MCU and the Sherlock Effect: An Addendum

Last week saw the end of my latest film appreciation course at Northern Virginia Community College, where we spent the last few weeks dissecting the production logics of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from auteur theory and the rise of the (currently beleaguered) brand showrunner-auteur, to its unusual deployment of arc storytelling in a cinematic context, the vagaries of marketing to a ‘fan demographic’, and the studio’s attempts at engaging and retaining a highly lucrative transnational audience.

So it is that I’m absolutely heartbroken over news of Martin Freeman’s casting in the upcoming Captain America: Civil War. I mean, why couldn’t this have happened LAST week, when there was still a chance to talk about this in class??

As with Benedict Cumberbatch’s casting as Doctor Strange, announced in December 2014, online reaction to the announcement has been mixed. Admittedly, I’m looking mainly from the periphery of Sherlock fandom on tumblr (and, to a lesser extent, Twitter), where responses have ranged from ‘YES, YES, YES’ to resignation and/or dismay over what seems to some to be a transparent attempt to pander to Sherlock fans. Indeed, as some have pointed out, there’s an odd, emerging symmetry to the trajectory of Freeman’s and Cumberbatch’s recent career moves: The Hobbit? Check. Richard III? Check. MCU? Check and check.

And, as with Cumberbatch, what I think we’re seeing is nothing but an extension of that Sherlock Effect I’ve discussed previously. Although not as visible a star overseas as Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman has nonetheless made himself available to international – and, in particular, lucrative East Asian – audiences through both junkets and video messages targeted at specific groups, such as this New Year’s greeting made for Chinese fans of The Hobbit franchise.

Equally, Freeman too has been featured on the covers of a handful of key Japanese publications, including Screen

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and a special issue of Flix,

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as well as – critically – sharing space with Cumberbatch on Sherlock-centered publications as part of a well-known, world-famous, and increasingly (b)romantic ‘combi’.

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More recently, Freeman has joined the ranks of foreign stars hired by Japanese advertisers, parodied in Sophia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, by appearing in a Suntory commercial for “Japanese Harmony” whiskey (set against the backdrop of the soundtrack for The Seven Samurai).

Combined with the broad international appeal of BBC Sherlock, it’s little surprise to see Freeman signing on to the Marvel Cinematic Universe; indeed, English language fan dissent notwithstanding, from a transnational perspective it seems a singularly shrewd move.

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