Doctor Strange movie director Scott Derrickson (Sinister) certainly looks like he tried to deliver something a little different from the usual Marvel Studios formula for this first trailer. There are no wisecracks, but plenty of hallucinatory visuals. There’s no flashy costume but plenty of Benedict Cumberbatch looking haunted (and even voicing some anti-magic skepticism in an American accent).
But there’s also a faithfulness to the earliest Doctor Strange stories by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, and a clear desire to set up the rules of magic in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And from the looks of things “magic” is just shorthand for much wider and weirder forces at work.
Before we get started, here’s that Doctor Strange trailer. Watch it again. Or watch it for the first time if you haven’t seen it. You know what to do.
So, let’s get into it. Here’s what I’ve learned so far…
It’s an origin story.
Surprise! Well, not really.
There had been some chatter that Marvel was looking to get away from origin stories as they head into Phase Three. Well, you can forget about that this time around. And while the cinematic beats of the traditional superhero origin story have been absolutely hammered to death since 1978’s Superman: The Movie, I do think that the Doctor Strange origin is unique and important enough that it simply has to be told on its own.
I’ll take you through it really quickly. This does look very faithful to Doctor Strange’s comic book origin, which was first told in Strange Tales #115 in 1963 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. The thing is Doctor Strange himself first appeared a few issues earlier, in Strange Tales #110, but he was just this mysterious sorcerer, and no real explanation was given for why he was the Sorcerer Supreme. Maybe even Marvel Comics was tiring of origin stories back then. If you want a quick guide to Doctor Strange comics, just click here.
Regardless, it’s a cool story, and these are the basic beats of it, but as represented with cool images of Benedict Cumberbatch. Don’t worry, this whole piece won’t be as rapid fire as this part…
Stephen Strange is an extraordinarily gifted neurosurgeon…
…but he’s also kind of an arrogant asshole.
An arrogant, irresponsible asshole, actually. Strange has a horrific car accident…
(by the way, I love that this is the first shot of the trailer, it’s disorienting, and sets the tone for the later psychedelic weirdness that we get)
The accident costs him the use of the finer motor functions of his hands (you can see them shaking later in the trailer). And you can’t exactly perform brain surgery with shaky hands.
Strange then travels the world looking for something that will fully heal him. The guy loved the money and acclaim that come with being one of the most famed and respected surgeons in his field. When you see scruffy Benedict Cumberbatch in this trailer, know that Stephen Strange isn’t out working for Doctors Without Borders, he’s looking for a way to help himself.
Strange finally meets someone who can help him, but it comes with a price. Here’s Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One, the virtually immortal magical guardian who will initiate Stephen Strange into the realm of shit that should make the stoners among Marvel Studios fans pretty happy.
You know, things like this.
One of the Doc’s key tricks is the ability to astral project. Strange can send his ectoplasmic body to faraway places and dimensions, and it allows him to do battle with threats he might not be able to handle in his regular, physical form. The catch tends to be that while he’s doing this, his physical body is completely helpless, and that’s kind of what we’re seeing here.
But what’s really interesting is that this is the closest thing to a superpower we see from Doctor Strange in this entire trailer. Stephen Strange is completely passive in all of the footage that we see here, which is really not what you expect from the first trailer for a major superhero movie. Even the one “power” we get to see him display is something that he has no control over at this point, it has to be activated by the Ancient One, and it’s one that leaves his physical self useless. It seems that in assembling this trailer, choices were made to deliberately distance Doctor Strange from his more muscular and traditionally badass costumed studio mates.
There are villains.
Here’s Chiwetel Ejiofor as Baron Mordo, out for a leisurly stroll. Here’s a better look at him…
Traditionally, Baron Mordo is the villain of the story, but I don’t think that’s going to be how it’s played this time around. Mordo has been around for nearly as long as Doctor Strange himself, first appearing in the second Doc story, in Strange Tales #111. We wrote more about Baron Mordo right here.
But it was in that magical Strange Tales #115 that we learned more about Mordo, and his ties to Doc’s origin. Which brings me to…
Here’s Stephen and Mordo together. It’s likely that they’re sticking close to the comic book origin and early dynamic between these two. Essentially, Mordo is the Ancient One’s star pupil. Well, that is, until Stephen Strange comes along to steal his thunder, and then the two become bitter enemies. To be fair, Mordo was a dick to begin with, and was quietly plotting the Ancient One’s demise.
I just don’t see them going the full evil with Ejiofor’s version of Mordo here, especially since it looks like there are other villainous fish to fry…
This is our first (official) look at Mads Mikkelsen as the film’s nameless villain. You have to figure that the other-dimensional Dormammu is inevitable in this flick. It’s possible that Mikkelsen’s character is an earthly disciple of Dormammu who eventually gets possessed by the thing he worships. It might explain the strange, burnt-out eye makeup that he’s wearing. Dormammu is always depicted with a flaming head, so this might be him starting to burn his way out of ol’ Mads.
My favorite part of this is how off in the background, things are literally kaleidoscope visuals.
But what about the superhero stuff?
So, yeah, this is an origin story flick. But that doesn’t mean it has to be “a superhero movie” too. I’ll be honest, I’m not entirely sure what it is we’re looking at with this trailer at times, but it’s not your traditional “good guy gets powers and becomes an even better guy” concept.
But seriously, this is all they give us of the costume…
I have to dig how this one, despite being clearly an origin story, made us wait until the very end to even get a glimpse of the cape.
The interesting window appears to be from the interior of Doc’s “Sanctum Sanctorum” in New York’s Greenwich Village. Unless he’s still in Tibet, here, and just decides to replicate that when he sets up shop back in NYC. I don’t need to lose any sleep over this, and neither do you.
So, aside from the bonkers, Inception-esque reality warp going on here, if you look, you can see what appears to be someone falling (or flying?) between the merged realities. Is this the moment that finally breaks and/or inspires Stephen Strange to look inward and take on the role of Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme?
“You mean…I have to wait until November 4th to see this movie?!?”
Okay, that’s not really what he says there. But here’s my big unanswered question with the “teach me” moment. Has Stephen Strange been truly humbled by all that the Ancient One has just shown him? Or is his willingness to learn in part driven by his need to succeed at something that nobody else can? This is the kind of character stuff that you can’t really explore with any of the rest of the Marvel Studios roster (although there are parallels here with Tony Stark’s evolution from smartass arms dealer to much nicer smartass), and if the Doctor Strange movie is willing to really dig into that, well, we might be in for something special after all!
In terms of wider Marvel Universe stuff, I sure didn’t spot any. And that’s probably a good thing. Like Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange has an entirely new corner of the Marvel Universe to set up, and it should tend its own house before trying to get too involved in the whole shared universe thing. That will certainly come naturally on its own.
If I missed anything, then by the Vishanti, tell me in the comments! Or summon me on Twitter!