Hey guys! I’m starting the year out with another trailer breakdown, and this movie needs no introduction. The first Doctor Strange trailer was all about table setting, introducing a lesser known (to non-geek crowds) Marvel superhero to the unwashed masses. This movie looks nuts, but nuts enough to break the usual Marvel mold? Let’s take a closer look.
The trailer opens with several shots focusing on the hands of Dr. Stephen Strange, and this is no accident. As we saw in the first trailer (and as we see recapped here), Dr. Strange was a brilliant surgeon before he became a master of the mystic arts, a man whose intellect was matched by his physical skill.
The real stars of this shot are Bandersnatch Cummerbund’s snake eyes, but his hands loom large in the frame. I could be reading too much into this (says the guy who regularly goes through movie trailers frame-by-frame), but this could be director Scott Derrickson going above and beyond to emphasize how important Strange’s hands are to his life and career. If you’re going to rip something away from a character, you need to establish just how important it is first. And yes, there’s even a shot of those hands playing a piano, just to rub it in.
Long story short: Strange is in a car accident and his hands receive the worst of it, requiring extensive treatment from which he will never fully recover. Here’s Strange recovering in his hospital room, with Rachel McAdams’s Christine Palmer sitting at his bedside. Naturally, losing the key to his life’s work sends Strange into a downward spiral that leads to a quest around the world an to him discovering his affinity for sorcery, so it all does work out in the end.
I don’t want to say that the scenes of a bearded and weary Strange wandering the world look like they were borrowed from Batman Begins B-roll, but that’s exactly what they look like. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I just can’t help but wonder how much of this movie will be yet another origin story and how much will focus on Strange actually being the most powerful magician in the MCU.
In the first trailer, we got to see Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One literally shove Strange’s spirit out of his body, allowing him to experience his first astral projection by force. This is another angle from what appears to be the same scene, except that she’s now backing the doctor into some kind of inter-dimensional barrier. Man, she really is just tossing her latest student into this magic thing head first…
Look! It’s the new Marvel Studios logo! And in a nice touch, the background is a kaleidoscope of ever-changing colors and shapes, a nod to the weird and wild magical world that Strange and his buddies occupy.
There’s (rightfully) been some controversy over the casting of Swinton as the Ancient One, a character who has previously been depicted as an Asian man in the comic books. Still, it’s hard to get too upset at the thought of Tilda Swinton playing an ageless mystic, mainly because she’s actually an ageless mystic herself in real life and did all of her own magic for the film.
Let’s blindly speculate about who this guy could be. The robe instantly gives him away as a magic user of some kind long before he starts actually, you know, using magic, but it’s the yellow color that suggests where his allegiances might lie. We know that the climax of Doctor Strange is a big battle between good and evil in the streets of New York, and we see in later shots that at least some of guys backing up Kaecilius (more on him in a moment) are wearing yellow. So there you go: this individual is almost certain a henchman, albeit a henchman with the ability to alter reality. This doesn’t look like an Avengers movie, in which the heroes take on an army of disposable minions who go down with a single punch. The villains here are men and women who have mastered something mysterious and absurdly powerful. Watching Strange battle villains who individually have a power set similar to his should make for a nice change of pace. And yes, the way the buildings are changing here do vaguely recall Inception, but that film’s shifting of reality and perception was rigid and grid-like. This is far looser, like watching reality get filtered through, well, a kaleidoscope.
This shot (presumably from much, much earlier in the movie) finds the Ancient One taking Strange on a field trip, with that ring of fire acting as a portal that can transport the user great distances. It’s a nifty way to visualize this concept for sure. Specifically, she appears to have taken Strange to the Himalayas. This is almost certainly a reference to the original Doctor Strange origin story, where he was trained by the Ancient One in these famous and deadly mountains instead of a massive compound located closer to the ground.
Speaking of which, it looks like Strange is far from alone when it comes to training in the mystic arts under the watchful eye of the Ancient One. His studies in the comics are a more isolated and lonely experience, but in the MCU, he’s surrounded by fellow apprentices.
It wouldn’t be a Doctor Strange story without characters consulting thick and ancient tomes full of magical knowledge, so here we are. Could this be our first look at the Book of the Vishanti, Strange’s go-to reference guide? In the comics, this book is an indestructible guide to defensive “white magic,” with spells calling upon the powers of the three spirits collectively known as the Vishanti.
Depending on who’s drawing him, the mystical energies emanating from Doctor Strange’s hand when he does his work can look like rigid symbols being projected from nowhere or amorphous clouds of energy. The film version seems to go with the former. It’s a good look, and the design looks appropriately ancient. Could this be the magical equivalent of Tony Stark’s helmet interior? A HUD from which he can operate his abilities and learn more about his enemies? He’s seen using it often enough in this trailer for me to mumble “maybe” into the void.
In the comics, Baron Mordo is the apprentice of the Ancient One, who betrays him, attempts to kill him, is thwarted by Doctor Strange, and ends up becoming the main ongoing nemesis of our hero. The MCU take on the character, played by the great Chiwetel Ejiofor, is a completely different take. He still appears to be the Ancient One’s right hand man, but it seems unlikely that he’ll go bad in this film. And if he does go bad in a future sequel, having spent two hours being a loyal friend to our hero should make that betrayal feel less naked and a lot more painful. Honestly, I’m just hoping the film avoids what the awful Green Lantern movie did with Sinestro – if he becomes a villain in a post-credits scene with zero previously seen motivation, I’m prepared to flip my chair over (before quietly and calmly returning it to where I found it because I respect other people’s property).
Everyone, myself included, expected Mads Mikkelsen to be playing a famous Doctor Strange villain like Nightmare or Dormammu. Instead, we get a curveball. He’s playing Kaecilius, and I won’t lie, I had to Google that name because I didn’t know much about him. It turns out that the comic book version of the character is one of Baron Mordo’s disciples and lead henchmen, assisting him with all manner of dastardly tasks. The MCU version is a former student of the Ancient One who has gone rogue and plans to do something really bad, presumably. Interestingly, Mikkelsen has said in interviews that Kaecilius’ motivation actually makes sense and that he’s a more complicated villain than he initially seems. Then again, that wouldn’t the first time an actor has said that about a half-baked comic book movie villain. In any case, watching an actor as good as him vamp around in robes while wearing that crazy make-up should help make up for many deficiencies. We may not know Kaecilius’ deal, but the make-up effects are killer and speak a thousand words: here’s a guy whose eyes have been opened, who has seen more than anyone else was supposed to see. It’s a simple effect, but it’s unsettling and grotesque and looks fantastic.
One of the aspects of this trailer I enjoy the most is just how hard magic looks. It requires years of study and the ability to read ancient books written in languages that may not exist. And then you have to pull off these spells that look like they require tremendous physical effort. In terms of raw abilities, Doctor Strange is probably the most powerful character in the MCU, but it’s not effortless. If Scott Derrickson set out to create the iconic Doctor Strange shot, he seems to have succeeded. I have nothing to add here beyond saying that he’s made one of my personal favorite Marvel superhero look very, very cool.
Three things about this shot. First, this appears to be connected to the other big city action scene. Second, the mass destruction may be misleading, because Doctor Strange appears to be using his magic to reverse the damage and put the buildings around him back together. Third, if you squint, it looks like that’s Strange and Kaecilius brawling in the streets. Yeah, this certainly looks like an interesting sandbox to stage a massive, earth-shaking, climactic brawl between the forces of good and evil.
Doctor Strange is now one of three MCU heroes (after Thor and Vision) to rock the cape look. As cool as it looks, Doctor Strange’s red cape isn’t a fashion statement. It’s the Cloak of Levitation, an ancient magic artifact that allows him to fly. Of course, he eventually dons it himself, but it’s seemingly under lock and key early in the film, probably under the watchful eye of the Ancient One and her followers. While his cape is a magical item with actual functionality, this means he can do that cool thing where he walks toward the camera and swishes it over his shoulder. There’s a reason DC superheroes tend to wear these things: they look amazing.
And to round it out, Shamballa: an ancient, mythical city written in ancient Hindu and Buddhist texts. Also: the wifi password at the Ancient One’s training compound. Thanks for bearing with me guys!