Meet the Sorcerer Supreme and his gang
Captain America: Civil War kicked off Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in spectacularly gung-ho fashion, and the studio plans to follow it up by going... in a completely different direction. We've seen its Earth-bound heroes, the interstellar elements and even other universes, but when Doctor Strange arrives later this year, we'll be delving into an area from the comics that's yet to be truly explored onscreen - the paranormal.
According to its director Scott Derrickson, this is the film where Marvel "goes full weird." As if a talking raccoon and a walking tree weren't weird enough.
At the center of this fantasy outing is Stephen Strange, a surgeon whose career lies in ruin after an accident. It's only when he meets a wizened mentor that he realises life has more in store for him. Yeah, like the ability to bend streets way better than Leonardo DiCaprio. That's part of his initiation into the mystic arts, anyway. Most of the time he's protecting Earth from inter-dimensional pests. He won't be alone on his path as he's joined by friends and foes from all sorts of far-flung locales. Here's the lowdown on who's playing them and what we know about the characters so far.
Benedict Cumberbatch is Dr. Stephen Strange
Doctor Strange isn't as recognisable a comic book name as Captain America or Iron Man. Putting his name on the marquee is proof of Marvel's growing confidence in its back catalogue. It's a brassy move dragging out Dr. Strange, but then again, this is Benedict Cumberbatch we're talking about. If anyone can do the character justice and lure in those who otherwise might not be interested - it's him. Although prepare yourself, Cumberbatch says Strange isn't as... err strange, as his most well-known character, Sherlock.
Strange's tale begins in New York City, where he works as a neurosurgeon until a terrible car accident leaves him unable to return to his chosen profession. As a somewhat arrogant, self-assured perfectionist, he's naturally a bit irked at his predicament. His period of convalescence leads him into a world of mystical healing, where he learns the types of spells that'd make Harry Potter's head spin. Under the teachings of The Ancient One he harnesses his inner powers to manipulate light and, as Marvel head Kevin Feige says "screw around with time."
Chiwetel Ejiofor is Karl Mordo
If you've seen the trailers for the movie, it's apparent that Mordo's on the same side as Doctor Strange. Of course, that could be devious editing, but according to those involved in the film he's not quite the same bad guy as the comics. He's described as "an amalgamation of characters culled from Doctor Strange's mythology".
Purely from what footage we've seen he appears as a friend to Strange. Who knows? He might just be guarding his true motives. See, his comic version was taught by The Ancient One, just like Dr. Strange, but instead of harnessing his newly-discovered grasp of the mystic arts for good, he decides to use them to do bad stuff. Mordo and Strange are total opposites. Might their differences surface on screen?
Ejiofor has remained constantly cryptic about the character in interviews, leaning on old favorites like 'we had a great time working together' and 'I loved fleshing out this character.' Don't take your eye off this one.
Tilda Swinton is The Ancient One
The chameleonic performer that is Tilda Swinton brings her unique pazazz to proceedings as Strange's mentor. A Master of the Mystic Arts who is about 500 years old, the character possesses a wealth of knowledge concerning the true nature of reality. It's the duty of The Ancient One to train potential sorcerers.
Swinton's casting stirred up much controversy. Detractors expressed their upset that this was yet another act of whitewashing by Hollywood, as The Ancient One is an Asian man in the comics. Instead of ignoring the flames of discontent Marvel responded with a statement explaining this decision: "The Ancient One is a title that is not exclusively held by any one character, but rather a moniker passed down through time, and in this particular film the embodiment is Celtic."
Considering Swinton's resume of scene-stealing performances, is there really any reason to worry about her portrayal of Strange's guru?
Mads Mikkelsen is Kaecilius
The movie's primary villain is played by Hannibal star Mads Mikkelsen. Details on his character only recently came to light trumping earlier guesses that he would play Dormammu. Thanks to a series of Marvel Minimates toys it's been confirmed that he plays Kaecilius. Going solely on the paired sets of toys available, the fact that he comes packaged with Mordo suggests that he shares a history with his comic book counterpart.
On the page, he is a Master of the Mystic Arts like The Ancient One, and works in concert with Mordo. However Mikkelsen views his character in a different light. "He’s not a villain in that way," he tells ComicBook.com. "He’s a man who believes in something else than the hero. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t want to make the planet look wonderful or he wants to save the world as well, but he has a different way of doing it. He is the antagonist, of course, but he’s not necessarily wrong". He adds that Kaecilius doesn't understand why The Ancient One refuses to allow other entities free passage into our world. Someone get this man a copy of Ghostbusters.
Rachel McAdams is Christine Palmer
Rumored over a year ago for a significant role, everyone assumed that Rachel McAdams was playing a big supporting part plucked from the comics. Morgana Blessing or Clea, perhaps. Once she officially joined the production in September 2015, a few more details slipped out. She's a surgeon who worked alongside Strange prior to his accident. Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige refers to her as a linchpin for him: “She is someone he connects with at the beginning, and reconnects with, and helps anchor his humanity.”
Bonus trivia! Claire Palmer goes by the name Night Nurse in the comics. Yep, she's the feature film version of Rosario Dawson's character in Marvel's Netflix universe. Because the movie planned to use her, Dawson's version was renamed Claire Temple.
Benedict Wong is Wong
All movie heroes need sidekicks and that's where Benedict Wong comes in. He plays Wong, Doctor Strange's comrade and another Master of the Mystic Arts. On the page, he's like friendly butler, whose duties include protecting the Doc's body when he's astral projecting and being a handy know-it-all about supernatural stuffs and the occult.
Actor Wong says that you can holster any illusions about him being a copy of his comic book self: "I’m certainly not going to be the tea-making manservant. We’re heading in a different direction," he tells Den of Geek. "There isn’t any martial arts for Wong in Doctor Strange, actually, he’s more of a drill sergeant to Kamar-Taj. He’s one of the masters of sorcery. "
Michael Stuhlbarg is Nicodemus West
You'll recognise Michael Stuhlbarg even if you're not familiar with his name; he nabbed the lead in the Coens' A Serious Man and recently appeared in Steve Jobs.
Here he plays a surgeon named Nicodemus West, who in the comics is the very doctor who operates on Strange immediately after his accident. Things don't turn out particularly good when Stephen wakes from surgery unable to use his hands. Racked with guilt, West travels to The Ancient One's Sanctorum to try and make amends with Strange. Instead he becomes another pupil. He abandons those mystical teachings half-way through, believing he's mastered them, and later ends up killing someone accidentally back in New York.
Yes, it's all a tad bleak and tragic. Perhaps Marvel will tweak his backstory like some of the others? Maybe not. Could be that he's in the movie for about five minutes at the start.
Benjamin Bratt is ?
Benjamin Bratt is in the movie.
That’s all we know about his involvement with 100% certainty.
His role was uncovered when fans blew up the Comic Con poster for the movie and spotted his name in the credits block. He's there, wedged between Michael Stuhlbarg and Scott Adkins. Bearing in mind that we know a tiny amount about the former's character and nothing about the latter's, it's possible Bratt just has a small blink-and-you'll-miss-it part.
Scott Adkins is ?
Scott Adkins is the next Jean-Claude Van Damme. He's a martial arts expert who's made a living beating the crap out of bad guys in straight-to-video B-movies like Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning and Undisputed II: Last Man Standing. He's also scored smaller roles in bigger flicks like The Bourne Ultimatum, Zero Dark Thirty and The Expendables 2. Comic book fans may know him as Weapon X from X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a role he collaborated on with Ryan Reynolds. As for Strange? Adkins refuses to let slip who he's playing.