Featured Image: “Benedict Cumberbatch & Cate Blanchett” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Gage Skidmore
Doctor Strange is one of the most compelling additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). As Sorcerer Supreme, Benedict Cumberbatch’s superhero is arguably the most powerful human character in the movie canon. He also wears a cape, which is far more unusual than it might sound in Marvel’s expansive stable of characters. But is Strange Marvel’s next big property or is the crimson wizard destined to be just a footnote in the MCU?
Marvel is not the kind of company to turn down a franchise opportunity; in fact, the process began before the recent film was even launched. The comic book giant added Doctor Strange to six mobile and PC titles in October, a winning combination the company discovered with the earlier release of Captain America: Civil War.
The addition of Strange to Marvel Heroes 2016, a massive multiplayer online game, is particularly significant, demonstrating that Marvel at least intends to make an unloved character part of their stable of regular heroes, alongside bankable creations like Daredevil, Cyclops and Deadpool. Strange won’t get his own game; titles focussed on single characters are rarer than group outings in the Marvel back catalogue, with the former consisting of a handful of movie tie-ins and online slot machines.
It’s perhaps a little unusual then that Doctor Strange doesn’t have a supporting appearance on the reels yet either. The Incredible Hulk has a 50-payline version of a slots game at bgo.com/vegas, a title that includes an arcade-style bonus round in Hulk Smash. The Avengers are also in residence at bgo, as a 5-reel, 20-payline option.
Elsewhere, Iron Man has four different games at Mansion Casino, a Gibraltar brand notable for its live dealers, while Thor and Captain America both feature as 5-reel slot machines at Genting Casino. The latter brand carries DC-themed machines like Superman: Last Son of Krypton as well. The inclusion of DC and Marvel characters is arguably a way for casinos to get a new, younger fan base on board.
Returning to Strange, the continuation of the franchise was “leaked” after the movie’s first weekend in cinemas. The film’s director, Scott Derrickson, intimated that the second instalment in the series would introduce Nightmare, the overlord of the Dream Dimension, and a supervillain from Strange’s early comic book outings in the 1960s.
Cumberbatch’s sorcerer is arguably not in the same category as the likes of Iron Man, Captain America and Thor though – at least from the perspective of his purpose in the wider MCU. His story is a more personal tale of tragedy and resurgence, closer to Batman Begins than the testosterone-fueled action that typifies the Avengers’ time on the silver screen.
Strange’s concerns are distinctly mystical and magical, with villains like Dormammu achieving their nefarious whims by perverting reality itself. Consequently, the Avengers’ foes, Ultron and Loki, are small fry. That’s not to say there isn’t a place for Strange in the MCU but it’s a situational one.
For example, Cumberbatch will put his cape on again in May 2018 for the Avengers film Infinity War. While plot details are still spotty, Strange’s addition points to the fact that the film’s antagonist – Thanos – is no conventional villain; the purple giant is capable of travelling through time and dimensions, despite spending most of his time sat down.
It’s a bit of a cynical point to close on but it’s hard to see how the Russo brothers are going to pull this one off. With a potential 68 characters, including the Guardians of the Galaxy, the Avengers, the members of Asgard, and independent characters like Bucky Barnes, Infinity War has the potential to be a frantic, bloated mess spread across the entire universe. But then again, it has the potential for greatness.
The fact that the two parts of Infinity War exist to reboot the MCU (or, at least, parts of it) means that it’s a good bet many of those 68 characters won’t make it out alive.