There was quite a bit of exciting news in MCU fandom this week. We got our first look at a Jessica Jones trailer (looking good and gritty, in my opinion). The Vision is now rumored to be the double agent in Captain America: Civil War, and its trailer will drop with the premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Pom Klementieff has joined Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 in a key role (without any evidence, my gut tells me she will be portraying Mantis. And the Hulk and Thor are going to throw down in Thor: Ragnarok. Fun times in the interim between Phase II and Phase III. Lots of room to speculate on what’s in store.
That said, I wanted this week’s piece to focus on a subject we haven’t heard as much about recently: Doctor Strange. With filming scheduled to begin next month at Pinewood-Shepperton studios in the UK, we’re on the cusp of what will hopefully become a trickle of news, scoops, and tidbits about the Sorcerer Supreme’s big screen transformation. I say trickle because, unlike DC, I do think Marvel does a bit better job at keeping its productions under wraps, whether purposefully or not (anyone remember the leaked footage of Batman clinging to the Joker’s car, for example, all but confirming his role/cameo in Suicide Squad. So what’s on the horizon with the soon to be filmed Doctor Strange?
Doctor Strange is a whole new beast for the MCU. As I put it in a previous column, it has the potential to just be weird. Magic, astral planes, Winds of Watoomb. This isn’t your run of the mill MCU character. If pulled off successfully, it will break into an entirely new sector of the Marvel canon. Thor brought us the fantasy unexplained science talking line, Guardians of the Galaxy brought us the cosmic realm. Now it’s time for Doctor Strange to bring us magic. I predict that when the curtain falls on Phase III, we will look back on Doctor Strange as one of its clear winners. Doctor Strange will be to Phase III what Guardians of the Galaxy was to Phase II—a breakout success based on a previously little-recognized property, that expands the MCU into new dimensions with new possibilities. Here are three reasons why.
Beyond a doubt, the first reason for optimism is the cast. I would argue this cast is the single best cast of any Marvel film to date. Benedict Cumberbatch (Academy Award nominated for The Imitation Game) as the title character was an excellent choice. He’s demonstrated a marked ability to portray a wide array of character types across his filmography, and, along with Chris Pratt, is well suited to carry on the public face of the MCU after RDJ and company slowly but surely tap out. And while I know there is some trepidation about him playing Doctor Strange too similarly to his Sherlock television performance, I personally love that show. As far as I’m concerned, his BBC sleuth performance is the single greatest positive in his favor, not negative. Add Academy Award winning Tilda Swinton (for Michael Clayton) as The Ancient One and Academy Award nominated Chiwetel Ejiofor (for 12 Years a Slave) as the main villain, Baron Mordo, and you have the most critically acclaimed Marvel cast in history. Not to mention the general badass nature of Rachel McAdams and Mads Mikkelsen, both in undisclosed roles, and the bar is set even higher.
On top of this, Doctor Strange will tell an incredibly compelling origin story. For those of you unfamiliar with his history, Stephen Vincent Strange begins as the world’s best (and most arrogant and egotistical) neurosurgeon, only to suffer a car accident that severely damages his hands, preventing him from ever practicing medicine again. He travels all over the world in pursuit of a remedy, voyaging as far as the Himalayas in search of “The Ancient One” who might have the power to return his hands to health. I won’t give away what happens next in case you want to keep some of the mystery (if you’re really curious, this is kind of what Wikipedia is for. But needless to say, this origin story presents tremendous possibility. In my opinion, the best Marvel movies are origin stories. Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Avengers fit that bill, and I would also argue Captain America: The Winter Soldier was an origin story, as it dealt with Steve Rogers in an entirely new context. Moreover, I’m personally a sucker for origin stories that involve a mentor/mentee relationship (Batman Begins takes the cake on this, and is, in my opinion, maybe the best superhero movie origin story ever). Doctor Strange’s origin contains all of this and more.<
Last but not least, Doctor Strange presents an excellent opportunity to break the mold of the standard Marvel movie script, in the same way that Guardians of the Glaaxy did so in Phase II. Marvel is beginning to get criticized for producing by-the-numbers movies, and it could potentially go that route again with Strange. But far more likely Feige and Company use it as a chance to further expand the superhero genre, something that is desperately needed to keep the present-day demand going. Doctor Strange can push the boundaries, but even more, he offers numerous opportunities for future pictures. His powers are unique—maybe the Scarlet Witch comes the closest currently. This opens doors for both team-ups, hero vs. hero show-downs, and villain match-ups. Me, I’m personally rooting for a Doctor Strange vs. the Hulk battle, where magic bests strength. As far as I’m concerned, that will best the Hulkbuster battle any day of the week.
With a November 4, 2016 release date, we have little over a year until Doctor Strange enters the pantheon of the MCU. Over that time, news, scoops, and footage will surely help confirm or deny my initial optimism. But when I look at the movies listed on the Phase III docket, this is the one that has my highest anticipation. This is the one that I am most excited about. I’ve made a bold prediction. We’ll see.