Cumberbatch magic boosts superhero movie in China

Updated: 2016-11-10 06:53

By Xu Fan(China Daily)

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Every time a Marvel superhero movie hits the theaters, it dominates the box office. And Doctor Strange is following this tradition. Since the 14th superhero film from the Marvel universe opened in China on Nov 4, it has taken over the box office by raking in 300 million yuan ($45 million) in three days.

This is despite the fact that China's lackluster market has been seeing a slowdown for almost five months now.

From now through December, nearly a dozen imported movies are to be screened in China, and it is widely believed they will boost the market. But with the recent Tom Cruise-starrer Jack Reacher: Never Go Back and Tom Hanks' Inferno - two tentpoles - failing to make a splash, a recovery looks doubtful.

British actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who stars in the $165 million visual feast, seems at least partly responsible for Doctor Strange achieving commercial success as well as critic acclaim.

On China's popular review site Douban, the movie scored 8.1 points of 10.

Doctor Strange's plot is a simple tale unlike Marvel's famous Avengers franchise, which has a whole bunch of superheroes to keep track of, besides their complex relationships and backgrounds.

In the film, the protagonist, Stephen Strange, is a world-famous neurosurgeon who has a career-ending car accident when he injures his hands.

He then embarks on a journey to Nepal to seek healing, but unexpectedly becomes a fighter with magical powers to beat a dark force from outer space.

"The whole idea (behind the film) was about making a different kind of Marvel movie," says the director, Scott Derrickson, during a recent promotional tour in Shanghai.

Known for Sinister and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, the 49-year-old American director is also a fan of Marvel comics.

To him, the lesser-known Strange is a favorite Marvel superhero.

"Strange, being a skeptic and a materialist and somebody who is very resistant to magic and mysticism, is forced to open up his mind to the possibility that maybe there is more to the world than he thinks," he says.

Unlike most other Marvel superheroes, such as Iron Man who has a powerful suit and Captain America who has an experimental serum - Doctor Strange gains his powers from Oriental-type mysticism.

Chinese audiences may also feel a cultural resonance with the film, which features an ethnic Chinese guard at a library of ancient magic books. Other scenes have Strange achieving a breakthrough on a Himalayan peak and show Hong Kong.

Though comic books featuring Doctor Strange were first published in 1963, China has had a far shorter history with the character. But Cumberbatch is a different story. His portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in the series on the detective has won him numerous Chinese fans.

For Cumberbatch, becoming a superhero in Marvel's cinematic universe was an amazing experience, says the 40-year-old actor.

"He (Doctor Strange) is not a god. He is a human. Unlike Iron Man, he did not start life as a billionaire or have a suit to protect him. He learns from his efforts. He has power from different sources, and is incredibly vulnerable," he says in Shanghai.

Chinese critics are optimistic about the film's potential in the country.

"Superhero films are now the most lucrative genre in the world. Around half of the top 10 top-grossing movies this year are superhero-themed," says Jiang Yong, a Beijing-based industry watcher.

So, despite the fact that China has a small fan base compared to the United States when it comes to Marvel comics, Jiang believes that Chinese moviegoers know at least as much as their American counterparts when it comes to modern superhero movies.

"Also for Chinese fans, watching such movies reminds them of their teenage dreams of becoming heroes and eases real-life pressures for them," he says.

 Cumberbatch magic boosts superhero movie in China

Benedict Cumberbatch at an event in Shanghai promoting Doctor Strange, in which he plays the protagonist. Photos Provided To China Daily

(China Daily 11/10/2016 page19)