, could be a result of unconsciously channeling mystical energy to heal them, as Pangborn does with his spine.
The casting of the Ancient One. Yes, we know the real-life reason had to do with politics, but the way it was handled? 1.) Kamar-Taj seems to attract broken souls from all over the world, so the place became pretty multicultural over the ages. 2.) She was just the latest in a long line of masters; the Ancient One as depicted in the comics was likely her teacher. 3.) Swinton's Ancient One was definitely not as wise or pure as she seemed. Her motives for drawing on the Dark Dimension were understandable and probably saved a lot of lives, but she was still using forbidden techniques and dark sorcery, which can be a very slippery slope, even for someone as old and wise as she is.
The reason there are so few Asians at a place smack in the middle of Asia: they're all students of the Ancient One, students she herself chose. As her name suggests, she's rather old, which means her formative years were spent in an era where people didn't travel much and usually didn't trust outsiders. Though time has softened much of that old racism, there may still be a tad left, so that she preferentially selects white students; those of other races may earn her good will, but not quite as often.
Or, for a more mundane explanation, the vast majority of her students are Asian; it's just that Strange, himself, interacts mostly with the foreign ones because they're more likely to speak English. He's only fluent in English and Google Translate, after all.
At first, it seems Strange owes it all to Mordo speaking up for him that he was accepted as a student of the Ancient One, but we later learn that the Ancient One had long seen the future where she died alongside Strange. So she presumably intended to teach him from the start. So why refuse him? Well, to teach him a bit of humility and test his endurance, but more than that, she may have been trying to foster a bond between Mordo and Strange, as in her final moments she tells Strange of her concern for how rigid Mordo is in his beliefs. She may have suspected the direction he could go after finding out how she was prolonging her life, and hoped that his friendship with Strange could help him accept the reality that not everything is black and white. Sadly, while she did get a worthy successor in Strange, it would seem Mordo's part in her gambit didn't work out. We also know that she feared her impending death; using magic to stretch her last moments of consciousness as long as she could. She knew that she would die with Strange at her side. Thus it's possible she initially rejected him to try and put off her death, for however little more was possible.
The world of the MCU is full of extremely advanced technology, and Strange should be rich enough at the start to have access to at least some of it, so why does he never even consider trying to replace his damaged hands with some kind of mechanical prosthetic? Well, as we are shown at the start of the film, as a surgeon Strange demands not good, but near-perfect control of his hands in order to do what he does as well as he does. Indeed, he is dexterous enough to perform surgeries that other surgeons would not consider doing with just their hands. In other words, his hands are above-average to begin with. As good as the technology is in the MCU, it's likely any mechanical hand available would still not have the degree of precision control Strange would demand of it for surgeries, assuming he could even stand the time it would take to get used to using such hands.
Additionally, if Christine's comments are anything to go by, his spending habits aren't the greatest.
Even under the time-loop, Dormammu is aware enough to register its effect after just the first time. The Dark Dimension being timeless works both ways: Dormammu cannot resist the effects of the time-loop, but being timeless himself means that his memory is not "turned back" with the loop.
Which actually leads back to another turn to the fridge: Stephen only had todie once. Since the spell rewound to before Strange's death, he only had to feel his death once, and in the end, never. Dormammu may have had to have killed Strange up to millions of times, but from Strange's perspective, as long as he had the will to die once, it was only a matter of time.
It was actually confirmed that Strange remembered all of the loops himself. The Time stone would be kinda useless if you couldn't recall your mistakes from before rewinding. And if you notice, he seems to be getting rather tired of delivering that same line repeatedly, as well.
The Cloak was insistent that Strange use the metal-binding thingy instead of the axe because it knew he'd be upset if he accidentally killed someone, even in self-defense. Relics choose their master based on... something... so it obviously has ways to know what goes on inside his head and what kind of person he is. It picked the weapon that suited his true style, rather than the one he was reaching for in a blind panic, and it insisted he stay true to himself.
Another simpler explanation is that the Cloak knew Strange was an amateur with injured hands. So it picked the relic whose instructions are, "Throw". Who knows what kinda crazy spiritual thing you'd have to do for that axe. The part where Strange grabbed the urn-thing he had no idea how to use was hilarious - to Kaecillius.
His insistence to the Ancient One that he be addressed as "Doctor" seems to be a holdover of his arrogance and inability to let go, but it is very justified in real life. The title is an academic one, not merely a medical one, and while he hasn't the ability to perform surgeries, he earned that title via study and academic prowess. Even real-life doctors who have had to stop a surgical career are still doctors, even if they shift to teaching, research, or other outlets for their talents and education. And as we see, Strange works very hard.
Strange says he came to bargain. Dormammu says he came to die. They're both right.
Strange does surgery while also identifying music. He drives a fast car while trying to get some work in. He can't master the portal until his life is on the line. All early indications that he works best under pressure. He's better suited to the wizard job than he thinks.
For a moment, it seemed without rhyme or reason how Strange managed to finally make a working portal, what his epiphany was. But then, you notice how he's shivering from being in the snowy Himalayas. And it dawns: his shivering is reminiscent of how his hands shake. Perhaps he finally realized, he had to surrender to the shaking in his hands.
There are four surgical scenes in the film, with increasing stakes every time. The last one is the only one Strange can't really assist in, the one where he gives up control, and the only one that fails.
This may be why TAO tells Strange he has yet to learn to be selfless. He bailed out on a surgery he knew he'd fail. Instead of seeing it as a character development of letting others do things he can't do, she sees right through him and recognizes it's his own fear of failure.
The sorcerers don't like to use guns, even though they're clearly familiar with modern tech. They're semi-traceable, need ammo, parts, and maintenance, can be disrupted easily with magic, and once you fire it, the most dangerous part is out of your control. There's probably all sorts of ways to redirect a bullet back at the one who pulls the trigger, or towards any innocent bystanders. By the same token, they don't like to use ranged attacks in general.
Strange and TAO both like tea, and they're played by British actors. Thor doesn't like tea, and he's played by an Australian using a British accent.
During the Batman Cold Open, TAO doesn't intervene until the librarian is dead, and doesn't bring backup. Because if anyone saw her using her space-bending powers, they might cotton on.
When Strange is tempted by forbidden knowledge, he tests it by using an apple. Very Genesis of him.
The sorcerers aren't supposed to mess with time. But it sure is convenient that the fancy time artifact is just a few feet away from the book about how to mess with time and space, isn't it? Almost as if someone wanted it handy. Come to think, why is that book on the most-accessible spot on the rack?
That may be a bit of fridge brilliance in itself: Many people keep the manuals for their devices/gadgets near the object that they pertain to, for quick reference. In the case of a gadget going haywire, it wouldn't make much sense to keep the manual for it somewhere inconvenient.
There are three sequences where we see someone bend space, and they all take place in man-made areas. Because those areas are basically rigid and geometric and easy to animate, while someplace more natural would be an even bigger burden on the VFX folks.
Christine compares the sorcerers to a cult. Let's see; (semi)-isolation from the outside world. Special clothing. Promises of special power, of a special destiny, or being able to see things that others can't. Charismatic leader who's a lying hypocrite. And so on.
A bit of Product Placement in the final scene can count as this - the Yakult sign in Hong Kong that's among the first things to get repaired by the Eye of Agamotto. Yakult is the brainchild of one Professor Shirota Minoru, the closest thing to naming the unnamed cameo in this scene.
The Ancient One notes (and was demonstrated several times earlier in the movie) that what drives Strange isn't seeking to bask in his own success but to avoid failure. His refusal to move on after the accident reflects that: he sees his inability to perform surgery as a failure, even though nothing is wrong with his mind (or other senses) and he could still have a very successful and famous career as a researcher or teacher, or being the brains behind neurosurgeons who might have the physical skills but not the knowledge. He can't accept that because it's all about him; if he can't do it personally, it's a failure. His realization of that is what allows him to defeat Dormammu. He goes into it knowing he's going to fail and be killed, but in the worst case scenario he's saved everyone else on Earth. By accepting that he will fail and that it's not all about him, he's given himself the opportunity to succeed.
During a training sequence, Mordo pulls out the Staff of The Living Tribunal. He explains to Strange that each magical relic chooses its wielder, hence explaining how Strange later gets the Cloak of Levitation (a similarly fancy and cheeky personality that, in a momentary scene, demonstrates it is obsessed with appearance, just like Strange). However, exactly why the Living Tribunal chose Mordo is not explained . . . until The Stinger. Mordo is a Knight Templar with an extreme case of Black and White Morality regarding the Laws of Nature: just like the Living Tribunal. Astute viewers will note, all throughout the movie, Mordo's obsession with order, justice, balance and law make him a perfect fit and an obvious choice for the relic. Unfortunately, as noted in Fridge Horror's first entry...
The timeless nature of Dormammu's universe suggests that he's always been there: an embodying consciousness originating at the birth of that universe. The Collector's account of the Infinity Stones' history in Guardians of the Galaxy indicates that the six Stones originated at the birth of this universe, embodying aspects of its makeup just as Dormammu does for his universe. The Time Stone's ability to balk Dormammu makes perfect sense, because he was stymied by one of his own kind.
Look at the direction Strange turns his little time-controlling knob to advance and reverse time, from his perspective. Clockwise and anticlockwise.
The mind-blowing "Open Your Mind" psychedelic sequence uses a lot of hand imagery. Of course it does: the Ancient One's background monologue about what's happening to Strange mentions that thought affects reality in the dimensions he's witnessing. The landscape of his experience is being shaped by his own obsession with repairing his damaged hands.
Fridge Horror steps in when you realize that The Living Tribunal is essentially the Marvel equivalent of Moses. There is literally nobody in the entire Marvel Universe who can protect Strange if the Living Tribunal decides to intervene based on Strange's use of the Time Stone. Unless Strange can pull off a literal Deus ex Machina, things seem very grim indeed for the good doctor.
The Eye of Agamotto:
The ending reveals that the Eye of Agamotto is the Time Stone. It currently remains at Kamar-Taj, meaning that we now have not one but two Infinity Stones on Earth (the other being the Mind Stone, which is currently with Vision at the Avengers). Let's remember that Thanos is currently looking for the Infinity Stones, meaning that not only is Vision in danger, but the people of Kamar-Taj. This is especially horrific when you consider the fact that the Masters have little experience with Thanos.
It gets worse. Do remember that Strange only managed to drive off Dormammu by using the Eye of Agamotto. If Thanos gets the gem inside the Eye, then Dormammu can break off his deal with Strange and invade Earth again, without anything to hold him back.note Presumably by this point they will have repaired the sanctums rendering it a moot issue.
Dormammu's perspective is timeless. How's he supposed to change his mind about the bargain, if time doesn't pass for him? So far as he's concerned, he only just made his promise, and always will have just committed to stick to it.
It's probably a good thing for Christine that she didn't understand what the heck was going on when Strange and Lucian were duking it out astrally, causing all that poltergeist-activity in the hospital. Indeed, it's even a good thing that she walked away when she did, rather than renew their relationship. Because if she had stayed with him or insisted on an explanation, Strange would've eventually had to admit to Christine - a fellow surgeon, bound by the same Hippocratic Oath as himself - that he'd gotten her to help kill somebody with the defibrillator. She thought she had reason to be upset with him before... Consider how upset Strange himself was, even though it was clearly in self-defense.
As for Mordo's new crusade at the end of the movie (reduce the number of users of magic), that crusade will probably set him against Ghost Rider sooner or later. Not a guy who learned tricks from some ancient book, but an actual creature literally from Hell. And the Ghost Rider will want some words with him, too, as the event of the last stinger is clearly something that requires vengeance.
A more immediate consequence is his first victim: Pangborn. We don't know what Mordo did to him after returning him to his helpless state. If he killed him, Mordo murdered a defenseless man. If he left him there... Pangborn died on his floor, unable to call for help due to his useless body.
Considering that both New York City and London have been the site of some nasty non-magical otherworldly incursions of late, any benefit that might once have come from siting the Sanctums in major urban ley-line nexus points may have outlived its worth. Even before Kaecilius' treachery, Kamar-Taj has nearly lost the former Sanctum to the Chitauri and/or a World Security Council nuke, and the latter to an Omnicidal Maniac dark elf, just in the last few years. And who's to say that HYDRA - who'd acknowledged magic pretty much from day one, thanks to Red Skull's cockamamie obsessions - didn't have the Masters on its blast-'em-from-orbit list, too? Restricting their attentions to supernatural antagonists may have been a very bad policy to maintain into the 20th and 21st centuries, leaving the magicians more vulnerable to becoming collateral damage in a sci-fi battle than they'd ever suspected.
However, this may be in the process of being subverted by Strange himself: Dr. Strange is meeting with Thor, discussing events that go beyond his 'mystical' bailiwick. It could be that with Strange poised to become the Sorcerer Supreme, the office could begin to include non-mystical threats as well.
Strange's plan to trap Dormammu in a time loop until he agrees to a bargain could have backfired horribly. Dormammu keeps trying to just kill Strange outright, which of course doesn't work. What would have happened if instead of killing him, Dormammu decided to torture him? A being like this can certainly inflict agonizing pain on Strange without doing any physical damage, and as soon as he either dies from sheer stress, or deliberately resets the loop, the agony starts all over again. Everyone has a breaking point, no matter how stubborn, and Strange would eventually reach his.
The time loop may be designed to reset every few minutes (and Strange's memories along with it), regardless of whether Strange lives or dies. Or maybe Strange knows a "suicide spell" he can use to escape torture. There are plenty of ways out of this, but the film doesn't spell one out explicitly.
It is stated that Strange remember and experience each and every single killing attempts that Dormammu did on him and regardless of the exact times regarding the number of times that Dormammu kills Strange, this definitely puts a huge dent onto Strange's mentality. Strange could actually suffer from PTSD from being killed over and over and with only Wong and the Cloak for companionship, who would be able to help him overcome such traumas?
Torture is pain + time. The former, Dormammu would know about. But the latter, Dormammu doesn't understand. If Dormammu doesn't understand time well, he probably doesn't understand the concept of torture very well either.
When Strange and Palmer tell the gunshot victim's family that they saved his life, its presented as a happily-ever-after moment. But after the brain has been deprived of oxygen for that long, the brain damage is inevitably severe, and he might be better off dead.
They had actually called brain death. The body itself was still alive and pumping blood, which is why they were wheeling him in for organ donation.
It looks like Mordo might have been convinced to stay with Strange and be a bit more flexible regarding the natural law right up until the Hong Kong Sanctum is preserved and the Zealots are toast. He fights the Zealots and Kaecilius even as the natural law is in the process of being broken. He even tells Strange to get up and fight when the Zealots have them cornered outside of time. The straw that broke the camel's back was that Strange went and made a deal with Dormammu. Mordo has no way of knowing for sure what was agreed to; for all he knows, Strange is doing the same thing the Ancient One did. There's no way Mordo will stay with Strange, always wondering what the hell the bargain was.
Mordo is astonished at Stranges ability to master the mystic arts so quickly. It seems there are very few minds on the planet capable of what Strange does. Incredibly lucky coincidence, then, that one should happen to show up at the door of Kamar-Taj just when they need him... or is it? Could the Ancient One have had a hand in the events leading him to her? Could the accident that destroyed his hands actually have been a controlled event?