The Marvel Universe is weird.
We have advanced technology, genetic engineering, genetic mutations, magic, cosmic beings, supernatural phenomena, gods, parallel universes, aliens, and Samuel L. Jackson, all coexisting in the same world. It doesn’t make sense.
With the exception of Samuel L. Jackson, none of these things exist here, in reality, so it can really strain credulity to have them all coexist in the same world.
Yet somehow, it works. Somehow, all these things can come together. And somehow, it makes sense.
Advanced technology can coexist, and even work with, magic. It can be used to spur genetic mutations, and travel to parallel universes. It can even make Samuel L. Jackson more of a badass!
But how? With interesting and relatable characters, compelling plotlines, and a consistently goofy tone, we can overlook the tiny contrivances and inconsistencies, because overall, it makes a better story.
Which brings us to the second half of the Avengers franchise, or as I call it: clusterfuck heaven.
Don’t get me wrong though. I really like the films. They’re really good at drawing you in, and they all manage to work together, and elements play off each other. It makes each film feel like one small part of a whole.
But let’s dive right in, with Thor.
Thor opens in medias res for no discernible reason, because it immediately flashes back to an earlier point in the story, and stays there until we catch up to the opening.
As you could probably tell from the title, Thor is about Thor, the Norse god of thunder. The one, the only. And much like Iron Man before it, Thor is basically a character drama, where our hero has to learn to be a better person, and save the world.
The story goes as follows: Remember all those old Norse myths? Thor, Odin, Heimdall, Hel, Fenrir, Loki, Kvasir, Hermod, Freyr… No? Um… really?
Well… read a book!
It’s funny, the ancient norse myths never really got as much traction in our society as the Greeks and Romans. I guess because the stories weren’t as interesting to us.
Anyway, the story here goes that they weren’t myths. They were real. Possibly aliens from another planet, who visited us in the past. Like Thor, known to us as the god of thunder.
It just so happens that Thor is about to inherit the throne of their home planet, Asgard, from his father, Odin. But the ceremony is interrupted by an break-in from their sworn enemy, the Frost Giants, which is a very uncreative name if you ask me.
The Giants are stopped by a giant suit of armor that shoots beams of hot death, and Odin is satisfied with the result.
But Thor isn’t. Against his father’s wishes, he leads a team consisting of himself; his brother, Loki; and his four best friends who aren’t really characters, so much as a group of empty shells.
They visit the Frost Giant homeworld, and all they learn is that it was an inside job. An Asgardian snuck them in.
Then, just as they’re about to leave, one of the giants calls Thor a pussy, and he starts kicking ass.
Odin shows up, and they make it back to Asgard, where the man scolds his son for breaking the fragile peace he worked so hard on.
You see, Thor’s basically a dick. He’s an arrogant child who thinks any problem can be solved by kicking ass.
So to teach him a lesson in complacency, Odin strips Thor of his powers, and sends him to Earth.
Thor lands in New Mexico, where he meets Queen Amidala, and two other people, who think he’s insane as he cries for Heimdall to open the Bifrost.
They bring Thor to the hospital, but the man refuses to believe he lost his powers, until he realizes he can’t break the velcro straps around his wrists.
Meanwhile, Amidala, who’s an astrophysicist in this film, is looking over the data they collected from the astrological/meteorological event they found Thor in, and notices it shows signs of a being a wormhole.
She also notices a human figure in the clouds.
She goes back to pick up Thor, so they can ask him a few questions. And instead, she hits him with her car.
Long story short, Thor finds out that his hammer, Mjolnir, came through the wormhole with him, and was left in a crater. Several people have spent the past couple days trying to move the thing with no success. For some reason, it appears to be embedded in the rock.
But Thor figures he could probably grab it. So he goes after it, and Amidala joins him.
They arrive at the crater, which has been taken over by S.H.I.E.L.D.. Yes, they’re back, and for once, they have major plot-significance.
He breaks in, and begins taking out some of their men. Coulson, their leader, calls on a sniper to take position. He does so, armed with a bow and arrow.
… it’s Halkeye. He’s like Green Arrow, only a badass.
But sadly, he doesn’t actually do anything, and once Thor finds out he can’t move the hammer a bloody inch, he turns himself over willingly.
Eventually, Amidala’s father-figure helps get him out of jail by giving him a fake identity and claiming he was just wasted.
They go out for drinks, and naturally, old guy can’t keep up. That night, Thor decides to tell Amidala all about his world, and all the other worlds he knows of.
Meanwhile, back on Asgard, Loki is staging a small coup. Turns out he let the Frost Giants in earlier, but only to fuck up Thor’s day. It was mostly innocent. But now, he plans to do some stuff, and… I don’t really care. Odin is actually in some kind of regeneration field, sleeping. So Loki, as Odin’s only not-banished son, takes over as acting king.
Thor’s four friends of pointlessness realize what’s going on, and head down to Earth. Which certainly makes Thor’s day.
It also scares the shit out of Loki, since he doesn’t like Thor, I’m guessing. Or he thinks Thor can still stop him, I don’t know.
Anyway, Loki sends down the giant suit of armor from the beginning of the film, with orders to kill Thor.
The armor starts to level the town, and the empty shells try to fight it… fruitlessly.
Then Thor realizes the only way to stop it is to sacrifice himself. Which he does.
Isn’t that interesting? The selfish child learns humility and becomes the selfless adult.
This is what the film was all about. It’s also about a shitload of irony, because at that moment, Mjolnir breaks free of the rock, and flies straight toward Thor, who comes back from the dead, and immediately grabs the thing, gaining all his powers back, including a kick-ass armor set, and he slaughters the damn suit.
See, if Loki didn’t try to kill Thor, Thor wouldn’t have tried to sacrifice himself, and as a consequence, regain his powers to kick ass.
The film ends with Thor returning to Asgard, and beating his brother up. But it seems Loki decided to turn the Bifrost on the land of the Frost Giants.
You see, the Bifrost is basically a transportation system, but it can also be used as a weapon. I’m not sure how that works, but let’s assume it does.
This does not make Thor happy, which shows even more growth. At the beginning of the film, he was all ready to slaughter the lot of them. Now he finds the idea disgusting. I’m not sure why, but I’ll overlook it.
But he can’t get to the Bifrost to turn it off. So, he uses Mjolnir to destroy it. Saving the Frost Giants, but cutting off his only path back to Earth.
However, in the process, Loki tries to stop him, and during the struggle, Loki falls off the edge of the world, and into oblivion, likely lost forever.
Not exactly a happy ending is it? Of course Heimdall offers hope, assuring Thor that they could find another way to get to earth. But not mentioning anything about Loki, which is a bit of bullshit.
I didn’t talk about Heimdall did I? Well, Idris Elba turns in a fantastic performance. But what I really love is how it got the racists outraged. It was hilarious. They were so upset a black man was playing a Norse god. Which is stupid, especially considering he was played by a star field in the comic.
Whatever, that’s Thor. I really like this film. And I really liked how they managed to make magic fit in a primarily sci-fi setting. It does a great job tying itself in with the earlier films, with tiny references, and returning characters, and S.H.I.E.L.D., who actually have a role this time.
Which leads me ever so nicely into the next film, Captain America: The First Avenger.
Captain America is your classic World War II epic. It stars Steve Rogers, a wiry kid from New York in the 1940s, trying to enlist in the military to fight in the war. Unfortunately, his myriad of health problems, and poor physical strength, cause him to get rejected repeatedly. But he never gives up.
Eventually, during one of his attempts, he gets into an argument with his best friend, Bucky, who’s already enlisted. Bucky tries to talk him out of it, but fails. However their argument is overheard by a Doctor Stanley Tucci, who confronts Steve on his repeated fraud, but admires his passion, and gets him assigned to his unit.
So, Steve, along with a myriad of other soldiers, is trained as part of a top-secret project. And while he doesn’t prove himself physically, he manages to shine exceptionally well in terms of bravery, and intelligence, and is selected as the first human to undergo a procedure to increase his strength, speed and stamina. It’s a remarkable success.
Unfortunately, after it’s proven successful, Stanley Tucci is killed by a Nazi spy, and the last of the crucial serum is destroyed. Making Steve Rogers one-of-a-kind.
So of course as the only ‘super soldier,’ the U.S. Government decides to utilize Steve’s abilities to their maximum potential. And by that, I mean, parade him around the country like a show poodle, selling War Bonds.
That’s right, the physical embodiment of the most advanced technology the military had at the time, was relegated to a touring stage show.
So obviously, he’s not happy. He’s basically a fucking side-show, not a soldier. They call him Captain America, and I honestly like this sequence. It feels like it’s taking the piss out of early Captain America comics. Where he was just a political propaganda prop, punching Adolf Hitler in the face.
Now a days, we see that era as a fucking joke, and in the film, when he goes to perform for the troops, they tell him as much.
That’s right, back to the film. Steve is suddenly laughed off-stage, which makes him a bit flustered since most of his fans are more receptive… and twelve.
His shoe-horned love interest shows up, and tries to give him a pep-talk, during which he learns some crucial information: That his friend Bucky was likely captured behind enemy lines.
Long story short, against orders and with the help of Tony Stark’s dad, Steve parachutes into enemy territory. Quickly saving all POWs at the camp.
He then has to go back in to find Bucky, and finally encounters Mr. Smith, from the Matrix.
Okay, it’s actually the Red Skull, whom I haven’t gotten the chance to talk about until now.
Here’s the man’s story: he’s an insane megalomaniac, who once knew Stanley Tucci before he defected to the US.
Oh, yeah, Tucci was German.
Anyway, Skull convinced Tucci to give him an early version of the serum, which turned his head beet red and fucked up his face to the extent that he now resembles a skull. Hence his name.
Since then, Skull found an ancient artifact called the Tesseract, and used the energy it emits to craft powerful weapons that can disintegrate a man in one hit.
His ultimate plan is to unleash similar large-scale weapons on several major cities.
But after his encounter with Steve, things change.
When he arrives back at base camp, with all the soldiers he rescued, Steve Rogers is greeted as a hero. Suddenly revered by all his compatriots.
He uses this new clout to form a specialized unit to attack the Red Skull head-on.
They create a new uniform for him, based on the original, but more military-like. Because let’s face it, Captain America, in his blue spandex, never really looked like a soldier.
He also gets a new shield, deciding to upgrade from the old stage prop which worked surprisingly well during the rescue.
It’s at this point he picks out a simple circle made of the ultra-rare element, Vibranium. They paint it red, white and blue, and the team heads out.
They attack hard and fast, and decimate Skull’s forces. Steve’s new shield proving particularly effective against the enemy weapons.
After several successful raids, they finally hit it big and capture Skull’s chief scientist, who leads them straight to the nut himself. And when Steve encounters him for the second time, it’s on a plane headed to bomb several cities. To save everyone, he crash-lands the plane in the middle of the arctic.
Seventy years later, someone finally finds him, frozen in ice, and still alive. I guess we can credit that to the super soldier serum.
Then Shaft makes his appearance, and the film ends.
It’s quite an interesting film, but it’s not a superhero film.
One could be forgiven for thinking that, given its heritage, but it’s not. It’s more of a war film, than a superhero film.
Steve Rogers, while powerful beyond normal human abilities, doesn’t have any superpowers, and doesn’t act as a superhero. He acts as a soldier.
He’s part of a team, the Howling Commandos. They go stop the Red Skull as a team, not as individuals. Steve often takes point, but he’s not alone. Which sort of runs with the thread I mentioned last time: about teams and how nothing can be done alone.
Which leads so eloquently to the overall franchise, which it ties into pretty well. S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are the ones that find and defrost him at the end (and beginning) of the movie. And the Tesseract, Skull’s big weapon, is revealed to be an ancient artifact formerly owned by Odin, Thor’s dad.
It’s also worth mentioning something all five films have in common: all the villains up to this point were appropriately paired with the heroes. Iron Monger and Whiplash were both characters who used evil suits of armor with Arc Reactors. The Abomination was a giant brute, thanks to the Hulk powers he was given. Loki was Thor’s brother, and similarly, a god. And finally, Red Skull also took the super solider serum.
Each of the villains were simply evil versions of the heroes, with similar powers and origins.
Which feels appropriate. I’m reminded of the Godzilla films from the 90s, where Godzilla faced enemies that were quite similar to him. A plant-Godzilla hybrid, a space-crystal clone of him, mutates with similar or related origins, and Mothra.
After all, it strains credulity for a superhero and a supervillain to exist in the same world at the same time in the same city by sheer coincidence. One would think they’d be connected.
But with all those tie-ins, what does it lead to? Why even make these references? Why try to tie together a war drama, a sci-fi film, a monster movie, and a fantasy movie?
Two reasons: Because you can, and because if it’s handled well, it can reach an amazing crescendo. Which it does. But I’ll save this one for another time.