Sunday, December 7, 2014

Why You Shouldn't Be Excited About the Casting of Doctor Strange

Casting announcements are the new trailers. I stated in my Avengers 2 article that really the trailer is the product to sell the film, but I think we've moved onto a deeper level of abstraction now where all people need is the whiff of an actor in order to be whipped into a frenzy. The most recent instance of that as of my writing this is the announcement that the ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch is going to be playing the character of Doctor Stephen Strange in 2016's film of that name as part of the obnoxiously-titled "Phase Three" of the "Marvel Cinematic Universe." Now one wouldn't want to predict a superhero film crash and end up looking a fool like one of those people who thought that there'd never be a market for television or that the world was going to end because the Mayans ran out of space on their calendar, but I'm dubious about the notion that we're to expect ten films in this period, involving less well known characters like these. So why do you need to calm down about Cumberbatch?

1. You Probably Don't Know Who Doctor Strange Is
I mean, I don't. He's a wizard in Marvel comics. I've read a couple of Doctor Doom-related comics with him in, and a couple of old issues of Fantastic Four, but that's about it. He wears a funny cape. I don't know anything substantial about him. Do you? If you do, fair play to you, especially if you're a big Doctor Strange fan. It's probably cool to see a favourite character getting big screen recognition - although admittedly, if you're a big fan you really shouldn't need the character to get lots of mainstream public exposure because you should be content in your own enjoyment. Every conversation you ever have about the character after 2016 is going to be coloured by the film in any event.
On the other hand, if you know jack shit about Doctor Strange, it's probably not particularly necessary for you to be excited; curious, maybe, but not excited. Just because it's a superhero doesn't mean you need to start jumping up and down in your chair and tagging all your friends, who will inevitably have seen the news as well, in comments on Facebook posts about it. How would you know if you're going to like the concept, that the casting will suit the role, or indeed that the film will be any good at all? People are always saying "start with a positive outlook." Screw that. Start with a neutral outlook. Assuming something will be good is as bad as assuming it'll be bad.

2. Marvel Films Suck Now
I know, I know, the internet party line these days is that Captain America: The Winter Soldier was the dog's bollocks. But it wasn't. It was shite. It was repetitive and unfocused and its political commentary was pathetically superficial. Iron Man 3 was bland and Thor: The Dark World was mediocre. Admittedly I haven't seen Guardians of the Galaxy, but that's largely because I couldn't be arsed, and when everyone started going on about how it was one of the best films they'd ever seen, I was even more dubious. Let's face it, my tastes aren't particularly orthodox by the public standard, so I figure people like stuff for different reasons to me, and therefore that the stuff they like a lot is probably full of things I hate. That being said, the rot set in with Avengers, which is also a bland and badly-paced film where Iron Man and Captain America spend about ten hours sitting around frowning at each other in a flying conference room and then they have a giant Transformers battle at the end which is resolved in the same manner as the invasion of Naboo in Star Wars Episode I.
My point is, Iron Man, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger were all decent superhero flicks. Iron Man 2 was balls, but it doesn't count. Everything afterwards has just been going through the motions as Marvel print money by drumming up hype and cranking out pieces of filler that people go to see for cross-references to other characters or teases about other Marvel elements about which they can pretend to have knowledge. With all this mediocrity in mind, there's no reason to expect anything good or bad about Doctor Strange.

3. It isn't coming out for two years
As of my writing this, "Doctor Strange" is just under two years away. What's there to get excited about? You won't be seeing it anytime soon. Calm down and stop embarrassing yourself. 

4. It's just Cumberbatch
Look, I don't want to rag on Cumberbatch. I think he's a decent enough actor, but he's always in such crap, like the majority of Sherlock and Star Trek Into Darkness. I know he's been in other films I haven't seen that aren't just trashy pieces of pop nonsense but I still can't shake this feeling that one day a bunch of people decided that he was the best thing ever and somehow that spread and then everyone who previously had no particular opinion on the subject suddenly thought he was the best thing ever too. I mean, where does it come from? When was it decided that he was such a big deal?
The thing is, Cumberbatch is a boring, safe casting choice on the part of Disney/Marvel because of this inexplicable "geek" cachet he has, despite his only real connection to "pop culture" being a single Reboot Star Trek film and a crime TV series that is written by two of the writers of New Who - note that Sherlock itself isn't actually a sci-fi/fantasy/horror/whatever show. It's a crime show with heavy-handed drama elements. I get that crime has always attracted its own fair share of Anoraks, but definitely in a somewhat different cultural space to those other things. So where's the connection? Somehow it exists, and Marvel knows it all too well.

I know I've been ragging on about this a lot lately, but once again: Marvel didn't cast Mr Cumberbatch because they care about all you Mr Cumberbatch fans. They did it because they want your money. And I hear you ask, "Hey Opinions Can Be Wrong, what's your beef with people making money? Are you some kind of communist or something?" Obviously not; without a market economy, how would I feed my own despicable consumerist hobby of collecting toy soldiers? But these businesses don't want you to make an informed, sensible choice, they want you to make an ideological choice and limit your capacity for independent decision making. Of course at the same time, it's also partially consumers' faults for being wilfully exploited and manipulated. You can at least recognise how calculated these kinds of moves are, however, and consider your own dignity and self-respect. They're just superhero films and actors in a profit-machine. Excitement is giving these things far more credit than they deserve.

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