Blood and Thunder


To my surprise, Edinburgh University Library turned out to possess copies of Marvel’s THOR and its sequel, which I discovered while unsuccessfully trying to get something on Joseph Mankiewicz (but I won’t tell you why, just yet). A certain dumb curiosity made me want to check out the “Film by Kenneth Branagh” — rarely has a possessory credit (on a film Mr. Branagh did not write) seemed so fatuous. Maybe I just wanted to see if he’d gotten any better at directing films.

When Branagh first burst upon the scene, I didn’t admire his films but I could see where he was stealing from, and at least the source of his theft — mostly Welles — showed ambition. It wasn’t an ambition — becoming Orson Welles, only more commercially successful — that he was ever likely to succeed at, but it seemed possible that he might get good.

I have enjoyed some of the Marvel superhero things (Ben Kingsley is so wonderful in IRON MAN III I can’t describe it) up to a point, so it didn’t seem totally pointless looking at this thing, but I should admit it was pretty pointless after ten minutes. Fiona was enjoying Tom Hiddleston’s facial expressions, but there wasn’t much else to appreciate. I thought it was strikingly poorly edited, and Branagh’s big Wellesian idea this time seemed to be Dutch tilts. I imagine the meeting thus —

“I think we’ll have Dutch tilts in this one. Comic book vibrancy and all that.”

“When shall we use them?”

“Oh, I don’t think that matters.”


Thor (Chris Helmsworth) was my least favourite character in AVENGERS ASSEMBLE so I admit I wasn’t expecting to love this. He has an OK character arc, I guess, and Natalie Portman is appealing. I don’t quite believe she’s a brilliant scientist but I don’t quite believe Stellan Skasgaard is either. Nor do I believe that when the Norse god is banished to earth and crash-lands in New Mexico (I knew he should have made that left turn at Albuquerque), he’s slammed into by a kind of Mystery Mobile in which three scientists are cooking meth doing physics, and one of them happens to be Scandinavian. But one shouldn’t really get upset about probability in a thing like this. I’m more upset about the meaningless camera angles.


I rented DREDD because I’d heard good things, and I’m a child of 2000AD comic, and I slightly regretted missing this one on the big screen in 3D. And indeed, there are some pretty visual effects I bet looked spiffing in depth. Films made by Andrew MacDonald’s DNA tend to go for unsympathetic characters and unpleasant story worlds — odd, since he seems such a nice middle-class chap (and grandson of Emeric Pressburger). This makes him ideal for Judge Dredd, created by Spanish artist Carlos Ezquerra and Scottish writer John Wagner, who conceived him as a futuristic Dirty Harry, only more fascistic if you can imagine such a thing. The trouble with the 1995 JUDGE DREDD was that they neutered the character, turning him into an honorable action hero and removing his helmet (the comic book character has never been seen unmasked — he’s basically an impersonal functionary/killing machine).

Alex Garland’s script has a few good ideas and is part of his general redemption these days — I thought EX MACHINA was quite fine, despite hating his writing on 28 DAYS LATER, so I guess the dumbness was coming from Danny Boyle. This Dredd is meaner — Karl Urban basically just has to huskily whisper like Clint Eastwood, but with excellent timing. The comic WAS/IS comic, a jet-black, nihilistic blast of punk nihilism, dark chuckles amid Leonesque mayhem. I think the current movie is a little lacking in laughs, though there are some good ones, mainly to do with the sheer excessiveness of the bloodbathery — but you might not be amused by a man being made to blow off the top of his head with his own assault rifle, which makes you a better person than me.

I liked the acidic colours and Carpenteresque score. Director Pete Travis marshalled his resources well — a UK-shot, US-set dystopian thriller could all too easily resemble DEATH WISH III.


There’s only a microscopic amount of character change in this one, mostly around Dredd’s rookie partner, Olivia Thirlby (unconventional and interesting) — weirdly, this actually makes it MORE pleasing than THOR, because less familiar. I challenge the screenwriting gurus to figure that one out.


I finished my comic book weekend by actually reading a comic book, Domu by Katsushiro Otomo, creator of AKIRA. This was something I bought dirt cheap in a charity shop and it had been lying unread by my bedside for literally YEARS (along with heaps of other impulse-buy literature — it’s a real mess). Having finally picked it up, I consumed it avidly between the hours of midnight and one. Otomo has the ability to intrigue — his plots don’t resolve very neatly, but there’s so much damned apocalypse going on it’s hard to notice. The psychic kid stuff in this one is familiar, but this time the narrative is basically a police investigation crossed with a ghost story, set around a housing estate plagued by mystery suicides. The loose ends and unexplained elements are pretty evocative, suggesting an intriguing direction Hollywood movies could go in if they continue to de-emphasize plot at the expense of massive action set-pieces. Bring on the negative capability!


13 Responses to “Blood and Thunder”

  1. The one thing I like about the “Thor” movie a little is that at least it’s not a tedious dime-a-dozen origin story about a man reluctantly embracing his calling to be a hero. Here the protagonist already knows he’s awesome. My partner, watching with me, said afterward the movie would have been better if they’d cut out all the Valhalla War-in-Heaven stuff and made the entire film about Thor’s learning to get along on Earth; I’m inclined to agree with her. Loki as a mopey grump was not entertaining viewing. At all.

  2. Loki as a knows-he’s-bad smarmy misogynist in The Avengers was a lot more fun, yes.

    The film did seem misshapen. The mystery mobile pre-credits sequence was a desperate attempt at smoothing over the very awkward shift from a first act in Asgard to a film set on earth where we had no reason to care about the small town under threat. Nobody at all in the film is FROM the small town. Your partner should be a high;y-paid script doctor.

  3. Thor adventures on Midgard are traditionally a bit of snooze in the comic too . He’s big and strong and bullet proof and dull. The comics get really good when they let rip with the pseudo myths. There are few things more fun than Jack Kirby doing whatever the heck he wants and Thor got really fun in the latter half of Kirby’s run for just that reason.

  4. Robby K. Says:


    The best stuff is when Kirby got to end the world in the back-up stories.

    Or the crazy stuff from Simonson’s run, where the Executioner is machine-gunning down zombies to save Thor and some trapped Marines.

  5. Nobody has yet even attempted to capture Kirby-level craziness in a movie adpatation. Or even Ditko.

    I would like to think that Dr Strange will have some good psychedelic stuff, but I fear this will not be so. There’s just too much money mixed up in these things to allow them to get demented enough.

  6. I’m happy they gave Loki crazy horns but even in the Avengers I didn’t like him as much as everyone else seemed to. One of the best things about this whole Marvel movie franchise type thing for me is its very conscious decision to choose as the chief villain the Military Industrial Complex. The twist in Iron Man 3 – technical glitches packaged as terrorism – is straight out of Brazil, and Gary Shandling whispering “Hail Hydra” in Winter Soldier put sthe tin lid on it.

  7. To me the films are all a bit right-wing, with a certain amount of smokescreening and the conspiracy theory element fits right in with that. They key rule of Hollywood entertainment though is that it shouldn’t be too politically coherent. There should be something for everyone to agree with, and nothing too obvious to DISagree with.

    Stan Lee is a bit hawkish, I think.

  8. Robby K. Says:

    I remember someone from the Marvel Bullpen saying that Stan Lee’s biggest problem with Ditko and Kirby was that he was too left-wing for Ditko and too right-wing for Kirby. Gil Kane maybe?

    That being said, one of the disappointments of reading early Marvel is seeing Lee’s John Birch Society tendencies emerge again and again. The Communist villains were usually a sign that Lee or Martin Lieber didn’t have any good ideas for a story that week. Weirdly enough, in SPIDER-MAN, where you would have assumed Ditko would have been especially receptive, I don’t remember any Communist super-villains popping up.

  9. I remember a 9:11 charity comic where Lee contributed a story, and his take on it was that America’s enemies were just jealous of America’s wealth and all America’s GREAT STUFF. I guess that’s not so much right-wing as just dopey, a failure to see that some people just have terrifyingly different values.

    Lee probably would qualify as a good liberal in America: but that makes him a bit right wing by most of the rest of the world’s standards.

  10. I’ve enjoyed the “Avengers” cycle so far; for me they’re the Marvel equivalent of the DC animated cycle that began with the Batman series and concluded with “Justice League Unlimited.” If the next “Avengers” film is decent, will be tempted to let that stand as the end of it (the way the second Spider-Man and X-Men movies stand as the end of those series.).

    Even THOR is better-than-average popcorn fare; that they fit together is icing on the cake. The problem is, if you’re going to Save the World in every single hero’s movie, what’s your non-financial excuse for putting them together?

    “Avengers” very neatly kept the semi-generic menace off camera most of the way. With striking originality, they made the movie about the diverse heroes — the rich kid, the foreigner, the kid with issues, and the cleancut American boy who’ll lead them — being brought together under the wing of a tough but caring sergeant to train for the war . . .

  11. I liked Avengers except there was just too much of it. I guess I will go and see the new one… I like your comparison to old WWII movies, it seems very apt. For all the shadowy conspiracy stuff in the Captain America sequel, they are nostalgic movies looking back to an age when it seemed clear who the baddies were and what should be done about them.

  12. This is from David Lehman’s introduction to the poet Kenneth Koch’s “The Art of the Possible,” a posthumous collection of comix, doodles, cartoons and so forth: “…Kenneth and legendary comic-book editor Stan Lee once planned a collaboration. This was during the late 1960’s when the war in Vietnam was raging. Both Koch and Stan Lee adamantly opposed the war, and they came up with the idea of a “peace comic” that Koch would write and Lee would assign to an illustrator. What came of the project? “I can’t quite recall why it never got much farther,” Ron Padgett says, “Tho I seem to remember Kenneth’s telling me that eventually someone on Stan Lee’s end found Kenneth’s ideas or first draft to be too ‘far out.'”

    I love that ‘someone on Stan Lee’s end.’ Although I have to think we dodged a bullet here…

  13. Yes, that…might not have worked.

    The ultimate message of the superhero comic is that with great power comes zero responsibility, since the heroes have secret identities that allow them to do what they like and then escape any legal consequences. If such characters existed for real it’s doubtful how many of them would be heroic.

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