Over the weekend, a trailer for Spider-Man: No Way Home leaked. Now, with CinemaCon, the annual convention for theater owners in Las Vegas, underway, the trailer has been released for real. (Sidebar: Having CinemaCon right now doesn’t feel like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, it feels like trying to resurrect the Titanic.) The trailer is super fun, full of the multiverse hijinks we’ve been building to through WandaVision, Loki, and What If… on Disney+, but also following up on the major plot points coming out of Spider-Man: Far From Home, namely that 1) everyone knows Peter Parker is Spider-Man, and 2) they think he killed Mysterio. This trailer is super busy, which is representative of a movie that is, itself, super busy. But let’s start by taking a moment to appreciate Zendaya’s line delivery of “Yes, my Spider-Lord.” Just superb.
Tom Holland remains as winning as ever as Peter Parker, but Benedict Cumberbatch, a classic screen tyrant, does what screen tyrants always do and sucks up all the oxygen in the room. From his first appearance in a ski sweater, sweatpants, and cape—I love the idea that Stephen’s fashion sense is now so skewed by the sorcerers and his lack of funds that he’s just wearing anything—to the giant question mark surrounding his actions, Strange is dominating this trailer. It’s not just Cumberbatch himself, it’s also that Peter goes to Strange for help fixing his problem of a public identity, and that we see a lot of Strange-esque visuals like the folding city and colorful space wormholes that we saw in Doctor Strange. The crux of the conflict is that in order to escape immense public pressure after having his identity exposed, Peter asks Strange to “make the world forget” he’s Spider-Man. This appears to be a spin on the Spider-Man comics One More Day and Brand New Day, in which Mephisto erases Peter and MJ’s marriage in exchange for re-burying Peter’s identity in the wake of Civil War.
But the spell goes wrong—because Peter won’t shut the f-ck up—and the multiverse is cracked open. Or maybe Strange happens to be doing this spell at the exact moment Sylvie kills He Who Remains, and/or Wanda becomes the Scarlet Witch, or maybe all that happened together. We don’t know. (It seems significant that we don’t know “when” Sylvie killed He Who Remains. It’s entirely possible that happens before everything else and is what opens the door for all this nonsense to kick off.) What we do know is that the spell either doesn’t work, or it has really dire consequences, or both. The result is that Spider-Man villains from previous iterations of Spider-Man franchises land in the New York of Tom Holland Spider-Man. There is a tease of Jamie Foxx’s Electro, Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin, and we outright see Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus. No trace of the other Spider-Men, but… like why do this without that, you know? That’s the money shot, all the Spider-Men together.
What has people really hung up, though, is why Stephen Strange would do this spell in the first place? It seems so out of character! Is it, though? Stephen Strange is an arrogant asshole. Like most superheroes, his origin story was his humbling, but he is now fresh off winning the long game and bringing half the universe back to life. If ever there was a time for Strange’s arrogance to reassert itself, it would be in the post-Endgame world. There are basically four possibilities here:
1) This “Strange” is a Skrull, and not the “real” Strange. Secret Invasion is happening, anyone can be a Skrull now.
2) Strange’s worst impulses get the better of him and he f-cks up big time. This has a lot of dramatic potential for Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.
3) Strange knows something no one else does and goes ahead with the spell despite risks for reasons to be explained later. In the comics, Strange is not always aligned with the Avengers. His perspective on the universe is so different from everyone else’s, it often leads him to do things that seem antithetical to the Avengers’ goals. This came through a little in Infinity War, when he said he would let Tony and Peter die to protect the Time Stone, and in Endgame when he did let Tony sacrifice himself to bring everyone back. Who knows, f-cking up Peter’s life could be part of another long game.
4) This is an evil variant Strange. At whatever point in the timeline the multiverse began branching, Strange would be one of the first to realize what happened. That means any being powerful enough to cross dimensions would be after him first thing. This could be an evil Strange—or someone impersonating Strange—and the “real” Strange is already in trouble and MIA somewhere.
Personally, I like options 2 and 4 the most. Either way, though, clearly Strange is not here to “fix” the multiverse. Ever since the finales of WandaVision and Loki, the internet has been full of memes about how Strange has to be the grown-up and fix what the others broke, but clearly, at least for now, he is doing no such thing. He seems to be making everything exponentially worse, accidentally or on purpose, and his whole deal is a WAY more compelling setup than Peter Parker trying to reclaim his identity. See what I mean about Strange sucking up all the oxygen in the room?