2016 Awards Profile: ‘ Marvel’s Doctor Strange’ from Scott Derrickson

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doctor strange

Welcome to the 2016 Awards Profiles series, where we talk about high and low-profile films coming to a theater near you at some point this year. We will analyze the potential for these films to be players for the Academy Awards, and while many of these have the potential to be recognized, many will not either by quality or being pushed back to the following year. For the next eight weeks, we will bring you a film every weekday to talk about their potential. If you have a suggestion, please include it in the comments below. If you missed a film, click on the tag or category Awards Profile.

Directed By: Scott Derrickson

Written By: Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Gargill (based on Doctor Strange by Steve Ditko)

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benedict Wong, Amy Landecker and Scott Adkins

Synopsis (From IMDB): After his career is destroyed, a brilliant but arrogant and conceited surgeon gets a new lease on life when a sorcerer takes him under his wing and trains him to defend the world against evil.

Why It Could Succeed:

Besides its attachment to juggernauts Marvel and Disney, Doctor Strange has the most ideal release date of any new film this year that’s tied to a preexisting franchise. Think about it: 20th Century Fox pushed Gambit to 2017, the one movie thought to potentially overshadow Doctor Strange given how close in proximity their scheduled release dates were. Gambit would have been even more threatening now since it’s coming off the heels of both X-Men: Apocalypse and reigning domestic box office champion of 2016, Deadpool. The power of that trifecta alone would have made it nearly impossible for fans to divide their comic book loyalties, particularly since Doctor Strange is one of the few Marvel characters in existence nobody really knows about except the most die-hard of comic-consuming enthusiasts. Doctor Strange also has the good fortune of not competing with a Hunger Games or Bond film – which normally drop in November – and will reap the benefits of the holiday movie-going season, launching just before Thanksgiving.

The studio’s casting department could not have picked a better actor to pin their financial hopes on. You have Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role, someone who became an international mega-star before ever stepping foot into the MCU. Chris Evans, Robert Downey, Jr., Tom Hiddleston and Chris Hemsworth, for instance, did not come into this multi-layered franchise with a massive following – they earned worldwide fame because of their respective superhero films. Benedict Cumberbatch is already a superhero, demigod, what-have-you, to everyone across the globe pre-Doctor Strange origin story. Thanks to the BBC’s Sherlock, Benedict’s iconic speaking voice and singular facial expressions gave rise to the “Cumberbitches,” a fan group numbering in the millions that has dedicated themselves to being the wind to Cumberbatch’s sailboat of a career. Yes, the enigmatic and supremely watchable Tilda Swinton will of course find ways to whip us into revering her as the greatest actor the species will ever know. And yes, Rachel McAdams is going to be as emotionally solid, involving and magnetic as always…but the film is essentially a one-person army so let’s not kid ourselves into believing Cumberbatch isn’t the primary draw here.

What Doctor Strange also has going for it is fresh accessibility – its story and characters are such a mystery to many that all we have to look forward to is, well, everything! Clearly Marvel is attempting to recycle the success of 2014’s shockingly popular Guardians of the Galaxy, a film that also features second-tier Marvel heroes the mainstream didn’t fall in love with until that glorious, magical, unforgettable opening weekend (yes, sorry haters, I am still as crazy in love with Guardians of the Galaxy as I was two years ago). Finally, being in the position of taking the Marvel baton from Captain America: Civil War means Doctor Strange is already going to burn right through our wallets even if it does – god forbid – wind up burning our hearts. You think audiences are going to care who directs the movie (I’ll bet you, more than three-fourths of the country don’t even know who the Russo brothers are!) or be reluctant to seek a film with such a clinical title?! Not a chance! Marvel, Cumberbatch and superhero shenanigans? You might as well seal the vault and forget the combination because there’s no way anyone will ever break in to spoil those riches.

Is the director of 'Sinister' ready to get his hands less bloody?
Is the director of ‘Sinister’ ready to get his hands less bloody?

Why It Could Fail:

I would love to entertain this notion…but Doctor Strange has almost no shot at being viewed a disappointment on any level. Okay, I’ll flirt with the idea that critics might find it indulgent, predictably Cumberbatch-ish (no explanation necessary) and could take up arms against Marvel for hiring a director whose horror films aren’t exactly rolling in the deep. As long as Scott Derrickson doesn’t give us Hollow Man 2.0 – and believe me, I scoured that IMDB cast list in search of Kevin Bacon just in case – we have no reason to believe this movie will be an unintentionally awful freak show. Sure, Ang Lee’s The Hulk is proof that some doctor/scientist transformation narratives don’t translate well from comic page to big screen, but after ten years I imagine trial and error are a thing of the ancient past for Marvel.

I guess the biggest concern we should have is whether or not Derrickson and Cumberbatch will uphold the integrity of the comic book hero. Is this film simply going to be Benedict Cumberbatch playing himself in costume for 120 minutes as if that’s entertainment enough? For the audience’s sake, please let this not be so. Deadpool’s success is largely due to Ryan Reynold’s knack for using “celebrity” to exaggerate his character’s screen presence, not confine him to a few key mannerisms. Benedict Cumberbatch is classically trained but commercially packaged, so he’ll need to find an appropriate balance of the two styles to believably unearth the Doctor within.

Awards Speculation:

This might sound like a broken record or a paraphrase from one of our podcast episodes, but let me say this once more just so it sticks for good: if Disney couldn’t even get The Avengers in the ballpark of “Best Picture,” let alone any sort of major Oscar accolade that wasn’t tech-related, then no MCU film will ever be much a player at the Academy Awards. These movies are geared solely towards comic book fans, period. They are often silly in nature, and rely so heavily on backstory and intertextuality that you’d probably discover Atlantis before finding one non-Disney affiliated Academy member who’s seen every single MCU film, let alone cares about them when it comes to anointing the year’s best in cinema. Sure, Tilda Swinton is an Oscar winner and Cumberbatch is a freshly minted “Best Actor” nominee for his performance in The Imitation Game, but the two would have to give the defining performance of their respective careers to even be remotely in play for some awards recognition. Then again, Matt Damon did receive a nomination for playing up his star persona in The Martian, a science fiction movie nobody saw as a threat until critics and box office receipts began writing a brand new awards narrative. Who’s to say Cumberbatch can’t mirror such a journey? Honestly, the best this movie could hope for is a hefty collection of tech nods, but even that might be wishful thinking.

Oscar Potential:
Best Actor – Benedict Cumberbatch
Best Production Design
Best Film Editing
Best Cinematography
Best Visual Effects
Best Costume Design
Best Hairstyling and Makeup
Best Sound Mixing
Best Sound Editing
Best Original Score

Share your thoughts in the comments or on the message forums!

Check out the first official set of
Year-In-Advanced Oscar Predictions
and see where Doctor Strange ranks!