“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”: A cynical trailer review from a certified MCU hater.

Two days ago, Marvel Studios dropped a new teaser trailer for the upcoming film Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, a sequel to the first Doctor Strange movie that was released in 2016. I saw that some MCU fans on Twitter were excited about little snippets they caught from the teaser, which reminded me that I never watched the official full-length trailer. Not because I didn’t have the time or because I forgot to watch it—it’s because I hate MCU movies. “Hate” is a strong word, but my feelings towards this franchise can sometimes veer into that extreme. Hate is also a very energy-intensive emotion to carry around though, so more often than not my thoughts on the MCU manifest as a quiet, yet potent distaste. That all being said, I thought it would be fun to check out the trailer for this Doctor Strange flick, and report on this material through the eyes of a malicious cynic. Shall we?

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Official Trailer)

The trailer opens with Stephen Strange giving a voiceover about a recurring dream he’s been having every night, but it is only when he wakes up that the real nightmare begins. Spooky.

This is one of a few visuals that play as Stephen gives his V.O., showing us what is likely a moment from this dream he’s been having. From the looks of it, I believe that this disintegrating building is his magic headquarters mansion in NYC—sitting in a field of bones instead of skyscrapers. Extra spooky.

Also in this sequence a massive CGI cosmic-mummy-monster screams at someone who Google tells me is American Chavez (is she a new superhero? I’m not well-versed in Marvel lore, so who she’s supposed to be is lost on me). I will say that the swirling vortex of chaos around them looks pretty cool. So kudos to the digital artists who aren’t unionized for working on this scene for God-knows how many hours! 

Then we get a clip of Wong, a fellow sorcerer that we’ve seen in other MCU films, telling Doctor Strange that he can’t control everything—a warning and a lesson for our hero. Maybe this movie will involve time travel, because inflated self-importance and control issues were also Strange’s inner conflicts in the last two movies I saw him in. And though I didn’t watch it, I know that he also struggled with this in the latest Spider-Man movie. But I’m sure this time he’ll really learn his lesson for good!

Then the camera pans to Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch herself! If I was forced at knife-point to watch this movie, it would almost feel worth it just to see more of her character in action. I enjoyed most of WandaVision last year, because it felt like a breath of fresh air, stolen in the midst of the banal fog that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That is, until the series finale flexed its MCU muscles to the max with ugly CGI fights and pointless narrative tugs that only served as teasers for The Next Big Thing. It looks like Doctor Strange 2 was The Next Big Thing. Which means that this movie is responsible for derailing the one and only Marvel-related thing that I actually kind of liked within the last several years. My cynicism is now a personal vendetta.

Our master sorcerer then stands before a disintegrating New York while someone (Google tells me his character’s name is Baron Mordo) tells Strange that his “desecration of reality” will not go unpunished. Clearly this trailer is telling us that Doctor Strange is going to suffer consequences because he allowed a traumatized teenager (Peter Parker) to rewrite the laws of reality in the last Spider-Man movie. The film hasn’t been released yet, so I can’t say this for certain, but why do I feel like the movie wants me to see this as a bad thing? Because what I find scarier is an extremely affluent man possessing the keys to the multiverse with little to no oversight. Please take him away, Mr. Mordo.

And it seems like he does take Doctor Strange away, as we see clips of Strange being led through a Grecco-Roman style office building in cuffs. He’s flanked by a security squad of Ultron-looking robots, which is interesting because Ultron was killed seven years ago in the first Avengers sequel. Maybe they backed him up on the Cloud?

Strange is led into a courtroom, facing a shadowy tribunal. A familiar voice says “We should tell him the truth,” from atop the tribunal platform; the “familiar voice” being Patrick Stewart, renowned genre and theater actor. He played Professor X in 20th Century Fox’s X-Men movies and it seems likely that he’s reprising his role here. Disney (owner of Marvel Entertainment Studios) bought out 20th Century Fox in 2019, giving them full permission to blend Fox’s roster of characters into the MCU. This just goes to show—you can’t spell “multiverse” without corporate-monopoly-on-the-entertainment-industry!

A lot of wacky clips play to really drive home the “madness” of this multiverse. Strange and Chavez fall through a sliding jungle next to a T-Rex, and then there’s the frame above where the two of them are sliced into cubes and screaming. The cube-face moment is definitely going to be GIF’d by one of Marvel’s social media interns at some point, if it hasn’t already. My theory is that these clips are from a dramatic sequence where Strange and Chavez get chewed up and spit out across a bunch of different alternate worlds and timelines. I’m sure that fan-service moments will be oozing out of this universe-hopping joyride. Personally I can’t wait to hear Strange or Chavez say “Well, that happened!” or “Didn’t know that was possible!” when they land, looking directly at the camera, waiting for the audience’s collective guffaws to die down before moving on.

And if one Doctor Strange isn’t enough for you, then you’ll be glad to know that there’s at least one more of him to grace your screens! My gut feeling is that the second Strange we see here is an evil version of the original Strange, because Benedict Cumberbatch is pulling a Bond-villain smirk under that bushy goatee of his. I for one find it thrilling that they’ve chosen this novel route of externalizing a character’s inner conflict by making them fight an evil shade of themselves! They better make Evil Strange comically villainous, or else audiences might confuse him with the egotistical, selfish, arrogant, douche-bag of a protagonist we’re all rooting for.

But screw him! We’re back to Wanda, who—probably via magic shenanigans—is watching herself relive the trauma of losing her imaginary children at the end of WandaVision. The voiceover of this bit is her telling Strange that when he breaks rules, he’s considered a hero; but when she breaks the rules, she’s treated like an enemy. Which is a fair point, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Wanda will end up paying the price for her wrongdoings while Strange will come out of this more or less unscathed. The MCU loves punishing and martyring women for men to feel sad about later. This will provide excellent angst material for a potential Vision mini-series one day. 

The trailer ends on this shot of, presumably, an evil iteration of Doctor Strange about to use some wild CGI eldritch-death-shadow magic on some poor bastard. Is this the same evil Strange from earlier? Could be! But this one looks zombified and is sans bushy goatee, so he may be another version of the man altogether. He’s using corpse-like limbs to do the multi-arm sage stance that I think I remember Doctor Strange doing in Infinity War? This feels… a little iffy. Considering the first Doctor Strange film was accused of misappropriating Eastern spirituality, maybe it would be wise to avoid depicting a white man with imagery that evokes Hindu deities? Especially in this instance, where the imagery is being associated with evil, dark magic? Food for thought, MCU team. 

Now that it’s over I can confidently say that this was, indeed, a trailer for an upcoming film soon to be released in theaters. If this was the first MCU-related slice of media I had ever seen, I would probably be curious to check out this weird special-effects golem of a film at some point. The underpaid and non-unionized digital artists are quite literally the backbone, vital organs, and central nervous system of the MCU. But having seen too many of these movies when I was a teenager, I can say with confidence that this movie will be: 70% CGI spectacle and 25% snarky dialogue  used to deflate any tension built up in a scene. That final 5% will be the decent performances of its cast, who have to convincingly portray pieces of cardboard surrounded by a green screen and people in morph suits. That any of the MCU actors can make their characters feel even slightly real in these conditions is something I have to begrudgingly compliment them for. 

I would end this review by saying that I hope they don’t drop everything that made Wanda’s character compelling just so they can have her and Strange shoot magic orbs at each other. But that would only come true if we lived in a multiverse world where Marvel cared about consistency.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will hit theaters by May 6th of this year.