Archive for the ‘Thor’ Category

Who You Gonna Call?   3 comments

Last night I finally got to see the Avengers, my most hotly anticipated film since Conan.  I enjoyed it.  The action scenes and the special effects were outstanding–Academy Award outstanding.  The acting was superb.  The scriptwriters and director gave good lines and plenty of screen time to all the major characters.  I suppose I should stop and give a well done bit of applause to all the members of the cast.  Here’s a few of them as listed at IMDB.com.

Cast overview, first billed only:
Robert Downey Jr. Robert Downey Jr.
Chris Evans Chris Evans
Mark Ruffalo Mark Ruffalo
Chris Hemsworth Chris Hemsworth
Scarlett Johansson Scarlett Johansson
Jeremy Renner Jeremy Renner
Tom Hiddleston Tom Hiddleston
Clark Gregg Clark Gregg
Cobie Smulders Cobie Smulders
Stellan Skarsgård Stellan Skarsgård
Samuel L. Jackson Samuel L. Jackson
Gwyneth Paltrow Gwyneth Paltrow

I am not a Hollywood groupie, and I don’t keep track of movie stars in my daily life.  I have seen Robert Downey and Gwynneth Paltrow enough in other films to recognize their names.  I still remember the terrific performances turned in by Chris Evans as Captain America and Chris Helmsworth as Thor, but if you had asked me last night before the film who played Cap and Thor in those movies, I couldn’t have told you.  Of course everyone in America knows Samuel Jackson from lots of different films–he does the Nick Fury, leader of S.H.I.E.L.D. routine.  However, I thought the actors were very good, even the ones in throwaway bit parts.  Tom Hiddleston as Loki really carried the movie.  Super heroes require super villains, and he was great, combining arrogance, cunning, and sheer mad egotism in a bravura performance.  I think there is a tendency to overlook the bad guys in hero action films, but we members of the audience should give those actors more credit.  Without them the heroes have no reason to exist, and nothing to emote against.  Think about it.  There was one real bad guy in the film–Loki.  He took on Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, Captain America, Hawkeye, the Black Widow, and Nick Fury and gave them all they could handle.  One vs. seven. I’m not giving away any secrets if I tell you they beat him in the end, but think of the odds.  Hero stories are usually stacked the other way–more bad guys than good guys, and in a sense this was since Loki had an army of formidable aliens to back him up, but they were just extras.  Loki, and for 2/3 of the movie, Hawkeye who had been mind-controlled by Loki, were the only real bad guys.

The plot can be summarized easily enough.  Loki and his army of alien monsters decide to conquer the Earth.  Loki’s main problem is in bringing his troops to Earth from their outer space/other dimesnional homeworld.  Nick Fury and his agents of SHIELD, including the group he pulls together as the Avengers have to stop him.  Lots of combat and property destruction ensue.  Much of the conflict occurs on a personal level.  Marvel characters are all people first, heroes second.  They have their own motivations and lives, and often resent being forced to protect the world from one threat or another, but because they are good guys at heart–at least most of them are–they get over their greivances and cooperate to save the day.  Take out all the character vs. character petty antagonisms and the movie is half as long.

I don’t know why the publicity departments for these films always choose the least interesting photos.

The movie really starts with the theft of the Tesseract (also known as the Cosmic Cube in the comics) from a SHIELD base somewhere.  Loki takes on the whole base, beats it, and gets away with the maguffin.  But it only gets interesting when we switch to the Black Widow, in her crimson underwear, tied to a chair, and being interrogated by an evil Russian general arms dealer.  She gets a call from SHIELD saying they need her to “come in” and this leads to an escape featuring the most incredible display of chair fu ever filmed.  Jackie Chan would be so proud.  That’s the scene I want a picture of, not her in a black rubber suit pointing a pistol.

The two Chrisses. Blondes rule when it comes to street-fighting in New York.

Thor and Captain America, although no dummies, spend most of their time kicking butt and looking hunky.  I suppose the beefcake is for the ladies in the audience, but there is a lot of barely concealed homoeroticism in superhero comics.  These guys are just so damn pretty.  I like it better when they’re kicking butt.

Nick Fury, Director of SHIELD, is a hands-on kind of guy. He does his own dirty jobs, and butt-kicking. Does he look like a mastermind to you? He doesn’t to me, but appearances can be deceiving. You can never trust a cyclops.

In the course of the film we learn that SHIELD is really run by a secret cabal who are utterly ruthless.  I guess having it just be an arm of the United Nations or the U.S. government isn’t enough any more.  We need conspiracies.  And the government looks evil enough to the American public without the movies making it worse.  Far better to have secret leaders who can’t be traced back to the Republicans or the Democrats or the Communists pulling the strings.  Fury is shown to be a devious bastard, but still a man with heart who does his best to protect people.

Alpha-males never get along when they meet each other. Give them a common foe, and they can certainly cooperate, but social situations are just plain nasty.

Thor and Iron Man go head to head in combat about half way through the movie.  I didn’t buy it.  No matter how good Stark’s technology is, Thor’s hammer should have blasted through it like it was tissue paper.  He’s a god.  So, suspend your disbelief for this part and just enjoy the smashing and bashing.

Loki has the best costumes, the best lines, and the best smile in the movie.

Remember that building in the background from the Ghostbusters? When there’s someting bad in the neighborhood, who you gonna call? Bad doesn’t come much worse than Loki on a power trip.

Who ya gonna call? Iron Man, I guess. I like Iron Man–he’s witty, smart, courageous, lecherous, and rich–just like me. Heh. Well, I can match him in one of those characteristics, and it isn’t the rich one.

The movie ends in an epic battle scene.  All of our Avenging heroes fight like heroes.  Hulk and Thor do the heavy hitting.  The rest take on the alien storm troopers who are quite bad enough to give any normal human being fits.  This is the part of the movie I liked best.  Bring it on!  Take out one gigantic space dragon.  Not bad.  Here’s ten more of them.  Now what are you gonna do, Hulk?

I liked the Avengers and give it 4 stars out of 5. ****  If you like superheroes at all, don’t miss it.

One more thing:  my personal rant–People are so hypercritical of the movies these days.  The Avengers is an amazing achievement as a movie.  Can you nitpick it?  Yes you could.  I’m not going to.  Try to see the terrific acting, the great storyline, the amazing special effects (even if it was all done with computer animation), and skip over the implausibilities and impossibilities that glare out of the movie at you.  It’s a comic book world, bearing a heavy resemblance to our world, but it isn’t our world.  It’s a wilder place than our own universe, and wilder things happen.  Accept them!  Enjoy them!

Biggest surprise for me: Joss Whedon had his name all over the credits.  Wow!  He must be on top of the world right now.  He is, imnsho, the best storyteller in Hollywood, perhaps in the world.  Didn’t know he was a Marvel fan, but I stand in awe of his achievements.

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If you have anything to say about the Avengers, the Ghostbusters, or Joss Whedon, please leave a comment.

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Avengers Prime   2 comments

Thor, Iron Man, Steve Rogers--no longer the best of friends

I read a lot of comics.  Because of the availability of graphic novels at the public library, I read far more than I could ever afford to buy.  Let me tell you, comics fans, the public library is your friend when it comes to comics.  Whether you like American superheroes, Japanese manga, European sophistry, or the Independents, the Library is your best friend when it comes to getting an entertainment fix without breaking the bank.  Of course, you could always just stand around the comics shop and browse through stuff on the rack, but really, who has time for that?  And, it is hardly fair to your friendly local comics dealer.

I hardly ever buy Marvel, not because I don’t like Marvel comics–for the most part Marvel publishes high quality good stuff.  It’s just that my finances are strained to the breaking point already in keeping up with the books inspired by Robert E . Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Michael Moorcock, and a few other notable purveyors of swords and sorcery, sword-and-planet, or jungle/lost worlds adventures.  Conan, Kull, Tarzan, John Carter, Elric–these are the titles I must buy as they appear.  Throw in the occasional Justice League or Green Lantern or Ka-Zar, and my finances are overstretched.

But, just as I love the Justice League, so do I also love the Avengers.  And, last week I read the best Avengers tale ever.  Here is a brief teaser for it:

They were friends, brothers and teammates through all of Marvel’s greatest adventures, but recent events turned them into the bitterest of enemies. In the wake of the siege of Asgard, Thor, Iron Man and Steve Rogers are brought together on the same side once more – but these great heroes can’t truly trust each other yet. They better start soon, because something only the Big Three can handle is tearing their world apart. This all-new, grand and dangerous adventure – uniting comics legend Alan Davis with Avengers scribe Brian Bendis for the first time – will catapult our heroes into the explosive Heroic Age! Collecting AVENGERS PRIME #1-5.

I’m going to sum up the story very quickly.  The old Asgard is gone–I don’t know why–I’d better go catch up on Thor’s adventures at wikipedia.org.  Thor has been rebuilding the Realm Not-So-Eternal in the boondocks of Oklahoma.  Norman Osborn goes nuts and attacks it with his coalition of supervillains disguised as superheroes and government goons.  The Avengers and other heroic types gather to defend it.  That all takes place in other comics.  Somehow, Thor, Iron Man, and Steve Rogers (not Captain America at the moment because Bucky Barnes–whose survival story is at least as strange as Cap’s–is wearing the wings and toting the shield) get transported to one of the other nine worlds–the world of elves, giants, trolls, and dragons.  And none of them like Thor, or his friends–a fact that both Tony Stark and Steve Rogers are a little slow to appreciate.  Thus they meet with hostility wherever they go.  Throw the ever-beguiling Enchantress and the Death Goddess incarnate, Hela, Queen of Hell, into the mix and our boys have women trouble.  Big trouble!

Green seems to be the color of evil in the Marvel universe.

I’m not going to go into the plot, the struggles, the heroics of the big three.  They are heroes.  You know they will prevail and make things right by the end of the book.  Apparently, it was a 5 issue mini-series, but I like it better all collected into one graphic novel.  How they do it makes for one of Bendis’s best stories ever.

Because, while most comics make me smile, sometimes even laugh, this one made me cry–or almost.   I was so choked up at the end of it that it took me 10 minutes of walking to get my emotions back under control.  You see, Bendis wrote a story of triumph, but it was shot through with sadness.  A giant helps Tony Stark in his moment of need, and for that good deed, the giant is immolated by the dragon Fafnir.  I identify with that giant who personifies the saying, “No good deed goes unpunished.”  A beautiful Elf healer girl falls in love with Captain America.  Without her help they would not have made it to the endgame.  She is abandoned–her love was hopeless.  No good deed goes unpunished.  Thor has to shoulder the burden for every inequity ever commited by Odin and the gods of Asgard, and also take a sword thrust through the gut.  He’s a god.  He survives it.  But it had to hurt a lot.  No good deed goes unpunished!

Bendis might not have been trying to say “No good deed goes unpunished.”  He was telling a story of the triumph of heroes over incredibly hellish difficulties and tremendous odds.  He was talking about the renewal of friendship and the failure of evil to triumph.  Those are noble themes, but my heart went out to the secondary characters who suffered in order to achieve the final triumph.  Gods and heroes walked away happy.  Lesser characters, mortals like you and me, suffered and died that the gods and heroes might triumph.  I was left feeling incredibly sad, because I am not a god or a hero.  It wasn’t my triumph.  I know I would have been one of the dead ones in that story.

No good deed goes unpunished!  Great story, Mr. Bendis.  Terrific art, Mr. Davis.

If you have read The Avengers Prime, I’d love to see your comments on the story.

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Most Movie Critics Don’t Get It   5 comments

If I had a hammer . . . then I might be truly worthy.

I saw Thor on Sunday afternoon May 15–in a small theater, no 3D or anything fancy.  I liked it.  It was a simple plot.  Thor defies Odin’s will, almost causes a war between Asgard and the Frost Giants, and gets banished to Earth (Midgard, really) as a human being where he must stay until he learns a bit of humility and the true meaning of service and sacrifice.  Meanwhile, in Asgard, Loki, who has always been secretly jealous of Thor (and with good cause, I think) takes advantage of Thor’s absence and Odin’s sudden collapse to take the throne.

Thor isn’t stupid, but he isn’t subtle either.  Whatever he wants he goes after directly.  When he learns that his hammer is only a few miles away, he goes straight after it, in spite of the fact that it’s being guarded  and researched by the forces of SHIELD.  Penetrating the security of the world’s greatest espionage outfit as if was hardly there, Thor makes it to where Mjolnir is embedded in a stone (shades of Excalibur!), and confidently tries to pick it up, only to find he can’t move it either.  Only at that moment does he realize that he is unworthy of the power of Thor, and it breaks his heart.

The movie isn’t deep, but it moves right along.  The actors all play their parts well.  The special effects are outstanding and brilliant, although audiences are so jaded by special effects extravaganzas now that everything is taken for granted and nothing impresses anyone any more.  The movie has some flaws–others have documented them, so I won’t bother.  Yes, I saw the problems that the critics have mentioned–they didn’t bother me.  It’s nitpicking to denigrate a movie because it’s set in an imaginary town in New Mexico–because Jane Foster is an unbelievable astro-physicist instead of a humble nurse.

THAT ISN’T WHAT THE STORY IS ABOUT!!!

The story is about the grownth of Thor’s character–how he loses his arrogance and learns the true meaning of friendship.  The story is about sibling rivalry.  Loki is motivated to villainy because he envies Thor, the favored son.  The story is about friendship–and what friends will do for each other.  Thor has four great friends in Asgard.  They are the warriors three, Fandral, Hogun, and Volstaag along with warrior goddess Sif.  He also gains three great friends on Earth–Jane Foster, Darby, and Eric Selveig (spelling?).  Seven great friends–it’s the magic number, O my readers!  Director Kenneth Brannagh is playing with mythic archtypes here.  I suspect that is why he took the job–because he could say something about the nature of godhood and mythology itself–lay it between the lines, and have fun doing it.

This is a movie for comic book fans, and a great one for them.  The inclusion of the Warriors Three made the movie for me.  When they accompanied Thor to attack Jotunheim on their own, it was pure delight to see them battling their way through wave after wave of Frost Giants.  And Sif!  I’m in love with Sir!  She has always been my favorite character in the Marvel Thor mythos.  Comic fans know that she is the goddess who truly loves the God of Thunder, and destined to be his bride.  Then they brought in the Destroyer–a minor villain in Marvel’s pantheon of threats, but such a delight to be recognized by the true comic fans in the audience.  And there was the cameo appearance of Stan Lee.  I think he was on screen for all of 2 seconds, and if you blinked, you missed it, but it was a comic high spot in the early movie.  Stan is always great–it could be asserted that he is the Odin Allfather of contemporary superhero comics.  At any rate, he is a great man, and I, along with millions of other comic fans old and young, admire him tremendously.

The critics are divided.  Some have given Thor 4 stars, some only 2.  Movie fans are divided.  But comics fans are delighted with Thor.  It was a blast to see how the scriptwriters played with the Marvel version of Thor, retaining some old elements, and incorporating new ones.  It was a laugh when Thor wound up wearing physician Donald Blake’s old clothing, and when Dr. Selveig rescued him from Shield by trying to pass him off as Don Blake.  You have to be an old comics fan, or a dedicated student of the past, to understand how important Don Blake and Jane Foster were to  the early history of Thor in Marvel comics.  The average movie-goer isn’t going to get the injoke.  The comic fans will.

I don’t know if Thor is a good movie or not.  I enjoyed it.  It is a FUN movie.  It is a MORAL movie.  It is all about character growth wrapped in special effects.  It is warriors and wizards.  It’s about FAMILY.  When it comes to Family, the gods and goddesses of Asgard are all too human.

One thing the nitpickers might consider, Thor is a particular version of Jack Kirby’s original conception of Thor as a superhero.  It has been brought into the 21st century Marvel universe.  This version of Thor might not jive with your version of Thor, or your concept of what makes a good movie, but it’s just as valid.

Oh, and stay till the end of the credits.  If you don’t stay, you’ll miss an important clue to the next movie in this progression of movies about the Marvel heroes.  Sit through the endless scrolling of names.  Enjoy the music.  And see the kicker at the end.    It is so worth it.

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