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What on Earth Is Happening With Doctor Strange in the Spider-Man: No Way Home Trailer? 

Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange wearing winter gear and a cloak in the Spider-Man No Way Home trailer

We’ve known for a while now that Benedict Cumberbatch’s magical Marvel character Doctor Stephen Strange was in Spider-Man: No Way Home. But with the trailer’s long-awaited official release, Strange took an unexpected front and center. And it’s a lot, with some of his behavior appearing incongruously “OOC,” or “out of character” to many viewers.

In the trailer’s wake, there’s been an explosion of Strange-related memes and a ton of speculation online. Let’s look at what on Earth (or multiple Earths) is happening with Doctor Strange.

The trailer makes Strange look like the co-star of this movie—he appears to be heavily involved throughout and possibly responsible for multiversal shenanigans. This is an interesting development, because for months, it’s been a long-running joke on Twitter that an exasperated Strange will have to sweep in to clean up the messes made by Wanda, Loki, and Sylvie. But now it would seem that Strange is mucking about just as much with forces beyond his control.

People are freaking out that a la Agatha Harkness, “it’s been Doctor Strange all along” who broke the multiverse.

Then there are a lot of questions about Strange’s behavior in the trailer and the circumstances we see him in. First of all, why is the Sanctum Sanctorum transformed into a set from Frozen, and why is Strange layered up in winter wear? (To be fair, this is the most hilarious sight gag of the trailer, and has generated a lot of “disappointed dad” reaction memes.)

But most pressingly, why would Strange decide to help Peter Parker with a wildly dangerous spell that Wong warns him against using? Anyone who has read one (1) folktale ever could tell you this sort of thing—a wish for everyone to forget something, in this case, Peter’s secret identity—is an extremely Bad Idea and will absolutely Never End Well.

The bizarreness of Strange’s choice to help Peter has prompted many to suggest that he may actually be a disguised Mephisto, the devilish Marvel villain who was expected to show up in WandaVision and then did not. Further clues to this theory borne out by the trailer are a mob scene where someone is holding up a sign about Peter that reads “devil in disguise” and the existence of the “One More Day” comics storyline.

In the 2007 Spider-Man comics arc by J. Michael Straczynski and Joe Quesada, Peter asks the demon Mephisto for help saving Aunt May’s life. Mephisto does so in exchange for Peter’s marriage to Mary Jane Watson, effectively wiping their relationship from existence. So “Peter makes a devastating decision to delete parts of his life” is already an idea that’s out there in the Marvel universe.

Parallels of the story seem to be echoed in the trailer, with Peter making a “deal with the devil” that will bring him much more than he bargained for. However, considering that “One More Day” proved to be controversial and was widely disliked by fans and comics critics alike, I find it hard to believe that the MCU would choose to replicate this particular Mephisto twist. As Wikipedia notes of the comics’ reception, “Tim Marchman of The Wall Street Journal stated that having Spider-Man make a deal with the devil-like Mephisto is ‘the rough equivalent of having Z-movie director Uwe Boll film a studio-funded prequel to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver.'” Ouch.

Another possible explanation might be found in Marvel’s What If…? animated series, which introduces a “dark” Doctor Strange into the MCU. So this could be a variant Strange—perhaps already in Peter’s world from the multiverse after Wanda and Loki’s meddling—who uses Peter to further break down the barriers between universes.

The popular artist Boss Logic also weighed in on this theory, suggesting that Strange’s behavior was suspect in the trailer and mentioning the Dark Doctor.

Of course, there’s a somewhat more reasonable explanation for what happens here than Mephistos or Dark Doctors. Despite the meme view of him as a “responsible dad” sort now, Stephen Strange is a reckless man whose primary character trait has long been arrogance in his own abilities.

People who are tweeting “But Doctor Strange would never do something like this!” are being greeted with a reminder of his movie origin story.

I don’t think it’s “OOC” for the Strange we know to actually think he has a way to help Peter and think that he has the power to pull it off without disastrous side effects. As for why he’d help, well, he and Peter did just help save the universe together from Thanos’s Snap, and Peter is still pretty much a kid.

Strange might have sympathy for Peter’s plight, and Strange likely is also experiencing some guilt over knowing in advance that the only way to stop Thanos would result in Tony Stark’s death. Spider-Man: Far From Home saw Peter grappling with his grief over the loss of Stark, his mentor; maybe Strange figured that he owed Tony one.

Personally, when I watched the trailer, I got the sense that Strange was just sort of humoring Peter—like, he started the spell as a way to show Peter that Peter really didn’t want the world to forget who he was, but then something goes wrong (maybe that’s the moment multiversal chaos happens elsewhere, maybe it’s Peter’s interference).

The most interesting element (beyond that layered winter wear) is that it does appear that Strange might be fighting Peter in some scenes, especially on the speeding train. Fans are theorizing that even with classic big bad guys like Doc Ock and Green Goblin running around, Strange (a version of him, at least) could be the real villain of the piece.

Marvel Studios is famous for making trailers that lead us in one direction and then the movies spin us around entirely, so it’s also probable that a lot of what we’re seeing in this first teaser consists of massive misdirects.

In conclusion, the only certainty we can divine from the Spider-Man: No Way Home trailer is that Wong is always right and everyone should always listen to Wong.

What do you think is happening with Dr. Strange in No Way Home?

(images: Marvel Studios)

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Kaila is a lifelong New Yorker. She's written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.