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next up, Ant-Man!

So, in order to qualify for having any opinion about The Avengers (I'm not allowed to find it bland and hypocritical without giving the franchise more money, apparently), I got around to watching both Thor and Captain America. (I'm not watching the Hulk movies. It's just not gonna happen. Sorry.) And, in what I'm sure will be a huge relief to my flist in being spared more of my rants, I liked them. Quite a lot, actually. So I wanted to let y'all know.



(Did it change my opinion or make me more invested in The Avengers? No, no more than having seen and liked both Iron Mans (Iron Men?) made me automatically care about Tony in that movie. It only retroactively made it more obvious (and annoying) how all the various characters (who I now know and genuinely like) were chained to the wheels of the movie's plot/doctrine. For just one example, I am now unfortunately aware that Cap was at no point actually in Germany. Making the line's purpose in the movie itself even more facile and disingenuous, and, now being familiar with Cap, making it feel out-of-character, and making the message of the scene even more wantonly anvilicious. So, yeah. That happened.)




Anyway, let's get back to writing walls'o'text about me enjoying movies instead. Yay! (Spoilers for both below, if you haven't seen them, of course. Also, there'll be occasional TV Tropes links simply because it's the fastest easiest way to explain obscure but efficient jargon. Or if it's just interesting.)


Thor was a big ol' ball of slightly uneven fun, really. The thing that caught my attention and immediately switched me from I guess I'll check that out sometime – to – must watch NAO was learning that Kenneth Brannagh directed it. And that was all the framework (or incentive) I needed. Did it have issues? Uh, yes, absolutely. Did the movie carry me exuberantly through the story anyway? Hells yes, absolutely.


So, setting aside the whole Aryan Jesus basic setup (going way beyond the hero's journey warning: TV Tropes link), which was annoying but not prohibitive, and not particularly interesting either way, I loved the whole attempt to intertwine a Shakespearean comedy and tragedy into one overall story. And give it to Ken Brannagh. Brilliance! I mean, sure, it wasn't seamless, but I love that they even tried – let alone largely succeeded. Especially since it gave me a "villain" that I actually thoroughly enjoyed and invested in, rather than just being the boring-screen-time excuse for the hero to do something. (Although apparently that role needs to go to someone, since in this movie, it was assigned to the love interest – or perhaps I should say "love" "interest".)

More on the tone: I thought it was beautifully handled. The Asgard scenes are simply gorgeous in their OTTness; the personalities populating the opulent splendor of what is presumably a perpetual pinnacle culture are shown to be large and hammy enough that they are thoroughly at home in it. And yet the two leads also show just enough hints of complexity that when they hit earth and/or their own undoing, their reactions are still completely relatable throughout, despite not being noticeably less large or hammy.

Nor were their reactions all that predictable, which was just plain awesome. There were points at which I honestly had no idea what they would do next, and in this day and age, that is quite the gift to the audience. Everything – everything – in this story was evolving-character-driven, and it worked pretty damn well; made all the more appropriate because that level of self-determination is one of the traits of divinity in mythological pantheons. (Mind you, this movie having Shakespearesque hallmarks stamped all over its butt, it's actually not all that surprising. If there was any storyteller who valued human drama and complex character-driven narrative, above any other kind of logic, it was the Bard. And it didn't always work, but a lot of the time it did. And it was nearly always magnificent regardless.)

Characters, then. Thor? Mighty and marvellous and extremely well played. Bombast done with such a light touch as to create nuance and depth is hardly an easy ask, but between them, Chris Hemsworth and Brannagh pulled it off. And as bitterlimetwist noted, Hemsworth is overbrimming with chemistry with everything around him, up to and including the furniture. (Not to mention, his brief performance as George Kirk in Star Trek was what grabbed me by the balls throat from the get-go, and that was a movie that even knew what to do with its audience's attention once it had secured it.) He was funny, he was charming, he was a pain in the ass, he was heartbreaking, he was indomitable, he carried his larger-than-life character through every hoop effortlessly. He never appeared to be playing big; he was big. Broad but never shallow. He was having so much fun it was impossible not to have fun with him, even if you wanted to, and why would you? (Granted, being Australian means this kind of characterisation talent is one I am quite familiar with, but in this case familiarity does not breed contempt.)

Made the whole love interest a bit of an anomaly, then, in being largely flat and forgettable. I mean, humans start at something of a disadvantage anyway when compared to Asgard-scaled personalities, but Selvig held his own decently well, Darcy even better. (Darcy was awesome.) Natalie Portman, on the other hand? (I say "Natalie Portman", because I could not tell you what kind of person Jane Foster actually is, other than a Thor-orbiting, Thor-servicing chimera of whatever one-dimensional trait is needed for the scene. At least I know that Natalie Portman is a stiff, clinical actress skilled in deploying moe faces warning: TV Tropes. Faux moe, if you will.) NOT SO MUCH.

I mean, sure, it could be due to a latent demigod power that Thor didn't lose merely by virtue of still being Aesir (I guess?), which turns human mortals into his own personal satellites; that's also basically in keeping with those kinds of mythologies (ta'veren, essentially), although not a popular concept today and I doubt what they were going for. As for him, unless I was supposed to gather that his love life is of the approximate maturity of a teenager's (entirely possible), and he will therefore consider himself utterly in love with someone he's known for about ten minutes – or that he was so thrown at having his powers stripped from him that it somehow addled his hormones too – then I'm struggling for any real character resonance from that thread. Not that it really mattered all that much in the grand scheme of things. (Seriously, cut out any romantic motives whatsoever from the characters and tell me what would have changed in anyone's choices and actions. Virtually nothing. And isn't that telling? Take them out, and what would have been made deeper and more interesting? Quite a lot, actually. But it's a summer blockbuster, it doesn't get through the first stage of production without a love interest, so *sigh* whatever.)

Speaking of addled, luckily, we have Loki! Yay! Seriously, wow. Love me a good tragedy, and Loki's is of the first order. I mean, there's been more than enough internet ink spilled on him one way or another, but watching everything spiral wildly out of his control (or initial desires), watching him be systematically undone by his fatal flaw, was so satisfyingly heartwrenching; watching him make more and more doomed (and cruel) decisions because of it was a gorgeous example of that trope. And, yeah, I would love to see a redemption story someday. Don't get me wrong, I love having a tragic hero be the villain, and Tom Hiddleston is certainly easy to watch, but I'm not into into him like that; that said, if the legion of his Draco in Leather Pants warning: TV etc fangirls are the deciding factor in the PTB giving the character a good meaty arc (especially now that his descent into total unhingedness in The Avengers is said to be the result of even more abuse at the hands of The Other or Thanos, oh the h/c potential, ladies!), I'll not complain. Plus, wouldn't mind seeing Thor's compassion be stretched further to understand and possibly even help his brother.

Of course, it doesn't hurt Loki's cause that he was (initially) completely in the right. (In fact, it's what adds to his appeal as a villain – you will not often catch him saying or doing anything that's actually wrong; it's the question of why he's saying or doing it that determines his status, and that interpretation is left gloriously open to the audience.) And here we get to my biggest WT-everloving-F with the movie: Odin. And ... pretty much everything Odin does.

Sure, okay – this storytelling reality is essentially Shakespearean. Characters are going to do things that don't necessarily make any logical sense, because if they didn't, the play wouldn't happen or would wrap up in about five minutes after some counselling and mediated conflict resolution or good old fashioned bloody murder. I couldn't speak to every one of his plays, since I haven't studied them all, but I generally recall a sense that when he has someone do something plot-propellingly illogical, it's given some kind of character justification – a tragic flaw, a spell, a bout of love- or grief-stricken insanity, something. And, sure, that's fine with me; lampshade it and you can get away with a hell of a lot. Go for it. This story ain't gonna just tell itself!

So, Odin. As befits his position as All Father, it's Odin's actions that predetermine, initiate, direct, and resolve the story. There's a bit of a puppet-master creep-out factor in there, but it's kind of hard to judge, since if Loki's motives are open to interpretation, Odin's are well-nigh impenetrable. Because every single action he's shown to take makes little to no sense, and collectively imply that he's a self-absorbed dumbass. Which is directly at odds with what is said about him; at the end of the movie, a demonstrably humbler, older-and-wiser Thor proclaims (without apparent irony or even his fingers crossed behind his back) that Odin is the bestest father and the wisdomest too. (I paraphrase.) And that Thor has a long way to go to measure up to him. Which basically sums up the general message given about Odin throughout the movie. Now, I can buy wisdom = ineffable. I find it really hard to find any way to make wisdom = astonishing lack of judgement at every turn.

If his reasons (and we're informed he always has them) for what he does are as presented, then he's a complete idiot and the only reason he's remained in power this long is everyone knows Heimdell is his devoted gay lover and ain't NO ONE gonna mess with Heimdell's husbear. If there are undisclosed but coherent, "wise" reasons for what he did, he presumably also has a reason for lying about them to everyone, and he is so far out of Loki's league that he supplants him as the true villain of the piece. Not least because he consummately programmed Loki to self-destruct, in the blast-radius sense of the word. And either way, he's a pretty poor father. For the most part it doesn't seem to have impaired his ability to rule Asgard and the Nine Realms, so there is that.... Seriously, the whole thing resembles nothing less than a magnificent bastard warning millennia-long plot to take out his true heir while preserving his position and own immaculate PR. Which I am 100% behind as an explanation. That is, of course, until someone starts paying attention and says pardon me, my liege, but WT-everloving-F?

Can that be the sequel? Please?



Have I said enough yet? No? Well, on to Captain America, then. Because if Thor was all I could ask it to be, Captain America was a whole lot more than I expected. Also cemented my respect for Chris Evans as an actor (seeds of which were planted as far back as Cellular. Don't judge me). And contributed a significant and welcome piece to my deeply unsystematic anthropological study of Americans.


Incidentally, that last one is not a joke. I owe a similar debt to West Wing and Friday Night Lights; not so much for the stories they tell but what they reveal about the people and culture and mindset that produce them. FNL was one hell of a cultural puzzle box, I don't mind admitting. Captain America, however, may well be the single most helpful and exquisitely-crafted key to an aspect of the collective American psyche that I have yet come across. (I am doubly grateful because of all the things I found incomprehensible about living there, the implicit and explicit attitudes to the military, and the role it plays in their identity, was the one that got me into the most trouble.)

Not surprisingly, that was what most struck me on first watch: how pitch-perfect every single element I could discern was in communicating this very concept. The story, the setting, the script, the context, the characters, the commentary created therein all serve to capture and display the role of the military in their identity and ideals – how they see themselves. It was flawless, and fascinating, and holds up even better to repeat viewings (I have tested this). Moreover, it was as earnest and sincere as its eponymous hero; no cynicism, no parody, nothing but playing the entire thing completely straight – which in our day and age could be considered a huge risk, but the filmmakers obviously judged it to be not worthy of the character or the period to do it any other way. And they were right. Not only that, but intentionally or not, I think they tapped into an emerging hunger for just such an approach.

Ordinarily, this relentless earnestness would be enough to send me running. Sprinting. However, not long before I left the States I came to terms with the fundamental sincerity of American culture, and discovered that opposites do attract, because as it turns out I really like that about them. (Who knew?) Which is not to say I like everything (or even most things) that it ends up producing, but in the case of Cap, the self-aware way in which it was played made it absolutely delightful. There were a few notes in there as well that tripped my irony-dar, which left me utterly intrigued. I do not yet know what it means, but it is the strongest hint so far in my suspicions that there is a rare and purely American variety of irony that is embeded in its own sincerity and can only be found growing in such an environment. (Please note, I am not saying that their sincerity is ironic; it most certainly is not. I'm saying that, as of this point in my investigations, it appears American sincerity can do irony in a way that is completely distinct and nearly undetectable without a cultural decoder. I AM EXCITE because I am a total nerd.)

It is this self-awareness that makes Cap so likeable (rather than insufferable). He is, in every discernable aspect of his being, the ideal American hero. And yet he is so beautifully and sweetly human there is absolutely no question of not rooting for him every step of the way. The cynic in me was along for the ride, of course, because I have never yet managed to find the off-switch, but I believe that even she was having fun. Super America vs Super Hitler? Who am I cheering on again? Sure, okay, let's do it, why not. I mean, I found Howard Stark somewhat underwhelming, but he had his moments and frankly I don't expect anyone to be able to cast someone as RDJ's Tony Stark's dad convincingly. And that's only in contrast with the rest of the cast/characters, who were thoroughly engaging. The WW2 Allied archetypes who formed Cap's ragtag bunch of misfits at no point became stereotypes; I can only suppose it's because every element, symbol and trope included in this film, even Red Skull, was handled with respect for their own sake, rather than just for their pertinence to the plot/main character. Show respect, earn respect.

I'm writing less about it, but that's not an indication of how much I liked it. (It could very well be because I have less to object to. Also, I'm still mulling Cap over; I haven't finished figuring him out.) In fact, of all of the Avengers ensemble, Cap is currently the dark horse you know what that link is and you only have yourself to blame that has taken the convincing lead in the cold and stony racetrack of my heart. Let's hear it for...! – Nah, sorry, I can't manage to embrace unirony that much. But I'm somewhat okay that the movie does, and much more okay with the way Cap navigates it, and I can tell you that no one is more surprised about that than me.

Comments

( 16 speakses — have a speak )
workerbee73
Jun. 9th, 2012 05:05 pm (UTC)
omg thinky thooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooughts!!!!!

I WILL BE BACK.


**tackleglomps you first**

Edited at 2012-06-09 05:06 pm (UTC)
themonkeytwin
Jun. 11th, 2012 02:43 am (UTC)
Wheeeeeeeeeeeee! :)
tahirire
Jun. 9th, 2012 05:11 pm (UTC)
Lol, oh you.

Sorry, I blacked out from orgasm when you said 'Kenneth Brannagh.' *fans self*

HEEEEY, I LOVED CELLULAR, TOO!! :D *highfive*

And now, HISHE.












themonkeytwin
Jun. 11th, 2012 02:47 am (UTC)
'Kenneth Brannagh.' *fans self*

INORITE?

*Cellular highfive!* Have you seen Sunshine? Another little step on the way of me thinking, hey, this Chris Evans guy, not too shabby.

Aww, you brought me HISHE! You really do love me :) Also, lolomg, so true.
tahirire
Jun. 11th, 2012 02:49 am (UTC)
No I have not! *adds to watch list*

HISHE makes my life. <3 The new Star Trek one is my all-time favorite. :D
themonkeytwin
Jun. 11th, 2012 04:05 am (UTC)
Bonus: Cillian Murphy, being all pretty and not!creepster.

The new Star Trek one is my all-time favorite.

*adds to watch list*
tahirire
Jun. 11th, 2012 04:19 am (UTC)
Bonus: Cillian Murphy, being all pretty and not!creepster.

WHAT!?!?!
themonkeytwin
Jun. 11th, 2012 04:40 am (UTC)
WOMAN, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?

LET ME HELP YOU.

tahirire
Jun. 11th, 2012 04:49 am (UTC)
Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket
themonkeytwin
Jun. 11th, 2012 04:55 am (UTC)
It's because he plays a physicist, right? I know, brainy is SOOOO sexy. *chinhands*
tahirire
Jun. 11th, 2012 05:02 am (UTC)
HEY. I am young, monogamous, and don't read porn. YOU LET ME PERV, WOMAN. LET ME PERV.
themonkeytwin
Jun. 11th, 2012 05:05 am (UTC)
YOU PERV AWAY, MY FRIEND. PERV AWAY.


[Edit: ... Mind you, be warned, it IS a Danny Boyle movie, he of The Descent, so there is plenty of creepiness in the whole psychological horror element of the movie. So if that's a factor for you, maybe just watch the first forty minutes or so.]

[[EDITED EDTI: I print a late retraction. I got him mixed up with Neil Marshall. These weird Brits, I can't keep them all straight. Danny Boyle did Slumdog Millionaire and 28 Days Later and The Beach. *shrug*]]

Edited at 2012-06-18 11:23 am (UTC)
jaydeyn_sitari
Jun. 10th, 2012 12:47 am (UTC)

Odin, All-Father Worst. Father. Ever. Ugh. Who teaches their kids to be utterly xenophobic and racist about their own species. Facepunch to him. And yeah, am kinda looking forward to Thor waking up to just how wrong and manipulative he is... though sad Thor puppy-face will likely be heart breaking.

I completely disagree on Jane Foster (and Natalie Portman for that matter, though I totally see that moe thing) being Thor-orbiting etc; to me it read as the exact opposite. The only time she was that was when he "died" and got his power back. She had her own agency, her own wants and needs and goals and that didn't change after she ran the dude over with her car. He facilitated discovery and helped her get her data back, but didn't change anything about her wants or goals but to give a specific focus. Her journey wasn't about him - it was about the science. Bonus hot guy is definitely nice, mind. Also, major, major points for having both her and the Magnificent Darcy dressed like people actually in the field. That was such a lovely change.

Yes to all that about Loki though. (Deeply looking forward to the histories!)

And ditto on Captain America. Surprising, wasn't it? ♥

:)
Jaydeyn
themonkeytwin
Jun. 11th, 2012 04:01 am (UTC)
Who teaches their kids to be utterly xenophobic and racist about their own species.

I recently ran across this, Loki: An Allegory About Internalised Racism while browsing Social Justice League.

And it's not just that; I identify as a John-girl, so it's not like I can't have sympathy for dads with external responsibilities who make dumbass family decisions through lack of reflection on the consequences of their well-meaning actions (the kindest possible interpretation of Odin's behaviour). But added to that, from a ruling/kinging perspective, stealing this baby makes no diplomatic sense. Either he WAS a runt, despised and abandoned, and therefore of no worth to the Jotuns whatsoever, or Odin kidnapped the crown prince and brainwashed him for a millenia to revere and serve Asgard (and hate the people he's supposed to be helping build a lasting peace with). At which point you can only suppose this seemed reasonable to him because this is the way Asgard conducts foreign policy, or because he's an overbearing asshole and doesn't care.

Sad Thor puppy-face? *hold me* :(

major, major points for having both her and the Magnificent Darcy dressed like people actually in the field. That was such a lovely change.

I hear you; it's the worst thing watching Hollywood try to portray something you're familiar with. (I have to specifically turn my brain off for all the art-making scenes in White Collar for this reason.) And it served the stylistic contrast really well, as well. Yay for that!

As to the rest, I think if the love story aspect hadn't been overlaid, I'd agree with your assessment of it being all about the science for her, and her character might have landed better for me. But for me at least, after the few opening minutes with her and her team, it just felt like her entire story and even existence just got folded into Thor's. Even the shot of her at the end, excited about the wormhole research, has the focal point of her looking away from the data in front of her and eagerly up at the sky, like once I have completed my research, I'll get to see him again!

Sigh. Anyway. The lack of cleavage was wonderfully refreshing at least! :)

And ditto on Captain America. Surprising, wasn't it? ♥

I'm officially a fan of Cap now. *nods*
datenshiblue
Jul. 3rd, 2012 03:02 am (UTC)
It's as interesting to me, reading your reaction to Cap The Movie as it seems to be for you to study the American cultural mindset. ;)

For my part, I was shocked at just how dark they allowed the movie to be. And it should be. It needed to be. But I never expected them to let a summer blockbuster (I believe it was, in 2011), just be that.

Someone looked at the basic bio of Cap, the comic book character, and zeroed in precisely on the incredibly painful irony of his fate. And laid it out just like so.

Given the material, Chris was the absolute perfect actor for the part, because he has an ability to project a sincere innocence, in a body that doesn't just happen without a LOT of work.

Did you see The Losers? Just curious.

Back to Cap the Movie... It was an incredible piece of work and the credits, the bright, nostalgic, relentless end credits make me cry.

It seems to be completely uncool to like the "straight" hero, the guy who is just trying to do what he thinks is right because he has to. It's the only way he can live with himself. Uncool... and I fall for it most of the time.

I don't know why you would want to watch old American WWII movies but if you ever wanted to get another look at the mindset, from a little closer chronologically to the era, try The Longest Day.

<3

themonkeytwin
Jul. 3rd, 2012 12:24 pm (UTC)
It's as interesting to me, reading your reaction to Cap

Ha. :) Why's that? My approach to stories, this story in particular, or just the way different people respond to this story generally?

just how dark they allowed the movie to be. And it should be. It needed to be.

It absolutely needed to be. Cap's only as grounded (and weighted) as his mission is serious. There's an element of Nolan's Batman in that, too; that trilogy has opened up a lot of ground for comic book movies to explore the genuinely dark and the genuinely tragic. I thought Cap was pitched just exactly right, the balance of every element was exquisite.

And Chris Evans? There are a metric BUTTLOAD of reasons he perfect for that role, in that story, in that style. But yeah, the innocence is a big part of it. Chatting to tahirire above, I mentioned Sunshine, in which he had a wonderfully serious role and was extraordinary in it (although he did deliver the one single joke in the movie as well, natch). When I remembered that, his casting as Cap made perfect sense (it probably also helped that I hadn't paid much attention to him in his other, lighter roles). I went into Cellular not expecting anything much (I don't even remember why I rented it), but it didn't take long for me to really like his character. He brings irresistable likeability to the table, and that's essential to Cap's nature. And, well, I could go on listing stuff all day. He's that good.

I hear you on the serious, "straight" hero, and I'm with everyone who's pretty much over the wisecracking smartass noir guy. I am so totally okay by now with having a hero who isn't dark and tormented, who's been through some stuff but just deals and gets on with doing the right thing without making it a tortured angst parade. (I mean, we have Show for that, and it does it so prettily. That's plenty for me.) YES PLS. I will hang out with you in the uncool corner anytime. Our corner has Cap; we win.

The Losers? JDM with a beard, Chris Evans with glasses, Idris Elba with ANYTHING? Uh ... yes, I may have seen that several times.... *shifty eyes*

But seriously, I adored him in that. He was brilliant. I love this guy's range, he's so effortlessly watchable. It's going to be fun watching his career.
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