How Doctor Strange’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier name drop fit in the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline? The Russo brothers’ first film had a big impact on the Marvel status quo and Captain America’s (Chris Evans) future, and in amongst that was a tease meant to get fans excited for Strange’s MCU future. It did just that at the time, but doesn’t make any sense now, especially after his MCU introduction.
At the heart of The Winter Soldier is the Bucky (Sebastian Stan) and Steve relationship, but the larger picture focuses on Hydra’s infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D. This went all the way to the top with Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) pushing Project Insight through to meet their goals. This project involved the launch of three helicarriers that would patrol the world and be ready to take out any threats at a moment’s notice – millions at a time. It is eventually revealed that the “threats” Project Insight will be targeting and killing are those who could potentially foil Hydra’s takeover, including, at the time, Stephen Strange.
During Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) take sleeper Hydra agent Jasper Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernández) and force him to explain Project Insight. He confirms that the algorithm created by Arnim Zola can figure out any current or future threats to Hydra. He elaborates by explaining that the algorithm takes advantage of the “digital book” of the 21st century that examines bank records, medical histories, voting patterns, emails, phone calls, and even SAT scores so it “evaluates people’s past to predict their future.” He then namedrops a collection of those targets: Bruce Banner, Tony Stark, maybe even Moon Knight, and, somewhat confusingly, Stephen Strange.
At the time of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Stephen Strange is a great surgeon but nothing more. He has no magical abilities or even any belief that such power exists in the world. The most that Project Insight may be able to determine at this point in Strange’s life is that he could refuse to operate on a member of Hydra, and that’s certainly not enough to warrant such a pointed namedrop from Sitwell. There is no way that Project Insight could foresee him becoming Doctor Strange given what we know about the program.
Doctor Strange’s journey to becoming a wizard only began after a random car crash that was brought about by adverse weather conditions and Strange’s lack of focus on actually driving. He then sought out several attempts for surgery to repair his broken hands, but none of these worked either. He had to journey all the way to Kamar-Taj in a last ditch effort to finally learn that magic could be the key. The circumstances surrounding his rise to magical power would be impossible to predict based on how Strange voted, the emails he made, or his likely insanely high SAT score.
So why and how did this happen? Well, the easy answer is that Marvel Studios was just planting seeds for a character they knew they were going to introduce soon but didn’t make sure this set up would actually work in the universe. After all, the Doctor Strange movie was announced a few months after Captain America: The Winter Soldier hit theaters. While this can still be a fun Easter egg, it’s really just another reminder that not everything in the MCU is as tied together and planned out as many believe – unless Doctor Strange 2 proves otherwise.