Not since the first “Iron Man,” it seems, has Marvel leaned so hard into its star power.
We are now entering a new phase in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one in which Disney leaves the more comfortable orbit of household-name characters and looks to build an audience bridge beyond Thor and Captain America and friends.
Enter Doctor Strange. Or as much of the non-fanboy world will remember him for a while yet: that guy Benedict Cumberbatch is dressing up as.
And so Disney/Marvel have smartly begun ramping up the recognition factor Monday by unveiling Cumberbatch on the new cover of Entertainment Weekly. And the first key of the publicity bliz is to get filmgoers to move beyond the question of “Doctor WHO”?
Filming on “Doctor Strange” has begun, for a film due out in just under a year. And so to jump-start this awareness campaign, we see Cumberbatch topped by grey-flecked locks, and beneath the Strange's signature whiskers. We see the red cape, which suggests this Doc will often be aloft. We also get a special-effects peek at what Strange's powers will look like in action, though all we have now is an extended hand, which only slightly suggests spell-casting finger motions to come.
It was as recently as 2008, of course, that Hollywood relied on Robert Downey Jr.'s own star wattage, as well as his Stark-perfect real-life troubled biography, to introduce a Marvel character little known by non-comics fans. After that, such popular characters as Thor and Captain America had high-enough recognition not to require the casting of established A-listers.
This year, after the “Age of Ultron” phase, Marvel began turning to well-known talents like Paul Rudd to draw general audiences to come befriend characters like Ant-Man.
So as Cumberbatch moves front and center as the Sorcerer Supreme, we can expect his co-stars such as Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Mads Mikkelsen to begin emerging from the publicity shadows.
If the next phase is going to keep Marvel's uncanny streak of hits alive, after all, the general filmgoer must begin putting a familiar, high-flying face to an under-the-radar name.