I’ll get back to our normal programming in just moment, but I want to thank Hannah DuVoix for her time as Editor-in-Chief and welcome Oscar Strik to the position! Oscar’s going to do a great job, and I’m happy as heck to see him in charge of the project. So, with that said, let’s get back to work! –Bill Coberly, Editor Emeritus
Day 4 of 11 Days of Marvel is here! In this project, Bill and Erin go through every single extant film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, write their reactions to them, and then have conversations about them! The project started here, with Iron Man, or you can click here to see all the articles in the project so far. Today is about:
This time, we elected to do most of our response in the form of a lengthier conversation, had during happy hour at the bar across the street.
Bill: I know you and I didn’t really care very much for the second movie when we first saw it, so I guess I was just wondering: did you like this one more or less than you thought you would?
Erin: I remember thinking that the chemistry between Thor and Jane was pretty good. This movie seems to have the right amount of levity. It doesn’t take itself as seriously as some of the other ones do. I think that’s because you kind of have to buy into the fact that Thor is a god, and so really is probably too much, even in the MCU.
Bill: A lot of people have said this before, but I think everything in Asgard is a lot better than everything in New Mexico. You’d imagine it would be the other way around, right? You’d expect, since our writer is from Earth, that he can write the Earth stuff well, and the stuff that’s in space would come off as ridiculous and hammy, but actually, I think the stuff in Asgard lands pretty well. The dialogue is appropriately grandiose without actually being too much. Of course, you’ve also got some good actors pulling it off. Hiddleston and Hopkins and Elba and Hemsworth can pull off that kind of stuff where lesser actors would have had a harder time with that.
Erin: I also think that one is inclined to give them more leeway in Asgard. It is “fantastic,” and it has sort of a Beowulf feel. They are legends, and they already know they are legends, and that makes it more fun, more believable – I guess believable isn’t the right word, but more interesting, or more amusing.
Bill: Not “realistic,” but I think believable is the right word, like, self-consistent.
Erin: Yeah, consistent within the universe.
Bill: You buy it.
Erin: Yeah, I mean, there is a certain amount of buy-in with gods sort of on Olympus, which is basically where they are, but if you can get past it, then it is really fun.
Bill: I think part of the problem with the Earth stuff is that after he gets sent back, he’s wandering around New Mexico in sort of a daze, and he comes off as being a bit goofy. It might have been better if they had written him with a little bit more gravitas, even in his New Mexico bits, because then it wouldn’t be quite as crazy for Foster and Friends to imagine, “Maybe there’s something to what he’s saying.” As it is, it’s kind of like “this lunatic showed up, and let’s believe everything he says.”
Erin: And that is probably the one big problem with Jane. I know we’ve talked about it before, about how in most of these movies, Selvig doesn’t serve much of a purpose. In this movie, Selvig functions as her scientific skepticism. But this means Foster’s sort of all-in to believe Thor at the beginning, which I think is probably inconsistent with what the character should be like. I think what you’re talking about would have made more sense if she had been much more skeptical from the start. It also would have made more sense if he had ever been able to further her inquiry. If he had ever provided something useful to her, then I think it would make more sense that she would trust him. He never seems to be very useful.
Bill: Well, they hint at that a couple of times. She takes him to the government facility on the condition that he tell her about stuff, but then he mostly doesn’t. I’d be a lot more willing to believe that she would help him sneak into a government facility if he had dropped any useful hints at all up to that point.
Bill: So, I think Loki’s a lot more interesting in this movie than he is in the other two. All of Tumblr is in love with Loki, and that’s fine, but in the Avengers, he’s much more of a cut-and-dried megalomaniac, whereas here I think his arc is a lot more interesting.
Erin: I think you said this before, when we were watching it. His arc was, in many ways, more interesting than Thor’s. Thor has sort of a tired “needs to grow up and take life more seriously” arc, whereas Loki’s arc is about trying to impress Anthony Hopkins, and let’s be honest. I think we all want to impress Anthony Hopkins.
Bill: I would do a lot of things to impress Anthony Hopkins. Agreed. Overall, the movie’s not perfect, but I liked it a lot better this time than I was expecting, probably partly because we had just seen two movies we really didn’t like at all. But Thor is also so unabashedly strange. It’s a bit bizarre to watch Iron Man and then Hulk and then Iron Man 2 and then this. For all that Iron Man 2 gets kind of crazy when Stark creates a new element in his basement, it’s still more or less grounded in reality. There’s no discussion of magic or anything like that, and then you have Thor show up and everything is rainbow bridges and six-legged horses and magical portals and Frost Giants and wow. I think some of that stuff ends up dominating the rest of the franchise, but it’s interesting to see it just show up out of space in the fourth movie.
Erin: Magic, you think, ends up dominating?
Bill: Yeah, magic and that really Jack Kirby visual aesthetic that Branagh employed around Asgard. I think that aesthetic and that emphasis on magic and Ultimate Cosmic Power ends up dominating a lot of the rest of the movies, except for Iron Man 3 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Everything else is at least partly about some magical MacGuffin. Of course, I think once they realized they were doing Thanos as the big villain for everything that’s currently planned, since his whole arc is about having the six Infinity Stones, they needed to introduce the six Infinity Stones somewhere. It’s funny that the first one only shows up in the end-credits teaser for Thor.
Erin: The other thing that we noticed a lot watching this movie, and we both commented on this, is how much Branagh likes those sharply angled shots.
Bill: Yeah, the movie overfloweth with those weird 45-degree angle shots. I’ve seen the movie twice before, and I’m sure I saw it, but I didn’t realize just how much he likes to do that. It’s all over the establishing shots, in particular, whether in Asgard or New Mexico.
Erin: Even a lot of the panning shots end up not being straight pans, which I think is kind of fun.
Bill: On the subject of Branagh, you know, he’s mostly famous for all the Shakespeare adaptations he’s done, so I suppose it would make sense that the Asgard stuff would work better with him in charge. He doesn’t really know how to do some of the sort of weird, rom-commy stuff that happens in New Mexico. His thing is getting actors to give him really dramatic performances through stylized dialogue.
Erin: I think Hiddleston’s performance is more believable here than in later films. He’s not such a hammed-up villain. You really do feel that he’s conflicted here, and he comes off as much, much smarter. He’s got a very intricate plan, which he executes almost perfectly. He really is The Trickster here, and I think that that’s where some of the other movies got him wrong. It’s more fun when he is pulling low-level stunts and trying to manipulate the conversation.
Bill: I will be curious to see what they do with him in Ragnarok. I mean, the end of The Dark World sees him on the throne of Asgard, so they have to do something with him. We’ll see how that lands.
Bill: Also, Idris Elba is great as Heimdall.
Erin: I was just going to say that! I don’t think the first time I watched the movie I realized how important he was to the whole plot, but he is the linchpin of almost everything everyone does. He’s controlling all of their travel.
Bill: There was one thing I hadn’t noticed the first two times I saw this movie. When Loki comes up to him and says, “Heimdall, did Odin ever fear you?” and Heimdall’s response is just “No, because he’s my king.” Heimdall might actually be the most powerful person in the movie. Barring magical trickery from Loki, he appears to be able to see everything and everywhere, and they let him guard the Bifrost all by himself, so he must be sufficient. I’m glad they used him more in The Dark World, and that he even has that cameo in Ultron. I hope he gets to do even more stuff in Ragnarok. He’s one of the best parts of the whole franchise.
Erin: Why do you think that?
Bill: It’s partly the size of the part: Heimdall doesn’t have to shoulder the whole movie, so he can just focus on being impossibly badass in his few appearances. Heimdall wouldn’t work as the hero of his own movie, but he’s really enjoyable as a side character. He really anchors just how powerful the Asgardians really are, that at their borders they only have one man, who, as far as we can tell, spends 24 hours a day standing there, Watching.
Erin: I do kind of wish that Natalie Portman didn’t come off as so manic.
Bill: Well, she’s good at that. Her part in Garden State is one of the ur-Manic Pixie Dream Girls.
Erin: It still sort of feels the whole time like she’s just come off of a really bad breakup.
Bill: Well, of course, she says she has. She does at least get to do more stuff in here than she does in The Dark World.
Erin: I actually kind of like that she still has her old boyfriend’s clothes around. It almost feels like Thor isn’t her main squeeze, he’s a rebound, which is sort of an interesting place to be as a god.
Bill: The romance does feel super-rushed, but I suppose that’s sort of the nature of these things. Actually, in all of the relationships that we’ve seen so far they actually know each other before the movie starts and have some kind of established relationship, even if it’s not romantic. This is the only one where they do the traditional action movie thing where they meet and then they hang out for twenty minutes, and then they’re falling in love. Even up next, with Captain America and Peggy Carter, it’s drawn out over a longer period of time. That actually brings me to one of the things about this movie I don’t like. You don’t really notice it at the time, but the whole movie takes place over the space of about 48 hours, and that doesn’t make any sense. It’s difficult to imagine that this thousand-year-old demigod could go from a rampaging warmonger to this friendly giant in the space of 48 hours.
Erin: That’s because no one wanted to watch Thor work in a hardware store.
Bill: Well, I think they should have done it, though. It would have taken five more minutes to have a little “time passes” montage, and I think it would have made the movie make more sense, for both Thor and Loki’s arcs.
Erin: It would have been fun to watch Loki try to control Asgard as himself, and then see how he tries to control Asgard when he’s pretending to be Odin in Ragnarok. Does he change his style at all?
Bill: To praise the movie for being cool for a moment, Thor fights well. He is clearly an unstoppable engine of destruction, even in his “depowered” state. When he’s in the zone, he’s pretty easily the most powerful of the Avengers. The only person who could maybe taken him in a fight would be the Hulk.
Erin: Part of what makes these movies start to get boring is that they sometimes boil down to just punching bigger and bigger baddies harder and harder. But there is something neat about the Avengers where they all have slightly different skills and ways they have to work. To montage them together into bigger fight scenes, the scriptwriter has to work really hard to make sure that everybody is evenly matched. Because if they weren’t equally matched, then it wouldn’t be interesting, and someone would be dead.
Bill: To that point, I like that the last fight of this movie isn’t actually the fight with the Destroyer. The last fight is his little hand-to-hand fight with Loki, which he pretty clearly is going to win as soon as he decides to take the gloves off. But the big, final moment is not just him beating the badguy, it’s not like Man of Steel when he just finally beats General Zod to death, it’s when he breaks the Bifrost. I do like that that’s the final, superheroic thing he does in the movie.
Erin: Well, it cements what his arc is, which is learning to be less selfish and childish, and that’s one of the things that Loki is sort of appealing to when he says, “You’ll never see her again.” Although it bothered me that one of the things that when Loki is trying to rile Thor up, he threatens to go “visit” Jane. Did we really need that veiled rape threat there?
Erin: Do you think the way that Thor gets introduced to Earth in this movie is compelling enough for him to want to keep saving it? I think that’s always the problem with these kinds of stories. Why does Doctor Who love humanity so much? When you consider how much shit is going down in Asgard, why is Thor spending any time at all on Earth?
Bill: Well, I think the threats he faces in all three movies after this are serious enough that you understand why he’s here. In Avengers, he’s there because Loki is there„ and in Thor 2, this guy Malekith is going to destroy EXISTENCE, so yeah, Thor is going to be there. In Ultron, he was already there because he was trying to get Loki’s scepter, which makes sense. But, yeah, his decision at the end of Thor 2 to stay on Earth for the forseeable future is weird. I don’t buy that he’s enough in love with Jane Foster that that makes sense.
Erin: Partly because we didn’t see it actually develop properly. When Tony does crazy things for Pepper, it makes sense. It’s very clear how long she has taken care of him, and you believe he would be devoted to her.
Bill: I think the romance between Thor and Foster is not super convincing. They have decent chemistry, but we don’t really get much time with it. To be done right, it would need to be a Great Romance, and I’m not sure marvel really wants to do that.
Erin: Yeah, but Thor 2 is all about the romance.
Bill: Not really, unless I’m remembering incorrectly. I mean, it’s certainly a subplot, but a Great Romance would be something like, I don’t know, Dr. Zhivago. The romance would be the center of the film, not just one plot amongst many.
Erin: What if the Great Romance is actually between Thor and Loki, and Jane is the third wheel? I mean, that’s the big developing, change-your-life kind of relationship in Thor, at least.
Bill: Well, if Loki shows up in Ragnarok to any real extent (and I expect he will), then the relationship between Thor and Loki will be the one that has probably received the most attention in the entire franchise, I think. The only other one would be the romantic relationship between Stark and Pepper, which isn’t center-stage the same way as the relationship between Thor and Loki.
Erin’s Favorite Moment: Can I just say Idris Elba? I think so. Idris Elba.
Erin’s Least Favorite Moment: Just generally Jane Foster’s role in this movie, which is so much less than I would expect from a badass female astrophysicist.
1. Iron Man
3. The Incredible Hulk
4. Iron Man 2
Bill’s Favorite Moment: This isn’t the best storytelling moment or whatever, but when Sif stabs the Destroyer and you think it’s out of the fight but then it rotates itself around and tries to shoot her in the face. I figured the Destroyer wasn’t dead, but that made it so much more alien than just if it had grabbed her and thrown her.
Bill’s Least Favorite Moment: Loki is all set to blow up Jotunheim, and Thor shouts “This is madness!” and Loki shouts “Is it? Is it? IS IT?” and then says nothing else of import. That’s, uh, not an argument, Loki.
1. Iron Man
3. The Incredible Hulk
4. Iron Man 2
So, we are just really in agreement here as to rankings! Tune in next time for Captain America: The First Avenger, and comment below! Did you agree with your reasoning? Did you like the long conversation better than the format we’ve used for the other three? Let us know below, and see you tomorrow!