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While the first teaser for Doctor Strange did live up to the hype that the movie would offer something other than the traditional Marvel norm — this time, the monologue was from Tilda Swinton’s aged mentor, the Ancient One, and there was no sign of an external threat — it was hard to shake the feeling that we’ve seen all of this somewhere before.
It’s not that the Doctor is swiping all of his moves from one particular source, of course.
There are elements of Inception (the folding city shot at 1:25!), The Matrix (not only the general idea of there being multiple realities, but also the martial arts-leading-into-SFX moment at 1:03), and even Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Stephen Strange replacing Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne as the rich white guy seeking enlightenment through tourism in the far east. (And that’s not getting into the fact that Cumberbatch’s American accent sounds not unlike fellow Brit Hugh Laurie’s House M.D.)
None of this is necessarily a real problem, of course; many movies lift from other movies, and there’s absolutely nothing to suggest that a derivative movie can’t be an entertaining movie (exhibit A: Star Wars, which is filled with lessons learned from movies past).
However, when it comes to the Doctor Strange teaser, there’s nothing there outside the derivative aspects: Due to the nature of the trailer, there’s no story beyond the “white man finds enlightenment in Asia” trope and barely any dialogue — nothing from anyone outside of Swinton and Cumberbatch — to let audiences decide that maybe the performances will elevate the material.
There are saving graces to the teaser — though we’ve seen this kind of thing before, the special effects work, and even though the Ancient One role really could’ve/probably should’ve gone to an Asian actor (I’ve already seen comparisons on Twitter between this trailer and M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender, worryingly enough).
Watching Swinton literally knock Cumberbatch’s soul out of his body is surprisingly satisfying — but as an introduction to not only a brand-new franchise for Marvel, but a potential new genre, this feels far less bold and assured than the first glimpse at Guardians of the Galaxy a couple of years ago.
This isn’t the first time a Marvel teaser has underwhelmed, and experience shows that Marvel has proven to be deft at course correcting in terms of promotional missteps: Consider the case of the Ant-Man teaser last year and how quickly the tone was clarified and message sharpened in later trailers.
For now, what is clear is that Doctor Strange has, at the very least, the potential to be fun eye candy. But anything more …? That’ll be up to the first full trailer to convince us.
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