The Netflix Drama About The World’s Greatest Explorer Features Underrated Marvel Star

By TeeJay Small | Published

Benedict Wong as Kublai Khan in Marco Polo

Before Benedict Wong went on to join the MCU as the valet turned Sorcerer Supreme in 2016’s Doctor Strange, he starred alongside a host of talented performers in the Netflix original series Marco Polo. The series, which spanned two seasons and a Christmas special, followed the true tales of the early years of famed explorer Marco Polo, as he served the Mongol Empire in the court of Kublai Khan. Marco Polo is currently available to stream on Netflix.

Marco Polo serves as a conjoined production effort between Netflix and The Weinstein Company. The series was created by The Highwaymen screenwriter and television producer John Fusco, who initially pitched the series to the Starz premium cable network in 2012. Starz eventually passed on the project due to a failure to film the show in China, forcing production to shift to filming locations in Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Italy, Slovakia, and Hungary.

Marco Polo is available to stream on Netflix.

Once picked up by Netflix, Marco Polo received a $90 million budget for its first season, making it one of the most expensive television series in the world at that time, rivaled only by the hit HBO fantasy series Game of Thrones. In order to prepare for the production of Marco Polo, many cast and crew members read ancient Mongolian texts, took speech and dance classes to engross themselves in the culture, and went on powerful journeys across foreign lands. Series creator John Fusco is said to have traveled the Silk Road on horseback before crossing the Ming Sha Dunes of China on a camel shortly before the production began.

Marco Polo

Marco Polo stars Benedict Wong, just a few years before he would become a household name with his massive inclusion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, alongside a host of talented multi-national performers. The series stars include Lorenzo Richelmy, Joan Chen, Remy Hii, Zhu Zhu, Mahesh Jadu, Uli Latukefu, Olivia Cheng, Tom Wu, and many more. Unfortunately, tragedy struck the production early on when stuntman Ju Kun mysteriously went missing after boarding the infamous Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370, which went down somewhere in the Eastern hemisphere, never to be recovered.

Benedict Wong’s performance as Kublai Khan in Marco Polo likely helped get him cast as Wong in Doctor Strange.

While the show doesn’t seem to receive much notoriety or praise in today’s cultural landscape, Marco Polo was a massive hit upon its premiere in 2014, earning a host of nominations for Emmy and film festival awards, taking home outstanding achievements for both cinematography and set decoration. Historians who have based their careers on this era of Mongolian history have hailed the series as similarly accurate to BBC documentaries while bringing a powerful and gripping narrative of compelling characters to the forefront of the show.

Unfortunately, both Netflix and The Weinstein Company cited the series as a financial loss, reporting over $200 million in losses by the time the second season premiered. Due to the monetary failure of the show, the decision was made to cancel Marco Polo shortly after the second season aired on the streamer in July 2016. The series touts a solid 66 percent critic score on the review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, but holds a staggering 93 percent from general audiences, showing just how strong the fanfare for this historic drama truly is.

Marco Polo

Though the series seems to have faded into the annals of public memory, it certainly serves as a significant step in the career of Benedict Wong, who would later take his martial arts training and worldly knowledge to the MCU. Though Wong’s on-camera career spans back to a host of television appearances throughout the 1990s, his front-and-center inclusion in Marco Polo likely contributed to his MCU casting. The UK-born star’s first appearance in the Disney-owned franchise premiered in October of 2016, just a few short months after the Netflix series had premiered its final season.

At the time, Marco Polo was the most expensive series ever made, with a first-season budget of $90 million.

While many fans likely hoped to see Marco Polo progress into a multi-season story that followed some of the explorer’s greatest discoveries, the two seasons we did receive certainly hold up, making them perfect for binge-watching. Now that the WGA strike has concluded, Netflix may even be open to a reboot of some sort, with the streamer prime for a number of fresh ideas following the months-long drought of new content. Either way, Marco Polo is available to stream on Netflix today.