Some of the actions of Doctor Strange in the trailer for Spider-Man: No Way Home left Marvel fans feeling like something was off with the good Sorcerer. Benedict Cumberbatch's Stephen Strange has always been a little direct, never exactly a person one would consider "warm," but there was an added level of ego to the character that we haven't seen since his medical days. Could there be something wrong with Doctor Strange in No Way Home? Is there a chance that this maybe isn't the Doctor Strange we've come to love in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? The new episode of Marvel's What If...? may have hinted at an answer.
The fourth episode of What If...?, which was released on Wednesday morning, told the story of an alternate universe in which Stephen Strange didn't injure his hands in a car accident. Instead, Christine Palmer died in the accident, and Strange became obsessed with getting her back. It's a tragic tale, and it shows a version of the character that is driven by nothing but power. He become a much more sinister Sorcerer Supreme, one that is hell-bent on capturing every bit of mystical power he can get his hands on in order to undo the hand the multiverse has dealt him.
Even though What If...? is animated, it's technically still part of the MCU canon, taking place in different realities than the one we've been watching for the last decade-plus. So given that we know this selfish and incredibly powerful version of Strange is out in the multiverse, and Spider-Man: No Way Home deal directly with that same multiverse, is it too far-fetched to think that his may be the Doctor Strange in the movie?
This could help explain some of Strange's actions in the No Way Home trailer, like being completely dismissive of his best friend and mystical arts lab partner, or casting a spell he knows is probably too dangerous just to prove he can do it. Maybe the Doctor Strange we've seen in the MCU to this point is currently lost somewhere in the multiverse, and this darker Strange is filling the void.
While this is a fun notion to think through, and it certainly could be plausible, it becomes less likely the more you think about Strange's journey in What If...? What would he gain by coming to this specific universe? Why would he take the time to hang around in the Sanctum Santorum or help Peter solve his problem if he's so focused on absorbing more power?
A third option still makes plenty of sense, though. What if the Strange in Spider-Man: No Way Home is neither the classic MCU Strange or the one featured in What If...? The guy is about to spend two entire movies dealing with the dangers of the multiverse, it's perfectly reasonable to expect that we'll see more than one of him.
Even if we don't see Evil Sorcerer Supreme in the live-action MCU, his existence has at least introduced several new possibilities for the character in No Way Home, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and beyond.