Four years ago, two films gave the superhero genre a much-needed kick in the pants: Iron Man and The Dark Knight. They were on opposite ends of the spectrum–the former bright and funny, the latter dark and gloomy–but both felt honest, and honesty’s something the genre needed in order to mature. This summer sees the release of two films which seem destined to revitalize the genre yet again, and it’s only fitting that they are The Avengers, the end result of Marvel’s first wave; and The Dark Knight Rises, the last of Christopher Nolan’s Bat-flicks. The Dark Knight Rises is still a couple months off, but just as that one looks like it’s angling to be even darker and more despairing than its predecessors, The Avengers aims to be more colorful, rousing, and exciting than those leading up to it.
Any superhero movie that wants to be even semi-successful has to on some level examine the nature of heroism. When one doesn’t, which was a big problem in the period between Spider-Man 2 and Iron Man (give or take a Batman Begins), you wind up with something like Catwoman or Elektra or Batman & Robin. Marvel’s pre-Avengers efforts, which I’ve mostly enjoyed, have excelled at asking just why each of their heroes feels the need to suit up and take action. With The Avengers, an even bigger question is posed. Why would such disparate people, each with their own sets of skills, hang-ups, and needs, come together to form a team? Writer-director Joss Whedon, a veritable geek god, is the one tasked with providing the answer to that query, and he does so brilliantly.
Okay, the title of this post is somewhat misleading. In actuality, I tweeted a question with the #Avengers hashtag during a live chat with Joss Whedon, Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, and Clark Gregg; then someone deigned to ask Joss my question; then Joss answered; then someone transcribed his answer and tweeted it back to me. But still! It totally counts!
Please tell me it counts or I will cry.
In any case, here’s the photographic evidence:
THOR (DVD/Two-Disc Blu-ray, DVD & Digital Combo/Three-Disc Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, DVD & Digital Combo)
The penultimate pre-Avengers Marvel franchise hit like a thunderbolt! Well, a severe summer shower at least. Chris Hemsworth (Papa Kirk from Abrams’ Star Trek) plays the titular Thunder God, an impetuous and brash young warrior eager to earn the respect of his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Instead, he reignites a war with his people’s ancient enemies the Frost Giants, and finds himself exiled, penitent and powerless, to Earth. There’s a rushed romance with a sexy scientist (Natalie Portman); a fun but sadly bloodless battle to reclaim his birthright Mjolnir, the literal hammer of the gods; and a final showdown with his half-brother, the once and future God of Mischief. But the real highlights of the film aren’t the action set pieces: Hemsworth is a joy, with the muscles and the cocky but charming smirk; Hopkins chews the scenery appropriately, adding to the Shakespearean vibe director Kenneth Branagh was aiming for; and Tom Hiddleston as Loki steals the show with his wounded-little-boy-in-the-body-of-a-god routine. My earlier review was perhaps a bit glowing for what is probably just a good-not-great summer popcorn film…but then perhaps not. I look forward to watching it again and seeing if the ol’ Asgardian magic can still enchant me like it did before. – Paul Smith
(Originally reviewed by Paul and myself in “The Hammer Is His Penis.” Like Paul, I also wrote a review for the blog.)
I’ve long thought that Marvel’s overarching plan for its homegrown superhero movies was absolutely insane–and pretty ingenious, too. Spider-Man, the X-Men, and some other notable players are tied up at other film companies, but Marvel wisely held onto the rights to each member of the Avengers and ever since Iron Man in 2008, they’ve been working on getting the band together. Iron Man had some subtle Easter eggs and a nifty post-credits scene, and it’s a miracle that Iron Man 2 didn’t entirely collapse under the weight of its Avengers teases; The Incredible Hulk, besides a brief scene between Tony Stark and General Ross, was too busy restoring its hero’s rep to get involved. Thor is the next Avenger to get the spotlight and, well, he’s an interesting case.
Well, that settles it. Kenneth Branagh is a geek. How else to explain the brilliant blending of Shakespearean pomp and circumstance with the Lee/Kirby pseudo-sci-fi goofiness? Thor the comic was always just a tad inconsistent in the way it imported ancient Nordic mythology into the modern superhero landscape. The two writers that, in my opinion, handled the sacred and the profane best, Walt Simonson and J. Michael Straczynski (the latter one of the five credited screenwriters), each found a way to strike a comfortable balance. Thor the film favors the sci-fi over the fantasy, no question. But Branagh manages to create a cosmology here that is both theologically intriguing and satisfyingly silly.
So what is all this about, anyway? Well it’s that old familiar tale of the beautiful astrophysicist that discovers a fallen Norse god in the New Mexico desert, teaches him how to eat Pop-Tarts and wear low cut jeans, and ultimately helps him learn humility by being sweet and pretty and trusting of him, which of course allows him to regain his divine power just in time to destroy the god-killing robot set upon him, return to his heavenly realm and defeat his traitorous brother before he can steal the throne from their father. So, basically it’s nothing we haven’t all seen before.
But it’s gods damned fun!