read Norse myth, lived in Aelfheim (a house in State College named by some fellow fantasy fans) and hung out with Vikings (sailing two different Viking longships over the years with the Longship Company) so I knew who Thor and Loki and Odin were. I grew up on Robin Hood (the 50s British version) and fell in love with another archer when I first read Lord of the Rings in 1978... then I
played a few Elvish archers while kicking orc butt on paper in D&D, and fired a few real arrows into the air (mostly, into the air) with the SCA. Somewhere about 1981 I dyed my hair red,
picked up a sword and spent some time beating up guys in armour.
So some of the Avengers is beginning to look very familiar. Verrrry familar: some of it was shot in Pennsylvania.
I am sucked through the imaginative wormhole into comic book films as easily as I find my way into Middle Earth, or the worlds of Pixar and Aardman and Lucas and Spielberg and Burton, Miyasaki and Rodenberry. I loved Ironman, Captain America and totally missed Thor.
Bad Viking. Ggzzzzzzzzzzzzzottttzzz!!!
The Blockbuster had closed, and I loathe the epic journey into the city to find a merchant for the little round disks that I can put in my magic movie playing box.
Then someone put up the Evil That Is Red Box.... right there at the Walgreens on the corner of my not quite rural anymore road. I approached the Evil Box, looked for directions. The screen flashed ominously. I poked at it.
After more poking, some conversing like a mariner, and some mighty wishing for my own version of Mjolnir, I succeded in wresting a copy of Thor from it for a buck and some change.
Somewhere in the first five minutes of the film, it was apparent that writer, actor (Chris Hemsworth, you rock!) and director had nailed the character I remembered from the myths. The good hearted summation of the power of lightning and thunder and forge, the warrior who’d take out an entire army by himself to protect his people, then pass around a few dozen kegs. Oh yes, and the overenthusiastic hotheadedness and the Fall From Grace (how often in myths, comics and cartoons it is a literal fall from a great height), and the Learning What It Means To Be Mortal, and the Offering of Oneself In Place of the People as the Sacrificial Hero, and the Regaining of Power... with a bit more wisdom this time. They had done a nifty sci-fi twist on the myths; Asgard and Jotunheim and the rest are actual planets connected by a “world tree” of energy and wormholes in space. A character quotes Arthur C. Clarke at one point (famous sci-fi writer, he did that 2001 a Space Odessey thing); “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. Thor is a wonderful fish out of water, floundering about in the 21st century without a clue. He has the heart of a Golden Hero, mere mortal strength (he has some trouble adjusting to that) and a serious problem with a relative. How he regains his power, the emotional arc of the character, all plays beautifully in the midst of some great action and gorgeous settings (Asgard, space, New Mexico). The girl who runs into him with her van (twice) is a science geek who helps him adjust. I hope they bring her back.
One of my favorite bits of the Thor myth, missing in the film (but apparently not in the comic) is his chariot pulled by goats. I've had a number of goats in my life, including one Toggenburg wether (neutered male) who we taught to pull a cart. He's been replaced by three Siberian huskies in this decade, but I have always loved goats. Tanngrisnir (Old Norse "teeth-barer, snarler") and
Tanngnjóstr (Old Norse "teeth grinder") are the goats of Thor, mentioned in the Poetic Edda (13th century) and the Prose Edda. Goats generally do not bare teeth, snarl, bite, kick or do much of anything else obnoxious and predatory; they're pretty mild mannered. But, then, these are Asgardian goats.
Perhaps the films could have him driving a Dodge Ram... though the appearance of a goat chariot in the midst of a traffic jam would be hilarious. Especially when everyone expects Heroes to drive up on a White Horse.
I noted that all of the characters in the Avengers (also, Spiderman and other comcic film adaptations) move and fight in very specific ways; it appears to echo the wonderful poses of the comcis... and it does. Here's what Chris Hemsworth had to say about Thor;
... gained 20 pounds for the role by eating non-stop and revealed that "It wasn't until Thor that I started lifting weights, it was all pretty new to me". Regarding his take of the character, Hemsworth said, "We just kept trying to humanize it all, and keep it very real. Look into all the research about the comic books that we could, but also bring it back to 'Who is this guy as a person, and what's his relationship with people in the individual scenes?'" About approaching Thor's fighting style, he remarked, "First, we looked at the comic books and the posturing, the way [Thor] moves and fights, and a lot of his power seems to be drawn up through the ground. We talked about boxers, you know, Mike Tyson, very low to the ground and big open chest and big shoulder swings and very sort of brutal but graceful at the same time, and then as we shot stuff things became easier.
It occured to me, somewhere along the line, that Thor is a Leo. Big-hearted, extroverted, strong, thunder and lightning and fire, wild-maned, hotheaded, sometimes arrogant Leo. He is born to be a leader (as Leos are) but must learn compassion and wisdom before he can. And that's what makes him someone I can relate to, empathize with, even though I'm female.
Oh yeah, and he's hot.
In the film, the imagery of Heimdall, the all seeing Guardian of Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge, was awesome: Idris Elba, he of the awesome real name, and the glowing eyes, the imposing figure in golden armour. Elba's casting prompted a proposed boycott by the Council of Conservative Citizens and a debate amongst comic book fans, some insisting it was wrong for a black man to play a Nordic god. In response Elba called the debate "ridiculous". To these idiots I say: "What part of Rainbow Bridge do you not understand?
And Natalie Portman's take on her character? Worth repeating, especially to young women... 'What a great opportunity, in a very big movie that is going to be seen by a lot of people, to have a woman as a scientist'. She's a very serious scientist. Because in the comic she's a nurse and now they made her an astrophysicist. Really, I know it sounds silly, but it is those little things that makes girls think it's possible. It doesn't give them a [role] model of 'Oh, I just have to dress cute in movies'".
I returned the epic on Thorsday, and the Avengers appeared on Friday (which I believe has something to do with Freya).
I postponed a date with Johnny Depp to see this.... ok, I postponed a viewing of Dark Shadows to see Avengers instead...
OK, that was fun. Definitely fun.
The only characters I was unfamiliar with were Black Widow and Hawkeye. And they were quickly introduced and explained. Hawkeye is the archetypal Archer, the same figure as Robin Hood and Legolas. He of the keen eye, the perfect aim... and mere mortal powers among Superheroes. The Black Widow is a little too slinky, too deceptive, too pretty for me to identify with, but when she goes into action... holycrap she’s awesome crazy!
So, we have our band of misfits... (oh, wait, that was Aardman). The Keen-eyed Archer, the Dangerous Beautiful Woman, the Purehearted Golden Hero, a high tech Trickster Hero, the Beast (or Jekyll and Hyde), and another Golden Hero with a good heart and a really big hammer.
And a villain: complex as the best are. The interplay between Thor and Loki is great; the tension of brothers, of secrets that grew bigger and toothier in the dark, of power, recognition and love wanted, and lost. And of the difference between Hero and Villain... the line is very thin. Both Thor and Loki have their falls from grace. So far, only Thor has redeemed himself by offering himself up as the Sacrificial Hero.
There are two Tricksters here, and a wonderful scene between them. There is Loki, the iconic Trickster of Norse myth, dark and brooding and manipulative, he would probably score quite high on the Psycopath Test I heard about on NPR the other day. Then there is Ironman. Yep, Trickster. A lighter, funnier, generally goodhearted one. And it is his unusual heart that fuels the confrontation. Loki, who has already done Evil Mind Control on Hawkeye and a scientist tries it on Ironman... it fizzles. We laugh. The Ultimate Trickster tricked by another Trickster.
There are other great little moments; a knock down (trees), drag out (vast tracts of land), blow heroes) out (of the scene) battle between our heroes (before they figure out they are, in fact, on the same side): Thor, Captain America and Ironman. I think this is something comic book writers love: “Wonder what would happen if we pitted a demigod with an irrisistable force against a superhero with an immoveable object...” The clash between Cap’s shield and Thor’s hammer... well, epic. Hulk has some great momets, including a clash with Loki himself. Let’s just say it's what you want to do to all the Stupid People you meet every day...
The creatures that come through the wormhole to level Manhattan looked a bit like a number of other Epic City Levelling Critters of Sci-Fi-Land. There are only so many ways you can make something look scary to humans, and generally it requires plugging into the unconcious, to the imagery of predators in the dark (glowing eyes, big teeth), slimy tentacles, bones (especially on the
outside of bodies), slithery snakelike movements, and stuff that looks like bugs that are waaaaaaaaaaaay too big.
I note that WETA did some of this, and as always, they are awesome. The Epic City Levelling Critters resemble, slightly, the ones from Transformers, Dark of the Moon. Those were mechanical constructions that coiled, slithered and flowed, snakelike, through the city. Avengers’ Critters swim
through the air like giant mosasaur skeletons with photon torpedoes. There’s a great little Jonah and the Whale reference from Ironman.
The film is full of GLMs (great little moments); one liners (Thor: “He’s adopted.”), Hulk casually punching out one of his teammates at the end of a fight (payback’s are a stitch), Hawkeye shooting down flying BEMs (bug-eyed monsters) without looking, the Black Widow doing an entire fight
scene... while strapped to a chair. Thor crashlanding spectacularly, then approaching Mjolnir, hand outstretched... and nothing happens...
Thor summoning lightning.
The Black Widow flying a BEM bike... with the BEM still attached.
“Was the Hullk scary?” I heard a dad ask his preschooler (hey, yeah, it’s PG-13). Yes, he was. And the actor playing the Bruce Banner half was the perfect slightly Stephen Hawking scientist.
There’s a nifty camera shot of the Heroes in a Last Stand Circle, camera panning around them, one of those Iconic movie Moments.
Of Thor and Loki in a confrontation on a dark hill... and two ravens fly past, croaking. A flash of dark feathers and gone.
Hugin and Munin, thought and Memory. Odin’s ravens. Dad is still watching....
Avengers generally follows the Hero Journey format that works so well for this genre. We gather the heroes, they disagree, they disagree louder and harder, it seems like they will never work as a team, they get a Reason to work as a team, they wade into battle...
Josh Whedon, on just that subject: (at the 2010 San Diego Comic Con International), what drew him to the movie is that he loves how "these people shouldn't be in the same room let alone on the same team—and that is the definition of family."
There are enough surprises to keep you from guessing what’s next. Despite the number of characters, it makes sense, each one gets developed, gets great little moments that endear them to us, make us identify with them, even if we don’t have superpowers, or flying cars, or a really big
hammer. It lifts us, as all good myths do, out of our mundane world into the Realm of Possibilities, the place where we can be our own superheroes.
And it'll surely send some of us to the toy dept. for a set of those Hulk fists, or a Nerf Mjolnir...