After a tense wait, the first official Doctor Strange trailer has arrived! Just what does it show us? Well, not a ton. It’s a trailer that keeps its cards close to its chest, showing us just enough to tantalize. There are no shots of Doctor Strange himself performing magic, and you won’t see any of the spells Strange is known for except one, but we’ll get to that. Instead there’s a much stronger focus on Strange’s origins, on the events that left him open for the mystical to enter his life. It’s a trailer clearly intending to hook viewers not otherwise familiar with the character. Did it work? Sound off in the comments, we’d love to hear how the trailer played with the uninitiated. For now, let’s get to the breakdown!
Stephen Strange… might I offer you some advice? Forget everything that you think you know.
We open with the car accident that changed Stephen Strange’s life. The details of how it went down have changed in the comics over the years, but the fundamentals remain the same: a rich, arrogant surgeon crashes his car, destroying his hands and ruining his career. The opening narration sounds an awful lot like Chiwetel Ejiofor, who is playing Baron Mordo.
Though this might be the first time Strange has managed to land his car perfectly vertical. 10 points, Stephen! The judges were very impressed by your dismount.
You’re a man looking at the world through a keyhole…
Now we’re jumping a few years ahead. Strange, destitute and alone, wanders the streets of Nepal in search of a mysterious healer known only as “The Ancient One,” who is currently giving us our voiceover about keyholes, perhaps a reference to Strange’s narrow point of view as a surgeon.
Three times during this trailer we see a shot of Strange from two different points in his life. This one shows us Strange in the present, a bedraggled hobo, and then flashes back to Strange in the immediate aftermath of his accident, strapped to a gurney and barely alive. It also gives us our first good look at Benedict Cumberbatch’s face during the trailer, and he’s looking good as both versions of Stephen Strange. Well, for a given definition of good, considering the guy on the left looks like he hasn’t bathed in weeks and the guy on the right is splattered with blood.
We also get our first look at Rachel McAdams character here, from Strange’s point of view. We still don’t know the name of her character, though we do know she’s a fellow doctor at Strange’s old hospital and is a love interest. Old colleagues of Strange’s have popped up in numerous comic storylines, but usually not as romantic interests. The only notable female doctor that Strange has had a relationship with is Linda Carter, the Night Nurse (really Night General Practitioner, but that’s not as catchy), back in a 2006 story called The Oath. It’s quite likely that McAdams’ character will take some cues from her.
You’ve spent your life trying to widen it…
Here we get another contrasting pair of shots, showing us Strange staring out a window while sipping scotch and wearing a tux, followed by Strange in rumpled clothes with his beard coming in, clutching at the window in despair. The way these shots are being set up is probably not a coincidence. It seems like they are intended to be seen like this, with one cutting sharply to the next. There’s been a lot of speculation online about how Strange’s origin story may be handled in the film, and one theory has been that it won’t be linear. This seems to back this up, suggesting that Strange’s origin will be broken up into flashbacks.
Your work saved the lives of thousands…
Here we see Strange back during his professional days preparing for an operation, contrasted against a post-accident Strange showing off his shaking hands. The shaking is due to the severe nerve damage his accident caused, and it prevents him from ever reliably using a scalpel again. This is why Strange is seeking the Ancient One. He’s exhausted every medical avenue for fixing his hands, so maybe it’s time to try a spiritual one…
What if I told you… that reality is one of many?
We get our first really good look at Strange after his accident as The Ancient One starts talking about other realities. It’s worth noting she also just mentioned that Stephen’s work has “saved the lives of thousands.” Strange’s origin has often been compared to Tony Stark’s (bad man brought low, finds redemption) but this is one of several clear differences. Tony Stark was responsible for the deaths of thousands through his weapons, while Strange, despite being a selfish jerk, was still working in a profession where he saved lives. He just tended to choose the lives with the biggest wallets. A jackass, sure, but not a monster.
Next we cut from a New York cityscape to one in Nepal (presumably) and then settling on an old temple complex. This plays off of the Ancient One’s words, suggesting the mutable nature of reality because, in a sense, these cities are worlds apart.
It’s not clear if this temple is the same one the Ancient One resides in, but if it is then this is quite interesting. In the comics, the Ancient One is generally shown as a wise old man living atop a mountain, his temple a snowbound relic of a forgotten past. This Ancient One seems to be more urbane and sophisticated, and is notably an English woman and not a wizened Asian centenarian. There’s at least one retelling of Strange’s origin (by Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski) where the Ancient One is depicted as living in a city, not the wilderness, and in that story he’s a decidedly modern individual, who wears suits over robes. It seems likely the movie might take a bit of inspiration from JMS’ take, at least in its depiction of the Ancient One.
This is our first look at Baron Mordo, stalking through the city streets in his wizard gear. Nobody seems to notice him. He also appears to be carrying some sort of scroll in his left hand (as the camera angle shifts you can see the tube he’s holding is hollow). A scroll of magical secrets perhaps? Your guess is as good as mine.
I don’t believe in fairy tales about chakras or energy or the power of belief…
This is the first time we’ve heard Cumberbatch speaking as Strange, and he’s definitely going with the American accent. The edit between this shot and the last suggests he’s following Baron Mordo, despite the fact that the two shots are at completely different times of day. This is presumably just to suggest the plot of the film; set photos have shown the wandering Strange encountering a hooded Mordo in a public temple complex, who presumably leads him back to the Ancient One.
Speaking of whom, here’s our first look at Tilda Swinton in the role. Strange was just going on about how skeptical he is of all this magical nonsense. He’s a doctor, a man of modern medicine, who believes in what he can see and touch, as dictated by our current scientific understanding of the world. The Ancient One has a different perspective.
You wonder what I see in your future?
Mordo and Strange walk together in the Ancient One’s temple. This is presumably during Strange’s first visit. The Ancient One’s voiceover is likely a retort to a line from a skeptical Strange, who probably just made a crack about if she can see the future or not.
And here we go, our first magic of the trailer. If you’re wondering what’s happening here, it’s quite simple. The Ancient One has decided to teach Strange a lesson, freeing his astral form from his body. If you’re not familiar with the concept of astral projection, the basic idea is that you release your soul from your body so it can fly off, passing through walls and dimensional barriers, to explore and learn about the cosmos. Most normal people can’t see astral projections, but sorcerers like Mordo or the Ancient One certainly can.
Strange is still adjusting to the experience. Though he looks bewildered here astral projection will become one of his trademark magical abilities. Expect him to use it a lot over the course of the movie.
Why are you doing this?
The magic’s in full swing now. We see the phrase “Open your mind,” followed by a door swinging wide, and now we get our first look at Mads Mikkelsen’s mystery character. What is he doing? He appears to be warping the reality of a building, but whether he’s trying to destroy the building or open a portal to another dimension is unclear. Nor is it clear what this building is. The architecture looks a little different from the Ancient One’s temple. Perhaps a European cathedral or church? Or perhaps it’s just a corner of the temple we haven’t seen yet. It’s unclear who Strange is addressing in this voice over. Is he questioning the Ancient One’s decision to open his third eye? Or is he distraught over whatever evils Mads Mikkelsen is unleashing?
There are other ways to save lives
In the meantime, the Ancient One is taking Strange to visit an icy wasteland of some sort. Is she just showing him she can teleport anywhere on Earth, or is this a brief trip to another universe? It could possibly be the freezing dimension of Boreas, home to the entity Ikthalon, who Strange has called on for spells in the comics. Either way, the green screen of Strange and the Ancient One standing against the mountain is a bit dodgy here and probably isn’t finished.
Here’s a better look at Mikkelsen and his followers as they warp that building from before, showing off their bizarre eye makeup. They don’t look quite as scarred as they did in recent set photos, so this is presumably an earlier part of the movie.
This shot is fairly unremarkable, except that it has all the hallmarks of a scene with unfinished CGI. Wreckage and detritus on the street but no obvious cause? Civilians running from nothing? It’s reminiscent of early Avengers trailers where we saw extras running from aliens who hadn’t been digitally inserted yet. This also looks a bit like the same street Mordo was stalking down earlier. Perhaps he had to liberate that scroll from something dangerous? Or perhaps he’s being pursued?
Our first up-close look at Mordo. The lighting and the signs in the background suggests it’s part of that same street sequence.
So much you don’t know…
The Ancient One appears to opening Strange’s third eye as a way to shut up his skepticism, hurling him through time and space…
…and sending him on a brief tour of the multiverse. People have been comparing this shot to Inception, but it’s worth noting that something very different is going on here. In the famous Inception city folding scene, one character was manipulating the geography of her dream. In this sequence Strange, an infinitesimal speck in the center of the screen, is hurtling past at least three different versions of New York City that are pulling away from each other. These New Yorks are almost certainly in different universes and the Ancient One has allowed Strange to briefly glimpse them all at once.
Strange comes crashing back to (his) Earth and supplicates himself before the Ancient One. I mentioned earlier the differences between Tony Stark and Stephen Strange’s origin stories, and this is probably the most significant. Stark learns a lesson and corrects his behavior. He was a bad person but had his eyes opened, and now tries to redeem himself. At the end, he is still functionally the same man. Stephen Strange’s life completely falls apart but he has not done some horrible act he needs to atone for. Strange’s story is not one of redemption but one of spiritual awakening, in which a shallow man is humbled and allows himself to be reborn as someone else.
And, after a brief flash of the new logo, we see that someone else. Doctor Strange, Master of Mysticism, at the heart of his secret lair, the Sanctum Sanctorum. One big mystery about this movie’s plot is how much of it will be origin and how much of it will be spent showing Doctor Strange as a full-blown sorcerer in his own right. It looks like we’ll have to wait until the next trailer to get a better answer to that.
By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth, it can’t come soon enough!