Casting Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange seemed like a foregone conclusion—once he was rumored to be up for the role, the Internet sort of collectively decided that it belonged to him (although for one shining moment, it seemed as if Joaquín Phoenix might win the role).
Now that the news is finally official, we can narrow down our speculation. Based on what we’ve seen from him before, will Benedict Cumberbatch be any good in the role? Doing the math, he’s definitely one of the smartest choices Marvel could have made: Given that the subject matter for a Doctor Strange film is likely to be a psychedelic occult romp with trippy visuals and lots of chanting, any sort of profile boost the movie can get in the casting department is probably welcomed. In other words, Doctor Strange is not a known quantity, while Benedict Cumberbatch is.
But he might also prove to be a perfect fit for the character, too. Here’s why.
Strange is kind of a jerk. The inciting incident for Doctor Strange’s origin is one of arrogance. After a car accident leaves him unable to continue his work as a neurosurgeon, he delves into the world of magic and mysticism in search for a cure because he refuses to take on a secondary role in medicine. Like Robert Downey Jr., Benedict Cumberbatch has to make an abrasive character likable—something he’s done very well in Sherlock.
He can play a different kind of jerk. That being said, Strange can’t just be another Tony Stark. Like Iron Man in 2007, there isn’t a whole lot the general public knows about Stephen Strange. Even those familiar with comics can’t easily sum up what he’s about in a sentence. Lately, though, in Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers, he’s been portrayed as the hero who will sacrifice absolutely everything to save the world, crossing lines no one would dare cross—up to and including selling his own soul.
Gravitas. Cumberbatch is very good at simmering intensity—it’s why he’s the voice of Smaug, and the sort of thing that went to waste when he played Khan. Doctor Strange is a very different sort of Marvel hero. He’s not funny, he’s not young, and he deals with threats that can’t be dealt with by punching. He’s a guy who devotes his life to studying nightmares so the rest of the world won’t ever have them. The role belongs to someone who can stare down the Boogeyman. Cumberbatch can do that.
He is fond of outerwear. Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes may not be a superhero in the traditional sense, but he definitely has a costume—pea coat with an upturned collar, complemented by a functional and fashionable scarf. This is as good of an indication as any that he will be able to pull off the ornate capes and accessories that come with the job of being Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme.We will also finally get to see him with a wicked cool goatee. Or possibly a handlebar mustache. At least, we will if there is any justice in the world.
If you’re looking for a good, brief introduction to the character, check out this year’s New Avengers Annual by Frank Barbiere and Marco Rudy (available digitally on Comixology). It’s a stunning work of beautifully illustrated art, and offers a modern take on how the character will likely be used in a movie.
If you’re looking for a bad and laboriously long introduction to the character, there’s always the 1978 made for TV movie.