Category Archives: The Modern Pantheon

Thor: Ragnarok – What I Missed (Part 1)

thor 6I had mixed feelings as I sat in my seat waiting for the outro at the end of the credits for Thor: Ragnarok. On the one hand, I was thoroughly entertained for over two hours. On the other, I was disappointed by what I hadn’t seen. I realize that appreciation can be colored by prior expectations, and I really expected a lot out of this movie (maybe too much). I’ll have to see it again to get a more balanced perspective.  I’ll divide my comments into three areas: what I liked, what I didn’t like, and (perhaps most importantly) what I missed.

To begin with, I loved the first part. The opening sequence was visually satisfying, and the dialogue and action were engaging.

thor 10

thor 13

It is in this opening that we meet Surtur, the fire demon who is capably played by Clancy Brown.

thor 11

We also meet Skurge, the negligent interim keeper of the Bifrost, as played by Karl Urban.

thor 16

The segment with Doctor Strange might have been a bit incongruous, but it was visually effective and very interesting. I am very intrigued by this character.

thor 9

thor 10

The first scene where Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) speak one last time with Odin (Anthony Hopkins) was beautifully done, and I liked seeing Odin portrayed as an old man in normal clothing. The idea of gods among us in the guise of mere mortals resonated with me.

thor 7

The set up and reveal of Hela was well-crafted and intriguingly done. She, like Loki, comes from Norse mythology, and (like Loki) she is a different kind of villain. I enjoyed the scenes in which she was depicted, and Cate Blanchett did a wonderful job portraying her.

thor 1

Up to this point, I was satisfied with the development of the mythological elements in the plot. Then came the middle. I’ve always liked how Marvel uses humor to diffuse the tension, but I felt that this time it almost smothered it.

The introduction of the deranged Grandmaster as played by Jeff Goldblum managed to add a humorous sense of dread before the jokes threatened to take over.

thor 15

thor 14

There were good scenes and ideas throughout the rest of the movie, but I felt they were overly subordinated to the jokes. The contrast of dread followed by an instant of comic relief didn’t feel as if it had been given sufficient time to build. Also, I wonder if there was too much reliance on phrases and slapstick sequences from past movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The almost Shakespearian nobility of Thor is a great straight line for the punch lines which involve him. I was sorry to see that sense of nobility lessened as much as it was, partly because I thought it lessened the impact of the humor, which much of the time was genuinely funny. I’m all for evolving a character, but I’m also all for maintaining sufficient continuity to make that evolution more plausible.

Well, this is taking longer than I had anticipated, so I’d better continue this thread next week.

Advertisements

The Modern Pantheon: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

 

gg3

When reviewing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017, Disney Marvel), I suppose one must mention Baby Groot, voiced by Vin Diesel.  From the opening to the closing credits, he adds an emotional,  humorous, and heroic facet to the story.

gg1

In addition to some of the personnel mentioned last week, some new cast members join the party: Kurt Russell as Ego, Pom Klementief as Mantis, Sylvester Stallone As Stakar Ogord (the head Ravager who reveals some of Yondu’s backstory), and Elizabeth Debecki as Ayesha (a ranking member of the snobbish Sovereign).

gg4

 

This entertaining and somewhat adolescent movie (no offense intended from one who regards himself an overgrown teenager) employs a number of themes from ancient mythology: patricide, the seduction (or worse) of women by gods, and gods as planets. My unanswered question about Peter Quill’s father is addressed early on. He was sired by Ego, a Celestial (or god, “small ‘g’, son”) whose powerful but self-absorbed mind has generated his physical form and the planet he calls home.

gg7

 

The planet itself is alive, a concept from Greco Roman mythology. I was reminded of Plato’s Timmaeus. Humans and gods were considered animals because they moved (i.e. were animated), and this applied to planets as well, which were often associated with various gods. The surface of Ego’s planet is a kind of Candy Land on hallucinatory steroids (my invented term).

gg10

 

I liked how Ego’s planet is, at one point, shown as having a face when viewed from outer space.

gg11

 

It’s elaborate interior is likened to a nervous system emanating from Ego’s brain.

gg5

 

Mantis is Ego’s fearful assistant. She identifies herself as an Empath, an alien who can detect emotions through physical contact with the person feeling them.

gg2

 

The story has a persistent theme of reconciliation – for example, between sisters Gamora and Nebula…

gg6

 

… and between Quill and Yondu (as well as between Yondu and the Ravagers).

gg8

 

In an outro mingled with the closing credits, Ayesha…

gg9
Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) Ph: Film Frame ©Marvel Studios 2017

 

gg12

…  reveals the technological chrysalis that will usher Adam Warlock into the MCU.

gg13

In the comics, Adam is repeatedly killed and resurrected, so his cinematic inclusion should be of mythological interest. Another outro (as well as a screen shot) provides a humorous scene of Stan Lee telling stories to the Watchers.

gg14

 

His own creation, they are observers who show up at events of cosmic importance in the comics. Given the rate at which these movies are being made, Marvel Studios should never run out of characters.

 

 

The Modern Pantheon: Guardians of the Galaxy

gg3

Last week, I mentioned two departures from the norm in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The first I reviewed is Doctor Strange. The second is actually two movies, so far. The first (as if you couldn’t tell from the above picture) is…

gg2

Let’s get this out of the way first. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014, Disney Marvel Studios, directed by James Gunn) has an extensive ensemble cast: Chris Pratt as Peter Quill (Starlord), Zoe Saldana as Gamora, Dave Bautista as Drax, Vin Diesel as the voice of Groot, Bradley Cooper as the voice of Rocket, Michael Rooker as Yondu Udanta, an unrecognizableKaren Gillan as Nebula, John C. Reilly as Corpsman Dey, Glenn Close as Nova Prime, Benicio Del Toro as The Collector, Djimon Hounsou as Korath, Lee Pace as Ronan, and Josh Brolin as the voice of Thanos. There are more, but I’m getting tired. Much could be said about the plot, characters, acting, soundtrack, and special effects of this very entertaining movie. I’m choosing instead to focus on the cosmic and mythological aspects of its well-scripted story.

gg1

This is the first movie which offers more information on Thanos, a multidimensional character invented by writer Jim Starlin for Marvel Comics. He has otherwise been seen only in outro sequences for Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron. A little of his backstory is provided in this movie. If the MCU does any justice to this character, he will prove a good psychological and mystical study. I look forward to seeing more of him.

Thanos2-GOTG
From Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014), directed by James Gunn

Of course, Thanos and several others are after an artifact which turns out to be an Infinity Stone.

gg4

gg9

Benicio Del Toro does a good turn as The Collector. I enjoyed the sequence where he explains the history of the Infinity Stones. This scene infuses the MCU with an interesting cosmology.

gg10

One of my unanswered questions was the lineage of Peter Quill. His mother was an earthling, but the exceptional identity of his father is not revealed in this first movie. It hints at a mythological nature which enables him to hold onto the Infinity Stone for as long as he does without being destroyed.

gg8

I think it appropriate to mention Groot in this context as well. Despite his violent capabilities, he is a benevolent creature who looks out for his friends and ultimately sacrifices himself for them. Like many Marvel characters, though, he isn’t really dead. The comics as well as the movies of Marvel utilize a number of resurrection themes. I attribute this more to an economic need to provide suspense and to bring characters back for future installments than to any religious motivation, but I still appreciate the additional depth it provides when done properly.

gg6

Surf in again next week. There will be plenty more to follow…

gg5

The Modern Pantheon: Doctor Strange

drstrange1

I have seen two movies from Disney Marvel Studios that represent rather radical departures from what I had watched before. Doctor Strange is one of them, and I will take a look at the other next week.

drstrange5

Featuring a stellar cast and mind-bending special effects in an intriguing blend of eastern mysticism and science fiction, this was complexly designed, and appropriate attention was paid to the philosophical concepts underlying the strange physics. Even though there were no references to my own faith, my Christian orientation helped me to track with some of the themes – most notably, that of hidden dimensions within our everyday surroundings.

null

I also related to the theme of the arrogant but talented doctor who receives his come-uppance and learns humility as his understanding of the universe is expanded.

drstrange7

I’m a college professor, and I have humorously thought what it would be like to hear any of my students exclaim to me Strange’s earnest petition to The Ancient One: “Teach me!”

drstrange6

What a lineup: Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange, Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo, Benedict Wong as (well…) Wong, Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer, and Mads Mikkelson as Kaecillius, etc.

drstrange4

Owing to the busy (but, strangely, not distracting) visuals and dense concepts, this is one movie that merits repeated viewings. This character makes an interesting addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The doctor is in.

drstrange2

Modern Pantheon: A Commandment Of Sorts

tr8

Before you go to see Thor: Ragnarok, the next addition to the Disney Marvel Universe…

null

… read The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson.

tr5

tr1

Ah-ah… no backtalk…

tr2

Just do it.

tr4

Semi-seriously, watching some of the trailer material reminded me of The Prose Edda. If you want to know more of the original Norse mythology (including Asgard and Ragnarok), if you want to become more familiar with Thor, Loki, Hel, and other members of the Norse pantheon, it might be helpful to struggle through the abstractions of this older document. It’s actually fairly easy to read, considering its age.

tr7

Don’t expect the immediate gratification of a Marvel Studios movie or a Marvel comic, but the book could put you in a more receptive mood to appreciate the liberties which are sure to be taken by the movie. Reinvention can be more fun when compared to the original.

tr6

Photo Credits: Disney Marvel.

Modern Pantheon: The Justice League

justice myth 7

All of the image credits for this post go to Alex Ross, DC Comics, and Warner Brothers. For me, the above picture represents a standard. I have mentioned in a previous post that I thought that Warner Brothers and DC had made an artistic mistake when designing the costumes of their superheroes for this franchise. I mean, why mess around? The work has already been done, and I regard the work of Alex Ross as the gold standard for the visual appearance of DC characters. It’s okay to update things a little, and I would point to the design work for Wonder Woman as a less controversial example.

I don’t normally review trailers or other promotional materials for movies since I prefer to see the finished product before writing about it, but this was too intriguing. The poster below is a step in the right direction, and I hope it is an indication of visually more satisfying things to come from the DCEU. Featured in the movie poster are Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, and Cyborg. I’m still not totally satisfied. After all, we’re talking about cherished images from my childhood here, but I’m willing to keep my mind open for the time being.

justice league 3

You can’t go wrong with imitating an Alex Ross poster. I was enthused about the following version as well. It gives an indication that Superman isn’t going to stay dead (surprise, surprise). They might even redeem the colors in his costume. Then again, am I looking at a fan art insert? The lighting on the Kryptonian doesn’t seem to match.

justice_league_poster_alex_ross_by_opsfx-dbhdjpk

The trailer showed some good action scenes, some good dialogue, and some dialogue that still makes me wince. From the studio that brought you, “The bat’s dead; bury it,” we now have “Dressed like a bat; I can dig it.” Delivered by the king of Atlantis, no less. I read that Joss Whedon has been brought into the project, but I don’t know how much influence he’ll have since the filming was completed before he came on board. From all this, I expect that the final version of the movie will be uneven, but I think it will be worth seeing. I will test this hypothesis by firmly planting my 64-year-old derriere in a theater seat come November.

A Film Of Her Own (Part 3)

ww4

Now for an analysis of the actual movie. Although the majority of the critiques I have read are effusive in their praise, there is an undercurrent of criticism. One is that the Wonder Woman movie (Warner Brothers) has nothing new to offer. I am reminded of how fickle critics can be. Make a movie that’s too different, and you have “a poor sense of genre.” Make it too formulaic, and it’s “more of the same.” I honestly thought that this cinematic effort struck a good balance between the extremes and that it actually was an original treatment.

ww12

ww8

Keep this in mind: it’s a superhero movie, for crying out loud. Their will always be similarities such as a backstory element, the conferring or possession of superpowers, and external as well as internal conflicts. One review I read accused this movie of being too much like Captain America, down to the wartime settings and unorthodox support teams. While there are similarities, I really felt that this was its own story. The test I apply is that I could not predict what would happen as I watched the plot unfold. I will also add that Wonder Woman is at least comparable to Captain America (which I own and have enjoyed repeatedly) in terms of quality. Both are nice period pieces with fanciful embellishment. This is the first effort by the DCEU which I would consider comparable to the output from Disney Marvel. They still have a long way to go in developing their extended universe, but this was a definite step in the right direction.

WONDER WOMAN

The combination of a World War I setting with themes adapted from Greek mythology invoked the neoclassicism of the early twentieth century. It was certainly one of the better applications of this that I have seen, and the special effects seemed appropriate to the plot, purpose, and themes of the story. Unlike a few reviewers, I was not put off by the CGI during the climactic battle. For once, I found the imagery of a DC film visually satisfying and easy to follow. This film also established a distinctive style of graphic art that I hope will persist in the DCEU.

ww3

I found the mythological concepts enjoyable, particularly the reveal of Ares. He was admirably portrayed with nuance and depth. Although many already know who played him, I will refrain from mentioning the actor to avoid spoiling anything for those who don’t know and who have not seen the movie.

ww11

The action sequences were good. The portrayal of trench warfare and civilian and military casualties was realistic enough to make me wince, and there were subtle touches of humor at the right times. An amusing sequence where Wonder Woman as Diana Prince attempts to make sense of women’s fashion is a nice contrast to the battle scenes and depictions of devastation.

ww17

In my opinion, this film is worthy of a theater viewing. I thought it was entertaining, and I appreciated the respectful treatment given to this iconic character. Initially short on experience, she is also portrayed as informed and intelligent, and the state this movie leaves her in by the end begs for more stories to develop her possibilities. If you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend that you do, whether in the theater or as a rental, depending on availability.

The lady is waiting…

ww6

 

A Film Of Her Own (Part 2)

The Wonder Woman movie (Warner Brothers) met my expectations and then some. It also satisfied my hope that this character would receive respectful treatment. Among those who should receive credit for this, I think Patty Jenkins, the director, should obviously be mentioned.

ww14

ww13

Another of my suspicions was confirmed, as well. I already felt that Gal Gadot had good screen presence, but given a decent script, she can also act. Allen Heinberg wrote the screenplay of the story by Zack Snyder, and the script enabled Gadot to show some emotional range as well as wry humor. She also did her own stunts, and was credible in the action sequences. While her physique was not considered by some fans to be muscular enough for this role, I found it interesting that her body type actually wasn’t very far off from that of the original comic book character. I know I held the following panel up as a sexist stereotype last week, but I think it helps to confirm the point I just made.

ww15

Additionally, DC Comics seems to have followed the lead of Marvel Comics by redesigning the look of a superhero to resemble the cinematic imagery.

ww18

A number of characters paid homage to the Golden Age version of Wonder Woman. Chris Pine did a typically good turn as Steve Trevor…

ww10

… and Lucy Davis was cast in a more dignified portrayal of Etta Candy.

ww16

As Sir Patrick Morgan, David Thewlis was excellent, and I enjoyed seeing him in the role of a more mature character.

ares

Overall, I thought the movie passed the villain test. Elena Anaya was suitably creepy as Dr. Poison. While a little more one-dimensionally written, the German officer, Lundendorff, was well-acted by Danny Huston. The sequence when he dances with a disguised (well, sort of) Diana Prince is palpably threatening.

ww5

Queen Hippolyta is played by Connie Nielsen, and her warrior sister, Antiope, is played by Robin Wright.

ww15

Said Taghmaoui, Eugene Brave Rock, and Ewen Bremner (pictured left to right on either side of Chris Pine and Gal Gadot, below) constituted an admirable and rag tag support crew whose characters were surprisingly well-developed for the amount of screen time they were given.

ww9

The cast was impressive, and the script and acting were good. Okay, this is fun, so I’ll drag it out for another week.

 

A Film of Her Own (Part 1)

ww1

In the beginning – well, 1941, actually – Wonder Woman was unleashed on the world of men. Although her original adventures were set during the time of World War II, her movie debut was shifted to World War I, but this is beside the point I want to make first. Her initial presentation during the Golden Age of Comics was a nuanced contradiction between feminism…

ww18

ww16

… sexist stereotypes…

ww13

ww15

… and worse.

wonderwomangrowndown

The approaches and themes used in her portrayal made at least the pretense of an effort at being mature…

ww17

… or lapsed into the juvenile.

wonderwomangrowndown2

This variety and disparity of treatments has continued through various incarnations. What I’m trying to say is that from this beginning concept and simple artwork  grew an iconic image that grew larger and more nuanced than even her creators, William Moulton Marston (writer) and H. G. Peter (artist), envisioned. Once in print, she escaped their mental bounds and entered into the synergistic collective of her readership. Individuals interacted with this character until, today, she has come to represent different things to different people.

For this reason, any adaptation of the comic to the silver screen would be likely to generate both praise and criticism. Gal Godot looks the part. She doesn’t. The movie is an original breath of fresh air for the superhero genre. It isn’t. The CGI is appropriate for the plot. It’s over the top. It’s kind of hard to blame us for our conflicting expectations of the first movie about Wonder Woman. After all, so many of us think of her as ours.

Gadot-Wonder-Woman1

gal gadot

Whether you approve or not, this cinematic effort is considered socially significant because it is the first major movie of this genre where the main character is female (I’m not going to count previous efforts such as Elektra). The DCEU of Warner Brothers beat Disney Marvel to the punch on that one, and I suppose it’s only right from an historical perspective.

The “battle” over this representation will continue next week…

WONDER WOMAN
Wonder Woman (2017) Gal Gadot

Looking Like Wonder Woman

So you’ve no doubt heard the criticism that Gal Gadot doesn’t look like Wonder Woman. Okay, let’s get something out in the open before going any further. As a general rule, the DC cinematic universe has made some questionable choices as to the visual appearance of its characters. Many of them strike me as a cross between oversized plastic toys and clothing models despite the enlistment of some good actors to play them.  Marvel Studios, on the other hand, knows their product as well as their demographic, and they usually get their visuals right. Let me add that these are my impressions as a viewer and that I don’t mean to be critical in a negative way. I just think DC can do better than they’ve done so far.

ww4

Having said this, I don’t think Gal Gadot is a bad choice to play Wonder Woman. She has been criticized as being a former model with too delicate an appearance, but she was in the Israeli military. During her term of service, she completed a rigorous course of physical training, evidently in impressive fashion. On that count, let’s not be too quick to judge on the basis of appearance. Let’s see how the movie turns out.

So, in response to the statement that Gal Gadot doesn’t look like Wonder Woman, I must ask an obvious question. What does Wonder Woman look like? I’m trying to limit my pictures to faces as much as I can. Here’s her original conception (enlarged from the first cover, even) by H. G. Peter:

ww5

Her likeness was allegedly based on that of Olive Byrne, the mistress of Wonder Woman creator William Molton Marston…

ww9

… but she could just as easily be said to resemble Jane Russell (top) or Rosalind Russell (bottom), who were actresses from that era.

ww2

If you look at enough panels of the original issues, I think you will notice that Wonder Woman’s physique was far less muscular than in modern portrayals.

Here’s a panel by George Perez…

ww6

… one by Adam Hughes…

ww8

… and one , if your mind is not sufficiently stretched by now, by Darwyn Cooke:

Does Linda Carter look like Wonder Woman, or (perhaps more appropriately) do we think of Wonder Woman as looking like Linda Carter?

Wonder Woman Complete Series DVD UK Box Set Lynda Carter (Pictures by dvdbash.wordpress.com)

Was Alex Ross thus influenced? Well, yes. He admitted as much, but even he has portrayed this character with slight variations.

Artist: Alex Ross (Credit: DC Comics)
Artist: Alex Ross (Credit: DC Comics)

So does Gal Gadot look like Wonder Woman? Well, I’m beginning to think that  Wonder Woman doesn’t look like Wonder Woman. Provided this more recent actress is given a decent script, I’m willing to leave a little room for creative adaptation.

WONDER WOMAN