Well, the mystic sigils have aligned and we’ve got ourselves a new Doctor Strange trailer. As one might expect it doesn’t reveal too much more than the last trailer in terms of plot, but there are a lot of other interesting tidbits in there. There are certainly a lot more finished special effects on display. This trailer is clearly trying to show off how weird and trippy the world of Doctor Strange can get. Let’s dive on in and see how well they did. I’ll be skipping some material that’s repeated between trailers, so check out our breakdown of the previous trailer.
Doctor Strange… You think you know how the world works.
We open up with a few brief shots of the New York skyline at night and of surgeon Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) scrubbing up before an operation. These shots aren’t too remarkable, though there’s one repeated from the last trailer that caught my eye:
I can’t help but feel that the graceful, routine gestures Strange makes as he washes his hands are foreshadowing his life as a sorcerer. To ensure the success of an operation, a surgeon must go through certain procedures beforehand, cleansing himself of impurities, donning his specialized garb, so forth and so on. There’s an aspect of ritual to it. Likewise, in order to ensure the success of his spells, a sorcerer must put on his ceremonial garments and make the right gestures and incantations. Both the surgery and the magic can hold life and death in the balance, and both are at risk if the rituals are done incorrectly. Strange’s life will soon change, and one ritual will replace the other.
Speaking of Strange’s hands, we have a brief shot of him playing the piano, another skill he’ll lose, along with his ability to control a scalpel, once he has his fateful accident.
We’ve seen shots of this sequence in the previous trailer, with Strange wearing a tuxedo and staring out the window. Here we see that it’s in an empty room, not a bustling party. Strange has wealth, respect, and power over life and death, but his own life seems as empty and cold as this apartment. He’s all dressed up with nowhere to go. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that in this scene Strange is throwing a party and nobody showed up because he doesn’t have any real friends.
In the first trailer we saw the aftermath of Strange’s accident. Now we see it in progress. In the different retellings of Strange’s origin over the years he has, in some versions, been made culpable in the accident. He’s drunk, or he’s recklessly speeding, or he’s talking on a cellphone. It’s not clear what starts the accident here, though it looks like Strange’s sports car veers out of its lane and crashes into another vehicle. In the end, how he got into the accident doesn’t matter much. It can reinforce his hubris if he’s responsible, but what really matters is that a powerful man was cut low by fate. Also, the license plate number reads “QSD-4439.” If that’s a reference to anything I can’t place it, though it feels like it should be. The number doesn’t match up to the acronyms for any of the comic titles Strange has appeared in over the years, but I’m not sure what else it could be.
In the time since the first trailer was released we’ve learned a lot more information about the movie, especially its cast. Here we have Rachel McAdams playing Christine Palmer, one of several characters to hold the title “Night Nurse” in the comics. Strange was romantically involved with one of them, the Linda Carter Night Nurse, and it seems likely there will be a similar angle in the movie, even if the character is a bit different.
Comic book Strange was a jackass before his accident and only a few of his colleagues put up with his arrogance and rudeness, usually those that still saw some trace of goodness in him. Christine Palmer is probably going to be that sort of character: a former colleague of Strange’s who reached out to him even when he was a jerk. Here we can see her comforting him in the hospital after his accident. Odds are good she’s the only character who bothers to visit him and odds are equally good that he’s still a big enough prick at this point to rebuff her for it.
This doesn’t make any sense…
Not everything does. Not everything has to.
After a few brief shots showing the bedraggled post-accident Strange seeking out the temple of The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) we see a continuation of a scene from the first trailer. Strange shows up, demanding to be cured but disbelieving The Ancient One’s mystical mumbo-jumbo. In the first trailer we saw her knock his astral soul out of his body and then throw him through another dimension. Here we see her shatter reality like glass. The dialogue is rather telling. In the past the Marvel Cinematic Universe has danced around the idea of magic. The Thor movies were very vague about how much of what happened in them could be explained by science, magic, or a bit of both. Here The Ancient One outright rejects Strange’s attempts to make sense of his surroundings. This is magic, it’s inexplicable, and he better get used to it.
The Marvel Studios logo emerges out of a rather jarring and flashy transition. The Doctor Strange comics have always been very colorful but so far the color palette of the movie has been somewhat muted. I’m thrilled to see a more psychedelic influence and I hope this is a hint of much more to come.
Through the mystic arts we harness energy and shape reality.
A lot of the magic the movie has shown us so far consists of people warping and bending reality itself. What’s unclear is the purpose this serves. Here we see The Ancient One doing something to the wall of a building. Is she trying to destroy it? Change its shape? Transport it? It looks neat, but it’s impossible to tell what’s at stake.
We travel great distances in an instant.
Here’s some more traditional Doctor Strange magic. Teleportation! We see this mystic portal a few times in the trailer. In this case we see the Ancient One teleporting around, although it’s obvious they’ve cut two unrelated scenes together. One has the Ancient One dressed in yellow with a hood entering a portal alone…
… and the other has her head uncovered, wearing gray and emerging from a portal with Strange in tow. We saw this same shot in the last trailer, with the two of them on the mountainside, but it was a lot less complete. There was no portal and Strange and the Ancient One were very clearly greenscreened in. Nice to see the effects are moving along. They look much better here.
How do I get from here to there?
Strange and The Ancient One have a discussion, intercut with shots of his training. There are a lot of other people training with Strange and it’s worth noting that some of them seem to be wearing the red robes seen on the villain’s minions in other parts of this trailer and the last. There are apparently a lot of students of the mystic arts. Strange has some catching up to do, and how the movie is going to handle that is one of my biggest questions about it. More on that in a moment.
This book appears to have a stylized version of the Eye of Agamotto on it. It’s a golden circle, with another smaller golden circle inside it, and a dot inside that. This suggests a couple of interesting possibilities. One is that this might be the Book of the Vishanti itself, which means I’m probably 2/16 on my predictions for references that are going to show up in this movie. The other possibility is that the book was just written by Agamotto, the first Sorcerer Supreme, the rank The Ancient One currently enjoys and Strange will eventually recieve. Either way, it’s worth noting that both this book and another one barely seen at the edge of the frame are wrapped in chains. There’s an old tradition in European legends and occultism of books of magic (especially those written by Cornelius Agrippa) that were so dangerous they had to be kept chained up. Whatever secrets Strange learns in this book, they’re probably not safe.
How did you become a doctor?
Study and practice, years of it.
Finally we get to see Doctor Strange actually do some magic, something there was a notable lack of in the previous trailer. Oddly only Strange himself ever seems to have these magic mandalas floating over his hands when doing magic, at least in the trailers. Maybe the effects haven’t been added for the other characters yet.
The voiceover with The Ancient One brings is actually more interesting to me than the spellcraft, however. In the comics Strange studied with The Ancient One for years. The exact amount of time is unspecified, but he went in with all black hair and left with greying temples. In his origin story this time is skipped over. We see how Strange met The Ancient One and was convinced to study with him, but the actual training is just referenced. This is also a period of personal rebirth for Strange. He comes to The Ancient One as an entitled, selfish, and angry man but over his years of study he becomes a different person. The Strange that leaves The Ancient One’s temple to return to New York is a reserved and scholarly individual, full of great compassion and a deep reverence for his responsibilities to the world.
If Strange is going to both become a powerful sorcerer and completely change his personality in the film a certain amount of time passing is necessary for that. If it happens in a few days or even a month it will seem rushed and unearned. On the other hand, the passage of time is hard to convey in film, and a multi-year jump in the middle of the story may seem jarring. How is this to be dealt with? In some other adaptations of Doctor Strange’s origin he’s been made into a “chosen one” sort of figure, a person already capable of incredible magical feats who just needs that power to be unlocked. Personally, I hope the movie avoids that, as it’s a bit of a cop out. Plus, we’ve all already seen The Matrix. A more palatable option might be The Ancient One’s ability from the comics to manipulate time itself, allowing Strange to study for years in a closed time loop while time passes regularly in the rest of the world. After all, his timeline will have to matchup with the other heroes of the MCU, if he’s going to join in for the fun of the Infinity War movies.
Oh, and notice that odd symbol on the book to the left there. We’ll come back to the topic of mysterious symbols scattered throughout this trailer.
Okay, so there’s a few things to unpack about this sequence. One is that the glass-like effect strange has conjured seems similar to the effect The Ancient One caused earlier in this trailer, shattering the air into glass prisms. Another is that Strange seems surprised by this effect—whatever he was trying to accomplish, this wasn’t what he expected. Another is that it seems he wasn’t supposed to be doing this. He makes the distortion disappear as other people enter the room. Strange’s face is also reflected multiple times from multiple angles in the distortion, and each face seems to be reacting differently. Perhaps this is some sort of prism, allowing Strange to see other versions of himself in other dimensions? Finally there’s that symbol on the wall in the distance. It’s the Seal of the Vishanti.
There’s a strength to him.
But is he ready?
I sure hope that first line isn’t an indicator that Strange is going to go all Neo on us later on. At any rate this bit introduces us to Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) for this trailer and gives us our first look at Wong (Benedict Wong). They seem to be having a discussion with The Ancient One (you can see her shoulder at the edge of the frame, it’s definitely her grey costume from earlier) about Strange. These three seem to comprise the leadership for the Masters of the Mystic Arts (the group’s name, as revealed in a recent movie tie-in comic book). On the wall behind Mordo there’s another symbol, very similar to the Seal of the Vishanti we just saw on that wall where Strange was doing his conjuring but clearly not the same. This seems to be the same room in fact, suggesting maybe this is some private room of the Masters’ that Strange shouldn’t have been in.
Hi Wong! Fans of the comic know Wong quite well. He’s Strange’s perennial sidekick in the comics, a bodyguard/butler whose entire family line has dedicated itself to serving and protecting the Sorcerer Supreme, whoever that happens to be. Unfortunately comic book Wong fits into the stereotyped role of the Ethnic Manservant, a character type that is decidedly out of vogue due to its racist subtext. Modern comic writers have tried to update Wong in a variety of ways to get around this. One popular way has been to make Wong Strange’s peer, a fellow sorcerer who trained under The Ancient One. The movie has taken this a step further, making Wong one of Strange’s teachers, described as the “drill sergeant” of the Masters of the Mystic Arts. Expect a humorous training montage where Wong tries to teach Strange the basics of magic and Strange keeps screwing up.
It remains to be seen if Wong will become Strange’s closest companion and confidant as he is in the comics, and if so how their personal dynamic will change as a result of the changes made to Wong’s character. I’ve always thought it would be wise to make Wong and strange equally good at very different things, different disciplines of magic. Hopefully they hew to some of the better characterizations of the two. My personal favorite is the approach where Strange is the esoteric, scholarly member of the duo while Wong is the hardened realist.
Here we have Strange eyeballing the Cloak of Levitation, which will become one of his two signature magical tools, along with the Eye of Agamotto. This shot is presumably in the Sanctum Sanctorum. The recent tie-in comic I’ve mentioned revealed that the movie Sanctum is a place where the Masters of the Mystic Arts store magical artifacts, especially dangerous ones. It’s a little hard to tell in this and the last trailer when a given sequence is taking place in the Ancient One’s Temple or in the Sanctum Sanctorum. Every now and then we get a minor clue, like the cloak in its glass case here, but there’s a bunch of shots that could be in either location.
It wouldn’t be a Marvel Studios movie without a shirtless shot. While he’s not the most physically adept superhero, Cumberbatch is continuing the fine tradition of Doctor Strange being easy on the eyes.
This was one of my favorite bits in the trailer. In one of the updates of Strange’s origin story, The Ancient One’s temple was depicted as having no fixed location, existing outside normal time and space. Any door could open onto it and once you were inside each window could show you a totally different view. Here we have a room with three windows that show a misty forest, a snowy mountain and, as Strange steps forward…
… a stormy beach. Strange isn’t just relaxing in his quarters in this scene. He’s bleeding from his forehead, indicating an action scene probably just took place. It’s impossible to tell what part of the movie this is, but Strange’s costume provides a hint. It seems like he gradually picks up the classic pieces of his costume as the movie goes along. We see a lot of him in just his blue tunic, but then he adds on the Eye of Agamotto at some point, and by the big climax he has the Cloak of Levitation as well. I’m guessing this scene is somewhere around the mid-point of the movie.
Be careful which paths you travel down, Strange. Stronger men than you have lost their way.
And finally we get a good look at our villain. Since the last trailer it was confirmed that he is Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a fairly minor villain from the comics. In the comics Kaecilius was most notable for being a vessel for the power of others, a henchman who could be possessed by his masters, who would cast their spells through him. In the movie Kaecilius and his minions seem to have bizarre, disintegrating eyes, which suggests to me that their bodies are housing some sort of energy that’s eating them up from the inside.
This past Saturday, at the San Diego Comic Convention Scott Derrickson, the film’s director, beat around the bush regarding this character, saying he was developed “to allow us to introduce the idea of certain individuals who live in other dimensions.” Previously Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios, described Kaecilius as a character who wants to open up Earth to the multiverse, believing it would be better for the world if extra-dimensional entities were allowed to visit humanity directly. Clearly this villain is a pawn of greater forces, and while there are a number of possible entities who might be pulling his strings, I think I know which one my money is on.
While these trailers have involved a lot of surreal visuals, the big stuff has been limited to cities warping and twisting, mundane environments distorted in fantastical ways. This is a departure from the weird visuals the Doctor Strange comics are famous for, which focus more on colorful and otherworldly landscapes that bear little resemblance to what we see on Earth. Kevin Feige has stated the movie will, at some point, show us the Dark Dimension, one of the most prominent of these alien dimensions from the comics. This shot, of a city seemingly turning transparent and showing a ghostly mirage of purple blue makes me wonder if we’re seeing a window into the Dark Dimension for the first time, as these are the sort of colors I’d expect from it. There’s also very similar to the colors around Kaecilius’ ruined eyes. This is also a nighttime shot, compared to the big set-piece shots of New York warping in on itself, and I’m wondering if it’s a different city. There are a few other shots in the trailer of weird stuff happening in an Asian city at night. I’m wondering if this is part of that.
Here’s Kaecilius again. He’s got some voiceover dialogue, but it sounds oddly edited, as if the “I am…” part is not from the same scene as the “…death. And Pain.” part. The death-and-pain bit seems to be from the scene pictured, though, with Kaecilius wrapped in chains and imprisoned in the Sanctum Sanctorum; you can see the Sanctum’s distinctive skyline over his shoulder, with the Seal of the Vishanti worked into its design. Speaking of, note the brand/scar on Kaecilius’ forehead. He and his followers all have this marking, which looks very similar to the Seal of the Vishanti, but sharper and more angular, almost like a sinister inversion. We’ve seen a few other symbols with similar designs now, and I’m beginning to wonder if each one represents a different magical entity. The Seal of the Vishanti is all over the place for our good guys—on the Eye of Agomotto, in the skylight of the Sanctum, on the wall of The Ancient One’s temple—all signifying that our heroes serve the good-aligned Vishanti. Kaecilius and his followers have a different symbol. Who do they serve?
We get a few shots in rapid succession here, but this one stands out the most. Christine Palmer is apparently trying to restart Strange’s heart. Strange is in his sorcerous garb, so clearly he reconnects with his old colleague following his return to New York. This scene is reminiscent of one from the comics in which Strange had to be operated on by Night Nurse. Strange astral projected just before he was injured, and during the procedure his ghostly astral form hovers over Night Nurse, helping to guide her through the surgery. This shot in the trailer shows a lot of sparks flying but no source, so I’m guessing the effects haven’t been added in yet. Perhaps they will include a spectral Stephen Strange floating in the background once they are.
Strange and Mordo rush towards a mystic portal while Kaecilius gives chase, apparently bending the cityscape with magic, causing them to slip and stumble. It’s interesting that none of the bystanders seem to be affected, or even seem to notice what’s going odd. All this reality warping seems to be beyond their perception, which makes sense. The movie’s going to have to explain how all this magical stuff has stayed secret despite existing for centuries, and the idea that only sorcerers can see it is as good an approach as any.
Strange and Kaecilius fight in the Sanctum Sanctorum (you can see some cases holding various artifacts in the background, which is a dead giveaway) with Strange creating some sort of energy whip for the fight. This is the first we’ve seen of magic being used in combat, which seems unusually focused on close-quarters combat. Kaecilius has some sort of hand weapon, Mordo’s running around with a sword, and later we see some fist-fighting. This shot of Strange using magical energy to fight is the closest thing to how he fights in the comics we’ve seen, which tends to look more like this, and I hope we see more of it. When wizards are battling, I’d like a little more creativity than kung-fu with magic lightsabers.
Here’s that fistfight. Strange and who I think is Kaecilius duke it out on the street while the all sorts of magical chaos goes down. Mordo looks on in amazement from a fire escape above and to the left of the combatants (it’s easier to spot him in motion). The buildings don’t seem to be getting torn apart, though; the one on the right almost looks like it’s rebuilding itself, repairing damage that had been done. Kevin Feige has mentioned before that the Eye of Agamotto in the movie has the power to manipulate time and probabilities, so maybe that’s what’s going on here: Strange and Kaecilius struggle over the amulet, each trying to use its powers to either cause damage or reverse it.
Again, there seem to be two big sequences of all hell breaking lose in a major city. One, seen here, in New York, and one in the previous scene, set in (based on the signs and architecture) some unknown city in East Asia. Also, little cameo by the Avengers/Stark tower near the bottom of the screen here, the only real indication so far that this movie takes place in the broader MCU.
And here we see Doctor Strange throwing on the Cloak of Levitation, which attaches itself to Strange’s shoulders of his own accord. In addition to allowing Strange to fly, the Cloak has a mind of its own, and can respond to its owner’s mental commands, flying off to fetch objects or entangle enemies. Hopefully the movie cloak will get to show off some neat tricks as well.
I spent so many years peering through time, looking… For you.
This seems to be part of the movie’s biggest set piece, a chase scene with Strange and Mordo fleeing from Kaecilius in the streets of New York, while the villain distorts and reshapes the terrain to stop them. The voice over by The Ancient One has me a little worried again that they’re going to go with a “chosen one” angle with Strange, but the “peering through time” bit is intriguing as well. More indication of how the Eye of Agamotto will be used in the movie?
While this is an amusing joke about how sorcerers in fiction often seem to be Luddites, it’s probably also a nod to the Doctor Strange story Into Shamballa. Scott Derrickson has repeatedly tweeted bits of art from the story, and is seemingly quite taken with its dreamlike imagery.
And here we are, Doctor Strange in his full costume, projecting magical shields and battling an unseen enemy, in some mysterious location. This shot looks like it could have come right out of any number of classic Doctor Strange comics. I’m really anticipating how the fight scenes of the movie could turn out as Strange grows in mystical power.
So that’s the second Doctor Strange trailer. A lot more revealed, but still plenty of unanswered questions, as it should be. I have a feeling that we’ve seen relatively little of how weird this movie will get, and that they probably haven’t shown us much of Strange’s training or the final climax. Over the next couple of months the marketing for this movie is really going to ramp up, so we’ll probably be getting a many more trailers, plus TV spots and clips, quite soon. Come back to the MCU Exchange to hear all about them, though I probably won’t do a detailed breakdown for each one.
Like the Mindless Ones of the Dark Dimension, their numbers will soon overwhelm us.
Sources: Entertainment Weekly