It seems that Hydra, fresh off of their victorious exposure of the trailer for Age of Ultron, has reared yet another of its many heads. The Internet erupted today over the leaking of the announcement that actor Benedict Cumberbatch would be joining the ranks of Disney’s super-heroic behemoth as The MCU’s resident Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange.
While the announcement was met with unfettered glee from the majority of online fandom, there has been a soft but growing drumbeat of dissent.
The argument against the Sherlock and Star Trek veteran’s casting is grounded in the perception that Cumberbatch is the “safe” choice. His star has been steadily rising since his breakout as Britain’s most famous detective, and he has been building strong ties to geekdom, not only with his appearance as the villainous Khan, but in a delightfully scary turn as the dragon Smaug in Peter Jackson’s latest Tolkien adaptation. There is a feeling from certain quarters that Marvel should have gone for a deeper cut, casting a more unknown actor to carry the MCU in the post-Iron Man era. There have also been rumblings from online geek activist circles like @womenoncomics that Marvel missed an opportunity to add a person of color in the role, or potentially gender-bend the part and award it to a female actor.
LOL the @womenoncomics team has strong emotions about Cumberbatch as Doc Strange & so far it’s leaning to Hell No.
— arBOOOOmer (@ArdoOmer) October 27, 2014
While there is a certain validity to the idea that the MCU needs to diversify it’s lineup, both in terms of gender, the fact is that Marvel’s selection of Cumberbatch is not only in keeping with their tried-and-true methodology, but improves upon it in a number of ways.
Established fan base
If the chorus of joyful exclamations online wasn’t proof enough, Benedict Cumberbatch enjoys the support of a rabid fan following. Sherlock fans are legion, and the demographic they represent is a coveted one among science fiction/fantasy flicks which endeavor to expand their reach beyond mother’s basement.
Another major advantage for Marvel is Cumberbatch’s relative youth. The 36 year old thespian is 13 years the junior of Marvel’s reigning box office champion, Robert Downey Jr. While that may not bode well for fans who were hoping to see the grey-templed Stephen Strange comic book readers have become accustomed to, the studio will have time to allow him to develop them naturally. His age will give the studio the ability to make him their franchise cornerstone well into the next decade, something that obviously plays into their calculation, as Marvel President Kevin Fiege has stated that the studio has plans through 2028.
Not Too Big
The final factor is where Cumberbatch is at this point in his career. Star Trek: Into Darkness arrived to mixed reviews, but was a commercial success. That said, the role of Khan was never going to be the franchise role which carried Cumberbatch into the stratosphere. His performance was excellent, but the character was always going to be a one-off. Strange, on the other hand, will keep the actor in plush peacoats for the rest of his career. While he doesn’t yet carry the negotiating clout which Downey does, his payday over the life of the character is sure to be substantial, something which will give the artistically – inclined actor the freedom to pursue projects of his choosing in between stints bearing the Eye of Agammatto. Marvel is landing him at the pefect time, when his sex appeal is at its peak, but his star power is still relatively meager.
Much like Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, and Chris Pratt, Marvel likes to ink fresh-faced talent to long-term deals, so as to maximize the return on their investment. Their respective roles have turned each of the aforementioned actors into international stars, but Marvel’s ability to lock them in early has meant the world to the studio. Cumberbatch’s selection is more of the same, even if he carries significantly more clout than any of his peers did when they were tapped.
In short, the time is right for Marvel to set themselves up with a sexy star of the future, one who is ready to break out in a big way, won’t eat up their entire budget, and has a devoted group of fans who will readily follow him into the world of magical mystery Doctor Strange will create.
Count me firmly on #TeamYES.