Category: Thor

But What of Kodos?

The Avengers/Kang: Time and Time Again: written by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Roy Thomas, and Roger Stern; illustrated by Jack Kirby, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Herb Trimpe, Tom Palmer, and others (1968-1986; collected 2005): Time-travelling super-villain Kang is probably the most fun villain Marvel’s Avengers have ever had. He pops up all over the place. There are several thousand versions of him at one point. And he’s also, probably, maybe, two other super-villains as well at different points in his timeline.

This too-slim volume presents Kang stories from a span of about 20 years, beginning with an encounter with Thor and ending with…well, actually the volume ends with a lengthy prose piece that explains Kang’s twisted timeline from his first appearance in the late 1960’s to the early 2000’s. Along the way, Kang butts heads with the Avengers, and the Hulk and Thor in solo outings.

Among other things, Kang gave Marvel writer Roy Thomas a handy way to indulge his love of obscure characters, Marvel’s 1940’s superheroes, and homages to the characters of other comic-book companies. The Hulk teams up with the Phantom Eagle, a World War One flying ace in the Marvel universe with only one appearance previous to that team-up, to thwart Kang’s plans. The Squadron Sinister, a riff on DC’s Justice League, battles the Avengers. The Invaders, Marvel’s World War Two superhero group, battles the Avengers. And so on, and so forth. Most importantly, Kang battles himself. Really, Kang’s greatest enemy almost always turns out to be another version of Kang, while the Avengers look on in bemused fashion. He’s the Man Who Scolded Himself.

The Roger Stern/John Buscema/Tom Palmer 1986 arc that ends the volume shows Stern at the top of his form as a writer, cleaning up continuity while also forging a fascinating story without over-indulging in nostalgia and minutiae in that Roy Thomas manner. The art throughout the volume ranges from competent in the sections pencilled by workhorse Sal Buscema to top-notch in the Jack Kirby-pencilled Thor outing and that concluding Stern arc, with Buscema and Palmer doing a fine job. Kang multiplies. He divides. I’d like an omnibus that contains all of his appearances. Would that be too much to ask? Recommended.

The Enemy of My Enemy

Riddick: written and directed by David Twohy, based on characters created by Jim and Ken Wheat; starring Vin Diesel (Riddick), Katee Sackhoff (Dahl), Jordi Molla (Santana) and Matt Nable (Johns) (2013): Vin Diesel loves his anti-social space fugitive very, very much. Thus this film, which he and writer-director Twohy basically financed themselves before finding a distributor.

After the bizarre bollocks that was 2004’s Chronicles of Riddick, Riddick returns its titular anti-hero to the more familiar, monster-fighting ground of the first Riddick movie, Pitch Black. Diesel and Twohy also give Riddick lots of people to fight, with bounty hunters lining up on the planet upon which Riddick is stranded to collect the price on his head, and double the price if Riddick is dead.

It’s all competent stuff, and the assorted CGI landscapes and monsters are entertaining enough. As in Pitch Black, we appear to have an ecosystem that produces an endless number of predators without there being any naturally occurring prey in the vicinity. Stupid planet! One’s enjoyment of Riddick, which runs a bit long, mostly depends on how much one likes Vin Diesel. I like him fine, but I really wish he’d get better dialogue. Lightly recommended.

Thor: The Dark World: based on characters and concepts created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby, and Walt Simonson; written by Robert Rodat, Don Payne, Stephen McFeely, Christopher Markus, and Christopher Yost; directed by Alan Taylor; starring Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Natalie Portman (Jane Foster), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Anthony Hopkins (Odin), Christopher Eccleston (Malekith) and Kat Dennings (Darcy) (2013): Five credited writers and Odin knows how many more uncredited script doctors (including Joss Whedon, I’m pretty sure) manage to turn writer-artist Walt Simonson’s terrific Thor comic-book Surtur Saga of the early 1980’s into an ungodly mess.

The whole thing remains enjoyable because of the performances of its leads — Hemsworth and Hiddleston in particular, squabbling as reluctant brothers-in-arms Thor and Loki. Unfortunately, the writers have dumped a giant crap-load of ridiculous exposition on top of the movie. Where originally one had a comic-book epic derived from Norse mythology’s end-times and Thor’s desperate attempts to prevent the last battle, now we have pseudo-scientific babble derived from too many viewings of The Lord of the Rings.

Yes, Tolkien. Because once upon a time, a bad dark lord made a thing which he could use to conquer the universe. But Thor’s mighty ancestors defeated the Dark Lord. They didn’t destroy the weapon, though — they just buried it. Will someone find the weapon, thus drawing the dark lord into the light so he can grab the weapon for himself? Will we get a fiery, boat-riding Viking funeral for somebody? Will everybody speak in vaguely British accents? Why the hell do the dark elves all speak in a language that has to be sub-titled?

I hope Christopher Eccleston got paid a lot for the role of the dark elf Malekith, because between the whole not-speaking-English thing and the heavy slathering of make-up and prosthetics, he’s completely unrecognizable. So, too, the actor who played Adubisi on Oz and Mr. Eko on Lost — as Malekith’s right-hand man, he was so unrecognizable that I only realized it was him while I was reading the credits.

But, you know, superhero fun! Whee! I actually think the ponderous, often nonsensical fake mythology expounded upon in Thor: The Dark World may be worse than the similar gunk we had dumped upon us in Man of Steel. Hemsworth is noble as Thor, anyway, and Tom Hiddleston actually invests Loki with something resembling human motivation. Someone get these guys a better movie. Lightly recommended.

The Family: based on the book by Tonino Benacquista, written by Luc Besson and Michael Caleo; starring Robert DeNiro (Giovanni), Michelle Pfeiffer (Maggie), Dianna Agron (Belle), John D’Leo (Warren) and Tommy Lee Jones (Robert Stansfield) (2013): Vicious black comedy from French action-auteur Luc Besson plays with audience expectations and sympathies. As a New York mobster in Witness Protection in Normandy, France (!) with his family because he ratted out his comrades, DeNiro is surprisingly loose and funny. He’s also playing a near-psychopath, as are all the other actors playing his family.

What is for much of its length a seemingly jolly (albeit violent) comedy takes a surprising turn with about half-an-hour to go. I don’t think it’s entirely effective, but the violence does serve a thematic and cultural point. Recommended.

Sports and Spectacle

42: Written and directed by Brian Helgeland; starring Chadwick Boseman (Jackie Robinson), Harrison Ford (Branch Rickey), Nicole Beharie (Rachel Robinson), Lucas Black (Pee Wee Reese), Alan Tudyk (Ben Chapman) and Hamish Linklater (Ralph Branca) (2013): Enjoyable biopic of Jackie Robinson — the player who broke major league baseball’s colour barrier in 1947 — stays mostly faithful to the facts. Other than a bit of swearing, 42 could have been made in the early 1960’s by Stanley Kramer.

Chadwick Boseman is fine as Robinson, selected by Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey to become the first African-American major leaguer of the modern era in part because his character suggested that he could take the stress that would result without beating the crap out of somebody or breaking down himself. And Harrison Ford probably deserved an Oscar Best Supporting Actor nomination for his work as Rickey — he’s very good in a movie for the first time in a long time. Alan Tudyk also shines as the virulently racist manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, and Nicole Beharie is also solid as Jackie’s wife. Recommended.

Monsters University: written by Dan Scanlon, Daniel Gerson, and Robert L. Baird; directed by Dan Scanlon; starring the voices of Billy Crystal (Mike). John Goodman (Sullivan), and Helen Mirren (Dean Hardscrabble) (2013):

What’s apparently the first prequel from Pixar (to Monsters, Inc.) is a fairly breezy, light-hearted affair that isn’t the equal of Up or Wall.E in terms of emotion of inventiveness, but is nonetheless a much more enjoyable and smoothly engineered movie than Brave or any of the Cars movies. A relative lack of engagement in what happens to anyone led me to a number of moments in which I spent more time scrutinizing the animation than engaged with the characters, but the animation is terrific, so as an aesthetic experience, Monsters University doesn’t disappoint. Why Disney doesn’t have Pixar do a Marvel movie is beyond me. Recommended.

Thor: based on characters and situations created by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Walt Simonson; written by J. Michael Straczynski, Mark Protosevich, Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, and Don Payne; directed by Kenneth Branagh; starring Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Natalie Portman (Jane Foster), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Anthony Hopkins (Odin), Stellan Skarsgard (Erik Selvig) and Colm Feore (Laufey) (2011):

One thing we inadvertantly discover during the first Marvel Thor movie is that the movie’s Asgardian gods/super-aliens/whatever have apparently never read any of Earth’s mythology about them. If they had, the plot of this film would be about 20 minutes long. Oh, well. On TV, Thor plays like a handsomely mounted made-for-TV movie, the movie style of Marvel Studios movies being that there’s almost no style at all. The actors are all quite likeable, Odin is as dopey here as he is in the comic books (and as prone to going into regenerative comas at the worst possible moments), and the whole thing goes down smoothly. Lightly recommended.

White House Down: written by James Vanderbilt; directed by Roland Emmerich; starring Channing Tatum (John Cale), Jamie Foxx (President Sawyer), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Agent Finnerty), Richard Jenkins (Speaker Raphelson), James Woods (Walker) and Lance Reddick (General Caulfield) (2013):

Holy Moley, is this movie 40 minutes too much of an action movie. There are more false climaxes than a dozen porn movies. The dominant structure is Die Hard; scenes and shots are synthesized from more films than I can think of. I bet you never thought you’d see an homage to Nick Cage’s emergency flag-waving in Michael Bay’s The Rock. Well, you will. Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx do a lot of work to sell this, and it’s certainly interesting, if only as a look at some of our current action-movie obsessions and their larger real-world implications. Also, tucked in amongst the 2+ hours of sturm-und-drang is a really bizarre use of an intercontinental ballistic missile. Lightly recommended.

Spawn of Thor

Marvel Visionaries: Thor: Mike Deodato: written by Warren Ellis and William Messner-Loebs; illustrated by Mike Deodato and others (1996-97; collected 2004): Thor’s insane new costume on the cover of this volume would tell some people that this collection comes from the post-Image era of the mid-1990’s, when DC and Marvel sought to emulate the success of that upstart company.

In part, this came with the redesign of certain costumes to make them look more like the flowing, chain-heavy costume of Spawn, Image’s most popular hero. Except Spawn didn’t have a bare midriff. It’s like Spawn on Casual Fridays!

However, that costume’s only appearance in this volume — which omits several issues of Deodato’s run on Thor — comes on that cover. Thor is pretty much either shirtless or in another ugly non-traditional costume for the volume. That costume bares a lot of previously unbared Asgardian skin as well and is surpassingly ugly. Apparently, Thor was seeing the Submariner’s tailor at this point in Marvel history.

The art is nice in that fetishistic, overstuffed 90’s way. Deodato’s Thor is so broad in the torso as to appear grotesque at times, while longtime Thor foe (and here lover) the Enchantress now sports a wasp waist and boobs bigger than her head. Warren Ellis writing Thor is, frankly, a pretty weird thing. His storyline, involving somebody somewhere corrupting the World Tree as a means of destroying both Asgard and Earth and ushering in a post-Ragnarok utopia, is at once interesting and weirdly off-key, with a rushed anti-climax of an ending.

Messner-Loebs cleans some of that up in the issues collected here, which led into the cancellation of Thor as part of the Onslaught event and the subsequent brief disaster called Heroes Reborn. Thor would be back in the normal Marvel universe eventually. As with a lot of Marvel collections, the selection seems a bit thin — why not collect all of Deodato’s run? Oh, well. Not recommended unless you’re a Deodato completist.