Open your third eyes, folks — the first teaser trailer for Doctor Strange has arrived in our dimensional plane! This November’s Scott Derrickson–directed Marvel superhero outing will be the first to step outside of the sci-fi and war-movie genres and into the bold new world of magic-suffused fantasy. As you’d expect, it has a lot of its star, Benedict Cumberbatch (though there’s a surprising twist to his performance!), and a lot of portentous voice-over. But what do we actually learn about what’s going on in this mystical flick? Let’s astrally project ourselves into a deep dive.
The first image is of a smashed car windshield, but it’s initially so out-of-context as to almost seem abstract. It feels like Marvel is trying to hit us with a core theme of the trailer — and, presumably, the movie — which is breaking through barriers after violent change.
There’s our protagonist, Dr. Stephen Strange, played by Cumberbatch, floating and seemingly unconscious after a car crash. In traditional comics depictions, Strange is initially a wildly successful surgeon — and a profoundly arrogant one. But the accident and his subsequent maiming humbles him and sends him on a quest for meaning that leads him to his magical powers. Again, this image feels like a bit of slightly ham-fisted thematic information: After a trauma, Strange finds himself floating through life and removed from his usual consciousness.
We also get voice-over from what sounds like Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays Karl Mordo. In the comics, Mordo is one of Strange’s archnemeses, but Ejiofor has said in the past that it’s not so simple in the movie, and that Mordo has a long relationship with Strange’s eventual teacher, the Ancient One (whom we’ll see in a bit). Here, he’s going full Morpheus with his dialogue:
“Stephen Strange, might I offer you some advice? Forget everything that you think you know.”
That last word is pronounced more like “knaw,” perhaps implying that Mordo has a non-American, non-British accent.
Hmm, where is this demolished automobile? The barbed-wire-topped fence implies some kind of guarded facility. The headlights in the distance on the left seem to be coming out from under either an overpass, a toll area, or some kind of checkpoint. We’re somewhere out of the ordinary, but I’m not sure of anything beyond that.
Now Strange is in what appears to be a South Asian location during his post-accident soul-search.
We flash back to what I assume is the immediate aftermath of the crash and get our only glimpse of Rachel McAdams. We don’t get any information about who she is, but she’s wearing medical scrubs. There had been speculation that McAdams would play Strange’s traditional love interest, Clea, but in the comics, Clea is a mystical, otherworldly entity. This lady looks pretty human.
We get a couple of side-by-side pairings, which seem to be images of Strange before and after the crash. The first pairing shows him in a fancy tux, then in a ratty T-shirt and jacket. I guess his sense of style was shattered along with his car.
Then we see him first raising his hands in surgery, then raising them in some kind of cage with graffiti in the background. Stephen’s hands are crucial to the Doctor Strange mythos — they’re smashed up pretty bad in the accident, making him unable to perform his beloved surgery. In the cage image, you can see red scars on his poor little paws.
Mordo walks through what looks like an area with a high concentration of East Asians — it could be somewhere in Asia, or maybe it’s Manhattan’s Chinatown? No one seems to notice that there’s a dude in weird, green robes, but that fits with an idea that’s been at the core of Doctor Strange stories since their very beginning in 1963: The mystic action is often wholly invisible to the average, non-magical bystander.
We see Strange again, but more importantly, we hear him for the first time. And holy crow, Cumberbatch is using an American accent! “I don’t believe in fairy tales about chakras or energy or the power of belief,” he intones. Ah yes, the ol’ Refusal of the Call.
Here’s Tilda Swinton, controversially playing Stephen’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Ancient One. In the comics, he’s an East Asian man (already a racially problematic stereotype), but in the movie, the character is played by a white woman. Folks have not been happy about the whitewashing.
“You’re a man looking at the world through a keyhole,” she tells Stephen. “You’ve spent your life trying to widen it. Your work saved the lives of thousands. What if I told you that reality is one of many?” Okay, so maybe the movie has two Morpheuses. She’s talking about another key Doctor Strange notion: Other magic dimensions exist adjacent to our own, and only a select few can traverse them.
And here’s yet another crucial bit of the Strange mythology: Stephen’s “astral form.” After he’s trained in the mystic arts, he can project a manifestation of himself outside his own body in order to do all sorts of magic-y things.
Unlike the Rogue One trailer, this one delivers us actual gimpses of Mads Mikkelsen. He’s almost certainly a villain in this movie. Can’t you tell by the Alice Cooper-esque eye makeup? There’s speculation that he’s traditional Strange villain Dormammu, but if that’s true, he’s had a serious makeover — this guy’s head isn’t on fire.
As Jason Zook put it on Twitter, “If Inception and The Matrix had a movie baby, it would be this.”
And we end with Strange in full superhero costume (though mostly in silhouette), walking through the base of operations he’s had since his earliest appearances: his Sanctum Sanctorum. It’s usually depicted as being in Greenwich Village, where rents for a pad that sweet were significantly cheaper in 1963.