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First of all, I gotta say that if there was ever a line-up to ensure my presence at the drive-in, this was it. Seeing both these films on the big screen while barefoot, curled up in a blanket on the pavement next to my dear friend, the two of us eating cheap grocery-store candy and joking to each other as much as we liked, was basically the best idea I've ever had. The drive-in is my favorite thing of all things for a reason.

Time for the inevitable post-film review, breakdown & revision. First up is the first film of the evening: Captain America: The First Avenger.

CAFTA suffered from a multitude of problems, the first of which I will scream to the heavens unto my dying day: the pacing. CATFA started with a flash-forward of A Mysterious Thing Buried In Ice!!!, then a flashback of Hugo Weaving knocking over some old dude's church and stealing his beloved glowing paperweight, and THEN Steve Rogers... waiting in line at a recruitment office. Thanks for boring us to death, screenwriters. You suck like a malfunctioning decompression chamber.

Poor writing in just about every facet of the film was a big goddamn problem, for sure. The villains were the opposite of menacing--the only damn things they did right were march and salute. Even Hugo Weaving couldn't save HYDRA from looking like some lost platoon of the Nazis from Hogan's Heroes. I think the writers were going for a more human, less hammy approach when they wrote Weaving's dialogue. Why anyone would even try when their villain is an Ark of the Covenant survivor who goes by the name Red Skull is a mystery that remains unsolved.

If HYDRA had been shown as a real menace, something that Europe and the rest of the world could legitimately fear to inexorably take over the world, something that could conceivably arrest a teenager for jaywalking and expect some degree of success, then maybe we’d give a damn about whether Cap and his rebooted (and legitimately excellent, though tragically under-utilized) Howlin’ Commandos could stop HYDRA from deploying the Menacing Glowy Things for… something or other. It was all very unclear, especially given the drive-in's terrible outdoor speakers. There were bombs? They were hand-painted with names of cities they were destined for and my friend started giggling at the mental image of Red Skull going around with a paintbrush and a little sample tin of Colonial White hanging off his wrist.

Meanwhile, the romantic subplot had most of the problems and none of the charm of every other action flick romance. Peggy Carter's actual job remained somewhat mysterious to me. As far as I can tell, she was supposed to be drill sergeant, project manager, SOE liaison, and special field agent combined. She never, ever wore a helmet, or a field uniform, even when she was charging into a gunfight where every single other soldier had a helmet and uniform. I guess the director was worried we wouldn't be able to tell she was A Woman Of Beauty if her perfect glossy curls were covered? All I know is that she kept showing up to have stultifying heartfelt talks with Steve that never failed to bring the film to a screeching halt. (Particularly noticeable during the final sequence, when Steve is about to nosedive a plane full of explosives into the Arctic and... drops everything to make a date with Peggy he knows damn well he won't be able to keep. Over the radio. On a tape which all of Peggy's superiors are totally going to listen to over and over while he's MIA. Movie-Steve is written as a jerk AND a moron.) None of this is her fault at all--the original Peggy Carter was pretty good, a product of her time but she with great promise. Sadly, the seed of an interesting character with duties and a purpose outside of being Steve's first lost love was given the shaft in favor of an array of cliches in human form.

And then there's Steve. Stephen Rogers, my dearest Avenger, the guy so nice and so determined that minor villains have been known to just surrender when he shows up on the scene. In comics, Steve is such a great character, especially in contrast with all the brooding, temperamental, self-loathing heroes he hangs out with. Steve has such honest belief in people, in goodness, in who he is as a person--that sickly good-hearted kid raised by his mom in a crummy Brooklyn apartment--that when he is angry, sneaky, saddened, petty, or passive-aggressive, you just can't look away from the intensity of the moment. In comics and the better class of fan fiction, written well, he's one of my favorite people.

In the film, Steve is sweet. Stupidly brave. Not good at talking to women (as Peggy Carter reminds us, ad nauseum, despite being polite and easy-going and raised by his mom.) And also, unfortunately, boring. Apart from the glorious moment when he stumbles from the Vita-Ray machine two feet taller and a hundred and fifty pounds heavier, I don't think he ever cracks a joke. The guy is a well-meaning dishrag. Apparently people beat him up all the time and this is a character trait? Personally, it would've packed a bit more punch if he'd been defending someone else against all odds, as he almost-pathologically always does. The grenade incident was a ham-handed attempt to show the same thing. In practice, it came off as a little silly. At that point in the film, Steve is built like a xylophone, and he had enough time to try to throw the thing in an unoccupied direction instead. In canon, Steve is somewhat self-sacrificing, but he knows enough of his own value and he's quick enough on his feet to try other things first.

His equally grim pal Bucky is no help either. Traditionally much more wisecracking-prone and a little more bloodthirsty than Cap, Bucky's role in the film is rather awkward--too big to be a cameo, too small to count as a sidekick. I appreciated the age-up they did of his character, but his inclusion didn't really do much for the film. First he was someone for Steve to exposition against during our introduction to his character, then he became the impetus for Steve's disobedient one-man rush of the HYDRA base where Bucky and his fellows of the 107th were being kept. I know why they did that, sort of. It's screenwriting 101--need the main character to change and disobey all sense? Make bad things happen to people he cares about. (This is why it seems like every action movie ever starts off with the hero's village/parents/childhood sweetheart being razed /killed/kidnapped--how else would such a nice guy wind up in such rough circumstances? Poverty, boredom, and ignorance aren't noble enough causes, I guess.)

The problem with this most ancient and noble plot convenience is that in this case it's rather unnecessary. Steve Rogers is the kind of man who would've done it anyway, no lost friend required. He worked like hell to enlist when he was a semi-pacifist coat rack with a puppy-dog face because he has a profound sense of what's right, and what he knew of the Nazis and HYDRA violated that. Fellow soldiers trapped behind enemy lines and Steve was going to sit back and let them die unless his old friend Bucky happened to be with them? Uh-huh. Taking away the chance to establish his fundamental need to do good left Steve the one-dimensional generic hero of a thousand action films.

I do like some of the things they did with CAFTA. The movie did its best to convey that this is not our Earth's history, which is a trope I'm a big fan of when applied to the Marvel universe because really, why should their history be identical to ours? HYDRA gets rayguns, Bucky and Steve check out Howard Stark's hovercar demonstration, people of color work alongside Steve along the front lines. (Although, man, if there's ever a situation that demands fic, it's the story of the other guys in Steve's group who had to deal with the pressure and publicity of working alongside Cap. I have got to go look for some later.) Anyway, that was pretty neat. Shame that the setting couldn't make up for the gaping flaws in the film as a whole.

Bottom line: CATFA tried to be a grim war movie AND a humorous action-packed superhero flick, and failed miserably at both. Which is a damn shame, because I've been looking forward to this fucking movie since it was announced. My Tumblr drafts folder has over eighty Steve Rogers-related things in it that I've been saving since the movie was announced. You could float the moon in my oceans of disappointment.

At intermission (because drive-ins, being awesome, have intermissions) we got up and stretched our legs a bit. I have a dim memory of trying to discuss the prevalence of mysterious-blue-things-that-glow in film and having it fizzle out because I am the only person who cares. I ate some more of my chocolate-covered pretzels. We shifted everything inside the car, turned on the radio (so much easier to hear dialogue this way at the drive-in, even if it's less fun) and then were were off to our second film of the evening... Thor.

I don't mean to be all hung up on this, but oh my sweet Asgardian god, the pacing. The pacing! The pacing is so much better than CATFA's that I want to cry. Remember the really bad opening sequence of CATFA? Thor starts with a fight between the gods and the frost giants, and then segues into wee-Thor and wee-Loki being adorable and in-character together. And the film keeps moving, sometimes at the expense of a decent explanation but more often because it trusts the audience to be savvy enough to roll with it. It's a movie about Norse gods going smash all over the place, who gives a fuck about the little stuff? (Tragically, it's still a more cohesive plot than CATFA's.)

The ability to hang up your logic hat and just enjoy the film also owes a lot to its superb prettiness. Asgard is so very, very shiny. Their armor is so very, very pretty. And the platform where Heimdall the Badass guards the Bifrost Bridge machine is the prettiest of them all. Never has the Rainbow Bridge been so damned cool. If none of the digital artists who put that shit together get an award, I'm going to be... well, not very surprised, but disappointed, certainly.

The writing and direction of this movie is excellent. Between the friendly, dusty blandness of a worn-out little town in New Mexico and the awesome shiny grandeur of Asgard, it would have been very easy for one of the settings to have all the plot and the other to inspire groans of despair whenever it returned. But Loki, Sif, and the Warriors Three did their jobs admirably in Asgard, and Thor on Earth in the company of humans was fun to watch even when he was still being a dick.

Thor's character development works so well. He's big and blond and smiley and handsome, and his favorite weapon is a hammer for a reason: he's a brash, pigheaded jock. You can't help but at least partly agree with Odin for locking him out of Asgard and then Loki for throwing away the key. Banished to Earth, he predictably yells and snarls and growls a lot until he's forced to accept his fate as a really buff Midgard exile, at which point he chills out and gets a whole lot nicer to the mortal academics who've been putting up with his entitled thunder god ass for most of the film.

The personality 180 seems abrupt, I know, but think of it like this: Thor is a simple creature at heart. His whole life he's been strong and powerful and, most importantly, the favored son of Odin. (Don't tell me Odin and his subjects didn't even subconsciously favor the muscled son with the extremely Viking temperament.) All those lectures on humility are kind of meaningless when you're the powerful prince of an untroubled magical kingdom. Being stripped of his power, his family, and even an honest sense of worthiness left Thor receptive to the kindness of his companions and inclined to show gratitude. At heart, Thor wants to be a good guy, and he isn't complicated enough to need a whole lot of convincing when it comes to lifestyle changes. Besides, Thor is like a big blond Labrador retriever: he responds well to positive reinforcement. When he's polite, the pretty mortal girl smiles at him.

The pretty mortal girl is kind of a weak point. Natalie Portman is a decent and beautiful person, but her acting skills leave a lot to be desired, and whoever was in charge of writing anything she said about science and how it's totally related to magic needs to talk to some more scientists. I'm not saying it's not possible for an astrophysicist to believe, but the blithe, thoughtless way she threw it around made me think of the kinds of high school philosophy teachers who talk about string theory and the Hundredth Monkey myth a lot. In addition, when someone who looks and behaves like her is supposed to be pleasantly surprised (and not annoyed, resigned, or disappointed) by male attention, well, it's kind of hard not to roll your eyes at Hollywood Homely Strikes Again. The Avengers cartoon had Jane Foster as a brave and self-confident EMT who was pretty awesome in her own right. Why couldn't the film?

Far more engaging are her father and her little sister/lab assistant (I'm not actually sure what she was but I liked her). Jane Foster as a concept is fine, but it was executed so poorly, and those two characters could've filled her role with ease and really improved the film. Thor has daddy issues. The jaded, suspicious older guy was a great potential paternal figure. Thor had a jealous yet worshipful younger sibling. The little sister could've given him someone to more healthily mentor. Either of them could've gotten the I Can Show You The World routine from Thor and had it pay off beautifully. And yet, wasted, in favor of a romantic subplot that almost would've worked were it not for shoddy writing, an actress who missed the mark, and Hollywood's love of beautiful but socially inept astrophysicists. (I accuse screenwriters of just being overfond of the word 'astrophysicist' in general, because she could have had at least six different job titles that could've been more accurate to a theoretical concentration of interests. For fuck's sake, she was chasing random storm patterns.)

Disclaimer: at some point midway through Thor, my car died. There was some issue with the battery, I had a small panic attack while we rearranged blankets and pillows outside again and it was very stressful, but the point is I know I missed some dialogue while I was freaking out but I don't remember where. Forgive me if I missed something vital.

Back on track: the movie, and stuff that was good.

Loki was more than good, he was great. Brilliant acting, and whoever was in charge of costume and make-up for him deserved an award. Everyone's wardrobe/make-up was great, actually, it's just that Loki would have been so easy to do wrong. Visually coding him as the villain in their midst without making it so obvious you wanted to ask why Papa Odin didn't give him the boot by age ten is harder than it sounds. The moment where he showed up in that beautiful suit--I loved that, of course Loki's the only one clever and careful enough to visit Earth in the attire of its inhabitants, even while shrouded from mortal eyes. (Also, I want his suit.) All of his scenes were great. Even when he wasn't saying a word, every twitch of his face and line of his body said so much about him. It's actually something of a weakness in the film--he's so much more nuanced than Thor that you can't help but root for him. The only reason Thor would make a better king than Loki is that Thor's the Vikingest Norse god to throw down in the Divine Realms and his brother would be deposed in three months. Loki's the kind of king to talk about diplomatic envoys and treaty negotiations. Thor and the rest of Asgard would go find a bigger rock.

Speaking of: Sif and the Warriors Three. Delights of my heart. Even though Marvel's marketing couldn't bear to simplify it by making it the Warriors Four (Sif in comics is... complicated, but not so much as to make her inclusion implausible), I'm glad she was there--even if I do think a more restrained, diplomatic approach to her character would've suited her better. I do love their interaction, the sheer joyous comics-logic of these demigods in ridiculous shiny armor dropping into the land of the frost giants to start a fight and the streets of some dingbat town in New Mexico to help their buddy. The scene where they knock on the door of the diner in full Asgard armor? Priceless. A cookie for the writer for taking full comedic advantage. Everyone just staring as Thor (who until now they've all been at least a tiny bit doubtful about being anything more than some guy who might need a little mental help but is basically harmless) just lights up, drops everything and greets these giant armored motherfucking Norse gods with smiles and bear hugs.

I've a soft spot for all the Warriors Three, of course, but Hogun the Grim is my special favorite. It was a nice touch on the part of the writers that he was the one to react first, and badly, when they realize the Bifrost Bridge wasn't functioning. Hogun was originally mortal, a human analogous to Genghis Khan. He was such an exemplary warrior that he basically got honorary demigod status for being too cool for Midgard and joined up with the Warriors Three, best bros forever and famed in song and story for instigating the most excellent bar fights that gods and mortals have ever seen. Naturally, he'd be the one most distressed to be stuck on Earth for who-knows-how-long.

And then Thor goes toe-to-toe with the bizarre metal heart-of-a-sun blaster monster that would feel somewhat out of place if it weren't so totally awesome and wins because he is finally Worthy and Natalie Portman cried on him and almost got pulverized for her troubles. (Dear screenwriters: even women in love are allowed to have a sense of self-preservation. Really. It's okay if she tries to stay alive even while the body of some dude she met like three days ago cools in the dust.) Whatever, Thor's Worthiness apparently heralds the return of his entire heroic ensemble, cape included, and the beginning of the film's last showdown, which is excellent and had the prettiest special effects I've seen all year. The only oddity was Loki's death--say what you will about his morals, he's a tenacious fellow. I eventually decided that his research into hidden ways of leaving and entering Asgard gave him the knowledge to survive a drop from the Bifrost Bridge and that this was an escape plan of his all along. Loki's a smart guy. Thor is going to miss him to pieces, even while Loki resents him with all but a tiny corner of his heart. 

For this film, the writers knew their genre and owned it. Top marks, would definitely see again for the pure pleasure of it. Also I really need four other friends to cosplay a Rule 63 Sif, Thor & the Warriors Three with me. I call either Fandral the Dashing or Volstagg the Bold.

Despite my gripes, it was a good experience. Even when AAA couldn't make it before the drive-in's gates closed and we had to call up my dear friend's dad at two in the morning for a lift home, I don't regret it in the slightest. Next time I'll know to forget the leave-the-car on thing and bring a radio that runs on double-A batteries and we'll be good to go.


killerkaleidoscope: close-up centered on a violet daisy on diagonally-cracked gray pavement (Default)
Karolina Keene

August 2012

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