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Decoding the 'Doctor Strange' Trailer
Abracadabra! On Tuesday night, Jimmy Kimmel Live! magicked up the world premiere of the first trailer for Marvel’s Doctor Strange. That’s a full six months ahead of the film’s Nov. 4 release date and just a week and change after director Scott Derrickson wrapped a shoot that brought production to Nepal, then London, and finally Manhattan. The clip made some things very clear (Tilda Swinton’s bald!) while seeming to leave others as opaque as the inside of a magician’s top hat (is Chiwetel Ejiofor’s character Mordo a goodie or a baddie?). Now, pick a card — any card! — while we take a closer look at the first-ever footage from Doctor Strange….
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We first encounter our hero, Doctor Stephen Strange, in a car, in water, and seemingly in a heap of trouble, which will please purists no end. Having the roots of Strange’s transformation from egomaniacal surgeon to world-protecting magician lie in a vehicular incident very much follows the origin story of the Steve Ditko- and Stan Lee-created character, as first related in 1963’s Strange Tales #115.
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Transporting to Kathmandu
This is the first shot not only of a vertical Cumberbatch, but of Kathmandu, Nepal, where Doctor Strange started shooting back in November and where Strange has come to seek medical help for the terrible damage the car crash did to his hands, and hence his career. (Incidentally, our crystal ball tells us you will be getting a better look at those injuries later on in the trailer.) Strange is searching for the Ancient One, a mysterious figure with supposed healing powers he hopes may be able to help him become a surgeon once again. In the comics, the Ancient One is a man but in the film the character is played by Swinton. Does that mean the Ancient One is a woman? “I wouldn’t know how to answer that one,” the actress told EW last year. “I think it’s all in the eye of the beholder.”
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Rachel McAdams' Mysterious Turn
As the footage of Cumberbatch flashes back and forth across time — from immediate post-crash Strange to bearded, sometime-after-the-crash Strange — we see another familiar face: Rachel McAdams. The Spotlight actress plays an as-yet-unnamed surgeon, who is presumably escorting the post-crash Cumberbatch to the operating room. Is McAdams’ character also a love interest for Strange? “I hit on her more than the Ancient One, put it like that,” Cumberbatch told EW on set.
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See? We said you’d be getting a better look at those hands! And while you’re doing so, let’s check out the Ancient One’s voiceover. “You’re a man looking at the world through a keyhole,” intones Swinton. “You’ve spent your life trying to widen it.” Well, either the Ancient One is trying to teach Strange about metaphysics and/or magic, which would be appropriate given the character of the Ancient One in the book, or the good Doctor has a rather bad Peeping-Tom addiction.
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Oh, sure, it looks nice. But think of the electric bill! Regardless, this structure is, we assume, Kamar-Taj, the homebase, according to Marvel mythology, of the sorcerer community, including the Ancient One.
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We see a shot of Mordo, another sorcerer, walking down a street while man-of-science Strange takes over the voiceover to explain that he doesn’t “believe in chakras, or energy, of the power of belief.” Yeah, check back in with us about that in 10 seconds, buddy.
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Tilda Swinton Steps In
Swinton finally turns up in the flesh and…Great Scott, she’s bald! True, the Ancient One is chrome-of-dome in the comic version, but it’s still a bit of a shock. Oh, and she also tells Strange that she sees “possibility” in his future — presumably the possibility that he will embrace the magical side and become a sorcerer himself. Also, did we mention she’s bald?
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So, here, the Ancient One demonstrates her power to Cumberbatch’s Strange by literally punching the Cumberbatch out of him. In sorcerer circles, that is known as the “Suck on this, David Blaine!” trick.
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An Unnamed Villian
Although we don’t get to see him for long, the gentleman rearranging the furniture here is surely the film’s villain. His name, like that of McAdams’ character, has yet to be given out by Marvel, but he is played, we know, by Mads Mikkelsen. The Hannibal star portrays a sorcerer who, according to Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige, believes our plane of existence would be improved if “scary things” from other dimensions were allowed into our own.
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Journey to the Mountains
Why is Benedict Cumberbatch wandering around a windy, snowy mountain? No idea. We can tell you, though, that Swinton stressing the importance of saving lives in the voiceover is once again in keeping with the kindly character of Ancient One in the comic book.
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Chiwetel Ejiofor Flips the Script
“So much you don’t know!” says Swinton as we see a shot of Mordo. Ejiofor’s character is Doctor Strange’s archenemy in the comics, but there is little sign of that in this trailer. Is this a hint that the Doctor is oblivious to his true nature? We don’t know!
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Keeping an Open Mind
Fans of director Scott Derrickson’s horror movies might well have gotten excited at this point, given it looks like the Ancient One is about to give Strange an unasked-for craniotomy with his/her thumb. In fact, as will shortly see, Swinton’s character is capable of changing the Doctor’s mind without resorting to such a drastic measure. Note: fingers and thumbs are very important in the world of Doctor Strange. According to Cumberbatch, “gestures are ways of creating the magic you’ll see in the film.”
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The Magical Mystery Tour
On the London set of Doctor Strange, Feige revealed to EW that one sequence in the film — which he referred to as “The Magical Mystery Tour” — found Strange being taken on a shocking journey through the different Marvel dimensions, or “multiverse.” Could this phantasmagorical vision be part of that tour?
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An Otherworldly Education
“Teach me!” Having returned from wherever the Ancient One sent him, Strange decides that a course in magic would be worth the out-of-state student fees.
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Dr. Strange's Transformation
The final shot of the trailer finds Strange in his full sorcerer garb. The location, meanwhile, is almost certainly the Doctor’s West Village abode, the Sanctum Sanctorum. And that card you picked at the start? It was the seven of clubs. What do you mean, “Not even close!”?