Blow-your-hair-back-effects have their place in action-packed blockbuster.
We’re behind the times at our house: my husband and I are well aware of that. I can’t remember the last film I saw in a real, live, dangerous movie theater—I’m sure there was still snow on the ground. Our life is such, that we are forced to rely on Netflix, and I am the keeper of our queue. Every now and then, I Google show-times at nearby theaters, looking for titles. I used to tune into the Academy Awards to cheer for the films I’d seen, and to google couture (and boob job results, shame on me), but more and more, it’s proven to be more valuable as my tip line for must-sees.
The other night we sat still long enough to watch Thor: The Dark World, released in November 2013 (recent, by our standards). I wanted to like it. I enjoyed the first Thor enough to queue-up the sequel, after all. And I really am a huge fan of superhero comic book screen adaptations. When they’re done well, they’re fantastic. They make me regret that I wasted my youth reading The Archies. Though, in my defense, it might have gone differently if I’d had access to anything like Christian Bale’s portrayal of Batman. I grew up with syndicated re-runs of Batman, the television series. I promise you I wasn’t tuning in for Adam West or Burt Ward: I was there for the villains, for Julie Newmar, and maybe Alan Napier’s Alfred. It’s only thanks to modern cinema that I know that the true badasses of the known universe are residents of DC and Marvel comics.
So, Thor, the sequel. There were bright spots: Stellan Skarsgård romping around in his underpants, Renee Russo’s fight scene (I’d pay money to see a dude try to execute those same moves in a heavy gown), the thread, albeit thin, of yummy chemistry between Natalie Portman and Chris Hemsworth. I even bought into the plausibility (!) of wormholes, of people and objects passing through dimensions. The initial demonstrations of this phenomenon, in the warehouse, were far more entertaining than the more relevant, humanity saving examples later in the film.
I was able to sustain a certain degree of belief, but then there was the rest— the unforgivable. For example Anthony Hopkins’s eye-patch, it looked like that thing was ready to plink off his face every second. Malekith wasn’t at all creepy, and his dark elves were just storm troopers with pointy ears. The tension between Thor and Loki was ho-frickety-hum. Every inhabitant of Asgard had a different accent, on top of the ghastly bad dialogue. These people are ruling an entire dimension of the universe, it seems like they could be more articulate. (I had the same reaction to Keanu Reeves in last film of the Matrix trilogy. You’re claiming this guy is the savior of mankind?)
What was the worst of all, you may ask? I had to keep my heckling mouth shut for nearly two hours, so I wouldn’t ruin the fun for my husband. I’m not saying his standards are lower, they’re just different. He’s more forgiving, as long as you don’t mention Barton Fink in his presence. By the time credits rolled on The Dark World, I was wound up. I went on a rant that lasted through our pre-sack-out rituals (social media check-ins, flossing, brushing).
Done brushing, I uttered my purist’s lament, “With all the money and resources at their disposal, that was the best they could do? Honestly, it’s insulting.” My husband shrugged his shoulders. I suspect he was grateful that his Sonicare hadn’t completed all four segments of its cycle.
Muttering to myself, I left the room and tracked down our little dog to tackle my last chore of the night. As I fished between the dog’s cheek and gums, to dislodge the rabbit poop he’d snarfed up on his final perimeter check of the backyard, I remembered something I’d heard along the way: Americans aren’t the only audience for these films. Action movies are huge exports— they’re written and produced toward that goal. And it turns out that violence, blow-your-hair-back-effects, and Dick and Jane dialogue translate easily. I could continue to be indignant over this awful film (and others just like it), or I could give it a rest. It’s just the cost of cranking out blockbusters, especially shoo-in sequels to blockbusters. Franchises, I think they’re called.