Episode 436: You’re Hacking The Universe… With Your Mind Code!

On the Overthinking It Podcast, we tackle Doctor Strange, the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Tilda Swinton.

Peter Fenzel and Matthew Wrather reveal their favorite invisible weapons, discuss the controversial presence of Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One, and dig into Doctor Strange, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, wondering about its structure, its humor, and its ultimate meaning.

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9 Comments on “Episode 436: You’re Hacking The Universe… With Your Mind Code!”

  1. Jesse Rooney #

    As to the Ancient One’s ethnicity, I believe there’s a line in the movie where an acolyte tells Strange that one of the few things known about the Ancient One is that she’s a Celt.


    • Jesse Rooney #

      Also, let us not permit discussion of whitewashing the Ancient One overshadow the fact that the Dr. Strange story is about how a white man comes into an ancient Asian school of mysticism and immediately just dominates the whole thing. The whole character can be viewed as a culture preemption.


      • Peter Fenzel OTI Staff #

        Yeah, it’s tough to talk about how to do this story “right” when the original story is so racist to begin with. That was part of why I was so impressed with Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin, just tugging it out by the roots and redoing the whole thing. Strange doesn’t take it back quite so much.

        Still, I thought they did a pretty good job of this in the movie – making it so Strange isn’t actually the best guy at Kamar-Taj, he just happened to be relatively good at the kind of battles that take place in the Marvel Universe.

        Also I’m glad they gave Wong a big promotion. It would be a lot more awkward if Wong were still his manservant.

        And for however odd that final scene is, new Afro-Anglo Carl Mordo the air-walking magical conservative is infinitely superior to old Transylvanian Baron Carl Mordo the white, sneering mesmerist.


  2. Three Act Destructure #

    Speaking of the “Staff of the Living Tribunal”, there’s a little speech that Mordo gives there which I didn’t catch. Something about containing power inside of items for some reason? I wonder if anyone else caught that.

    Come to think of it, there are a lot of throwaway explanations in this film. Like when Strange explains that he has an eiditic memory (as do all pulp heroes; rule of thumb) which seems like an odd form of advantage within a style of sorcery that relies mostly on manual dexterity rather than memorization.

    And Mordo follows that up with something or other about Strange being preternaturally gifted in the mystical arts, which feels like a holdover from an earlier draft before Marvel started thinking seriously about the racial issues inherent to this story.


  3. clayschuldt #

    Its off topic, but Mad Mikkelsen who plays Kaecilius once again plays a villain with damaged eyes. He’s played the Casino Royal villain with a bleeding eye. He was Rorchefort from 3 musketeers who has an eye patch. And now he’s this cult dude with demon eyes. The villain with eye damage seems really specific. How does one get typecast in this way?


    • Rambler #

      Let’s not forget “Valhalla Rising” (which really could have been a good movie…) where he played a character named One-Eye.

      Want to guess where the name comes from?


      • clayschuldt #

        Its only a matter of time before he plays the Cyclops in an Odyssey adaptation.

        Though, he’s not the first Marvel comic character with Eye damage. Nick Fury and Oden are all down an eye too!


  4. Jane Williams #

    You “might” be overthinking it…

    “For what it is” is a perfectly reasonble criticism. Wanna-be blockbuster Hollywood comic book movies are an extremely well-defined and restrictive genre. You know what you might get, and you know what you certainly won’t get. There isn’t any rational reason not to use this as an argument for seeing or not seeing the movie, or grading the movie within its self-imposed and narrow confines.

    If you are 50 and married with two children and battling the world to stay above the water financially, emotionally, and spiritually, you might dicover that a very restrictive genre, for example the latest teenage sex comedy, isn’t likely to offer much that is new or, frankly, interesting. People grow up (well, some, usually) and (sometimes) want and need more. At some age the thrill is gone; after seeing 50 or 100 sex comedies over the last few decades of life, is it useful to spend valuable time seeing yet another? Isn’t it perfectly valid to say “It might be a good teenage sex comedy FOR WHAT IT IS, but I don’t have any interest in seeing it?” Of course. Why throw out valid information for no good reason? Genres exist because people like to know what they are getting in advance; if what is being offered isn’t to your taste it should guide your actions.

    If CGI leaves you cold, and paper-thin characters and standard Comic Book plots don’t appeal, even a good version of Dr. Stange is only going to be good “for what it is.” This isn’t an argument for pretentious French cinema; let’s not immediately run screaming to the extreme. But it is a recognition that we almost always walk into a movie knowing a huge amount of what we expect to see; the plot structure and themes; the issues that will/will not be forefronted; the sound design and emotional manipulations expected — and all the rest.

    If you find the comic book genre entertaining, great, it’s a fine movie “for what it is.” But it’s absurd to imagine that anyone resisting the movie, or uninterested in comic book movies in general, is missing out on pleasure because of some contrarian or “high art” impulse. It would obviously be better if we all could deeply enjoy every movie or TV show regardless of content or quality, but nobody is built this way, and recognizing what is or is not appealing at a given stage of life is the opposite of wearing blinders or discarding something off-hand: it is instead using all we know about ourselves and movie culture (in general) to better inform our actions.


    • Rambler #

      That’s all pretty darn accurate and well said.
      I think though when I hear the phrase “for what it is” that its someone guarding their opinion from criticism.
      To paraphrase “I like this thing, presuming of course that you also like this thing… unless you disdain this thing, in which case am just as refined as you are and only like this thing through ironic distance.”

      As you describe we should all like movies for what they are… But using the actual phrase betrays that principle.


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