Doctor Strange Is Quietly Assembling The Strongest Superhero Movie Cast Ever

By  · Published on August 28th, 2015

Marvel Comics

Mads Mikkelsen might be our next Doctor Strange villain. Or he might not be. It depends on which outlet you’re willing to side with. Variety claims Marvel’s about to make an offer to the Danish wonder. Deadline claims the negotiations are still in a “very very preliminary stage” and that Mikkelsen is one of like a hundred guys all lining up for the part.

You know what? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that Mikkelsen is linked to Doctor Strange, and he’s beyond ideal for Marvel villainhood.

(a) Mikkelsen’s malevolence chops are through the roof (see also: Casino Royale, three straight years of Hannibal excellence).

(b) if Marvel’s going to keep giving its villains short shrift, they might as well hire a performer like Mikkelsen whose strength lies is pulling so much out of so little. Hand him eight words and a pregnant glance (sometimes that’s all a Marvel villain ever gets), and they’ll be awesome.

And (c) Doctor Strange’s best known villains – Dormammu, Mephisto, Nightmare – are all demons of some stripe or another, and there’s already ample proof that Mikkelsen looks good in a pair of horns.

Reading this news for the first time yesterday was like picking up two jigsaw puzzle pieces at random, trying them and yep, they’re a perfect match (there was almost an audible *click* in my brain). Mikkelsen. Doctor Strange. Love it. Zero complaints. And that’s been the case for every Strange casting decision so far, for Benedict Cumberbatch and Chiwetel Ejiofor and Tilda Swinton and even Rachel McAdams, even though she never officially said “yes” and we’ve yet to hear anything new from her in a month.

This is an extraordinarily impressive collection of actors Marvel’s corralled into this one film. Maybe the most impressive we’ve seen in a superhero movie so far. Doctor Strange deserves ample casting praise, and not just for a hot streak of picking crazy good talent. For the

Doctor Strange Bucks Every Marvel Casting Trend

Eight years and 12 films in, we can absolutely call Marvel Studios a “studio” in the classic sense (i.e., a studio that drives the creative process more than a director, and has a creative shorthand running through all their films). They have plays they like to call, and by now we’re wise to them.

There’s the ol’ “Grab the Up-And-Comer on the Crest of their Big Break,” which netted Marvel three Chrises (Evans, Hemsworth, Pratt), plus a Chadwick Boseman and a Tom Hiddleston. Maybe Dave Bautista if he can keep landing parts in Spectre-sized stuff.

There’s the “Charisma First, Six-Pack Later,” wherein impeccable comic timing takes an entire career to develop and equally impressive abs take about six months of grueling gym struggle. Thus Marvel’s given us “comedic actors” like Pratt, Paul Rudd and Robert Downey, Jr. (This is also the formula that gave the world Bruce Willis in Die Hard. It’s a great play).

Marvel Studios

Marvel movies do not reward these kinds of actors. Edward Norton in The Incredible Hulk? Eh. Anthony Hopkins as Odin? Surprisingly forgettable. The actors that really excel in the Marvel world aren’t the ones who can make you cry by baring the depths of their soul, because those moments don’t exist in Marvel movies. In 12 films we’ve had just one genuine tearjerker (what a tearjerker it is, though).

The MCU was built for charisma, not dramatic ability. For people like Pratt or Downey Jr., Hiddleston or Samuel L. Jackson; high-energy personalities that pop against each other like fireworks. I’m not 100% sure what it means for Doctor Strange that it’s sprinting in the opposite direction, but call me intrigued. And maybe a little nervous.

Doctor Strange Is Happy To Appease AND Challenge Comic Fans

Benedict Cumberbatch playing Doctor Strange is as safe as safe can be. Any Stephen Strange worth his salt has to bust out phrases like “By the blessed three Vishanti!” and “By the hoary hosts of Hoggoth!” and must do so without a hint of unintentional giggling (although there’s bound to be a few winking in-on-the-joke giggles in there). Easy solution: nab the guy who can deliver a ream of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle-ish prose in the span of 30 seconds.

Look back at the other actors Marvel was considering, like Johnny Depp, Tom Hardy, Jared Leto, Joaquin Phoenix, Ethan Hawke, Ewan McGregor and Ryan Gosling. There’s a strategy here. First off, Marvel locks a household name into what has to be a similar three-solo-outing deal like Iron Man or Thor and injects a little star power into a universe that no longer benefits from solo Iron Man films. That star power also anchors one of their weirder outings, not unlike aiming for either Rudd or Joseph Gordon-Levitt on Ant-Man.

Beyond that, casting Cumberbatch – such an obvious, fan-gratifying move – gave Marvel breathing room to go nuts with the kind of choices that are absolute tinder for a comment section wildfire. Casting Ejiofor (who is black) as Steven Strange frenemy Baron Mordo (who is white). And Swinton (a white woman) as the Ancient One (an Asian man).

Most baffling of all? No one batted an eye at the new black Baron Mordo. Kevin Cogill (he’s a squirrel, I think) knew the secret and pointed it out to me on Twitter: race-swapped heroes (Human Torch, Heimdall, The Ancient One) set people on edge. Race-swapped villains (Deadshot, Electro, Kingpin, Mordo) get a pass. It works just about every time. Let that depression sink in.

race-swapping outrage works like this: only villains can be switched to black. @Eat_Sleep_TV via @po_st

— Kevin Cogill (@skwerl) August 8, 2015

But on the fan front, at least Marvel will win a bucket of niche appeal once everyone catches onto the whole “Sherlock vs. Hannibal” thing.

Doctor Strange Is the Holy Grail of Diverse Casting

Four of the most prominent parts in Doctor Strange are white men, and Doctor Strange flipped two of those characters to include a black and a female actor. That’s worth some applause. And this is worth a statue and a hefty cash prize: back before Swinton landed the part of the Ancient One, Latino Review scooped the other three performers Marvel was looking at. The names listed were Morgan Freeman, Bill Nighy and Ken Watanabe.

This is the ideal that every film should hold to. When Chris Rock tore into Hollywood’s racial biases, he called out the industry for never doing the exact thing that Doctor Strange was doing, it turns out, at that very moment (the casting report leaked just nine days after Rock’s essay was published). “Hollywood pretty much decides to cast a black guy or they don’t. We’re never on the ‘short list.’ We’re never ‘in the mix.’… It was never like, ‘Is it going to be Ryan Gosling or Chiwetel Ejiofor for Fifty Shades of Grey?’”

Except with Doctor Strange.

Related Topics: