Seeing the mystical mumbo jumbo of “Doctor Strange” for the first time in Tuesday’s trailer has been disorienting for a lot of folks. Doctor Strange, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, is the weirdest of the Marvel heroes we’ve seen on screen so far. While the trailer did a good job of starting with the basics, there’s a lot more that bears exploring.
So we’re going to do just that, taking a look at Doctor Strange’s history in the comic book source material.
Dr. Stephen Strange
In the comics, Stephen Strange is from Nebraska. After high school he moved to New York to begin his medical schooling. By the time he was 30, Strange was a great and well-known neurosurgeon.
Between his late teens and early 30s, each member of his family died in various ways — his sister Donna drowned, his parents died of illness, his brother Victor was hit by a car while crossing the street. Strange put Victor’s body on ice in hopes that someday he’d be able to revive him somehow.
The car accident
Strange then got into a severe car accident, and while he survived it, his hands suffered significant nerve damage. His career as a surgeon was over, but his pride wouldn’t let him accept another related medical profession. So he abandoned that career path all together and spent all his money looking for some way to fix his hands. To help pay his bills, he did some not-exactly-legal back alley medical work.
He doesn’t make any headway, but when nearly all his resources are exhausted he hears rumors of a person called The Ancient One, who lives in a compound in Tibet and has magical powers. Strange spends all his remaining resources to travel to Asia and pay The Ancient One a visit.
When Strange showed up in Tibet, the sorcerer known as The Ancient One refused to fix his damaged hands, offering Strange an apprenticeship instead. Strange had no interest in that but ended up staying the night rather than leaving right away. That night, the jealous Baron Mordo tried and failed to take out The Ancient One, who easily bested him. Strange saw all this and, wanting to stop the threat of the power-hungry Baron Mordo, decided to stay and train with The Ancient One.
The Ancient One
This mystical being, played by a bald Tilda Swinton in the movie, holds the title Sorceress Supreme and is 600 years old. She has an apprentice sorcerer, Baron Mordo — that’s who Chiwetel Ejiofor plays. The Ancient One, being super old, needs a successor — and Stephen Strange has the innate magical power necessary to become the next Sorcerer Supreme. The Ancient One and Baron Mordo have known of Strange’s potential since he was a child, and Baron Mordo was not happy about the idea of Strange as a rival, wanting to himself be The Ancient One’s successor.
Doctor Strange has the power of astral projection, meaning he can leave his body and go anywhere he wants very quickly. He can read minds and communicate telepathically. His cape allows him to levitate. He trained in martial arts in Tibet as well as magic arts, so he can physically fight very well. And he’s immortal. He’s got a billion other weird magic powers on top of this stuff.
In addition to his cape that allows him to fly, Doctor Strange has a crystal ball with which he can view anything in the world or view other dimensions, and an amulet that allows him to know when someone is lying or see past events in his current location.
But while he won’t die naturally, he can be killed. Since he’s still human, he has all the physical weaknesses of any other person. He can only operate on the astral plane for so long before his body starts to deteriorate. And, of course, his body is defenseless when he’s zooming around in spirit form.
We see Rachel McAdams and Mads Mikkelsen briefly in the trailer, but we don’t know for sure who each one plays. McAdams is said to be in the role of one of Strange’s hospital coworkers. Mikkelsen is the main villain of “Doctor Strange,” but who that is remains a secret. Fans commonly speculate that he’s playing Dormammu, a Big Bad of the Marvel universe with whom Baron Mordo is secretly in league. Dormammu, “lord of the Dark Dimension,” is known to want to take over Earth’s dimension, so that could be the threat here.
We don’t see Wong, Doctor Strange’s manservant, who will be played by Benedict Wong. Wong is the latest in a family line devoted to serving morally good mystics. Michael Stuhlbarg plays Nicodemus West — the surgeon who saves Strange after his car accident and who later learns some healing magic but never completes mystic training.