Monday, July 27, 2015

On Ant-Man ... (but mostly really the Marvel Cinematic Universe)

Today was actually intended to be a review of Jurassic World, because I'm trapped by my own backlog, but that's not what is calling to me. Yesterday, I finally got my sorry butt to the theater and saw Ant-Man.

I know what you're wondering right now, "Did he think Ant-Man was that much better that he'd ditch his favorite childhood series just to talk about it."

Or you're wondering, "Wait, this isn't the link I clicked on." 

But I implore you, don't flip to another tab just yet. 

I might be an anonymous internet geek, but I think I have something pretty worthwhile to say, and if you agree, you should totally pass this on. I mean, I'd love to plug my blog, but really, I just want to get this out there.

1) I love Marvel's films.

2) I don't think Marvel is telling good stories.

So this will be less of a review of Ant-Man so much as a retrospective on continuing repetitive mistakes made in this shared universe. I want to talk about some basic storytelling structures that Marvel is skimping on, to their detriment, and I want to inform o' yeh three people reading this blog what those are.

One of my favorite professors ever had a favorite saying during her lectures, “The only journey in fiction is the journey from ignorance to self-awareness.” I'm going to take a moment and let you ponder why I'm bringing this up.

And now I'm going to explain. These characters? They're journeys are all out of wack. They don't really progress in any meaningful sense. The Marvel Universe is one long string of establishing origin stories. The Marvel movies hint at character development post-introduction, but the majority of it seems to happen elsewhere. Take for instance, Captain America acclimating to the modern world. When did he actually acclimate? As far as I can tell, he did it between The Avengers and Captain America: Winter Soldier, and we only ever hear about it in spurts. 

What about the red in Black Widow's ledger? That could have dominated its own entire movie (complete with toy-line you sonsabitches, hint-hint), but instead we get a strong establishment of it in Avengers ... and by Avengers: Age of Ultron, she's ... over it? Also, quick side-note, I could do an entire post about the mistreatment of female characters (and Black Widow especially) in the MCU, but maybe that requires a post dedicated solely to itself.

I don't even really need to point out that Thor hasn't progressed since his first outing (which was by all accounts rushed character development anyways), so what about Tony? Well ... it's haphazard at best. I mean, really try to map his character arcs from story to story. They fluctuate all over the map. At times it feels really strong, like in Iron Man ("I must take responsibility") or Avengers ("sacrifice is required"). I personally think Age of Ultron flubbed it at the midway point when they had Tony solve the problem of the psychopathic killer murder-bot by creating another AI. He solves the problem he created the same way he created it. That's ... not really development. Tony didn't learn anything about his fallibility as a human with a massive ego. 

But what about Iron Man 3, you might ask? Well ... he has a journey. He has panic attacks. He solves them by remembering that he's Tony Stark, and that Tony Stark fixes things .... Resounding.

So what is my point? How does this relate to Ant-Man? Well, Scott Lang falls into the same pattern, actually. He's exactly the same at the beginning of the film as the end. He never has to win his daughter's affection. She loves him already, to the point where I felt sorry for the step-father. So is it Scott's relationship with the law? Not really, because at the end of the film, the step-father (who's a cop) let's him go scott-free because ... he's a superhero now, so he's above the law. And we've successfully done away with risk.

Makes me miss the first season of Arrow.

The takeaway from this is that Marvel refuses to develop their characters, because if the characters grow and develop and change, then there is a chance of alienating audience members. It's the old Star Trek model. If you saw one episode with Kirk and Spock, then you've seen them all, for the most part. Any character development over the course of an episode would be rewritten by the next, to maintain the interchangeability of the episodes. Marvel has succeeded in doing the same thing. You don't need to follow the films to understand what is happening. Either the character is exactly as we left them, or whatever changes they've gone through happened, ala Greek Tragedy, off screen and is relaid to us here in the moment to catch up anyone who didn't see the others.

And that is not how you build engaging character-driven stories. It's not. And I think it's starting to show. These movies are revolutionary because they changed the way film franchises are done, no doubt. But there is almost no chance that these movies are going to engage in the long run, because individually, they don't offer anything above fluff. Not in terms of character development, and spoilers, that's the part people connect to.

And I haven't even gotten to the villains!

But I can do that in a much shorter time. 

Beyond the fact that Marvel's villains are woefully underwritten, there's another point I think that is often missed. They oftentimes have zero, and I mean, zero relationship with the hero beyond the circumstantial.
  • Luke and Vader?
  • Buffy and Angelus?
  • Magneto and Xavier? 
These are characters who, if you removed the powers, or plot, would still have the basis of a powerful story, because they have strong relationships. We're not interested in Luke and Vader because of their powers. We care because we're fathers and sons. We're all part of families, and good and bad, we have an investment. Buffy and Angelus? We've all had a relationship destroy us, or a friendship that caused us devastation when it disintegrated, like Magneto and Xavier's. 

But in the Marvel world, we get Yellow-Jacket and Ant-Man who, as George R.R. Martin pointed out, have the same powers, and it's boring. I disagree. I think the similarity of the powers is immaterial. What I find unforgivable is the fact that Cross and Lang have NO relationship. Neither did Peter Quill and Ronan, or Maleketh and Thor, or Captain America and Red Skull. Sure they're diametrically opposed on the moral spectrum, but they have no personal investment in one another. Ronan and Star-Lord don't even come into contact with one another until the climax of the film.

And suffice it so say, this is not how you build character relationships. A villain is meant to test a hero in every possible way. Ultron might have been bogged down by a cut-running time, but at least he engaged the heroes early in the film and utilized different tactics to achieve his goals. 

That's more than can be said about most Marvel villains.

So Marvel, here's what I have to say, cool it on the world building and in-universe connections. At this point they'll happen organically, I promise. Start focusing on telling a complete character arc without worrying about what you'll do next time. If the characters survived decades of comic books, I'm sure you have enough to work with for half-a-dozen movies (before the actors refuse to renew their contracts anymore). Give the heroes a specific goal per movie, a challenge that they can learn about themselves through overcoming. Oh, and I beg you, develop villains with relationships to the hero before you do anything else. Then let the cool bits come to you. Even if the action is meh, the emotions will underscore the story more than anything else you can do. You've got some Shakespearean themes to play with. Run with them. 

Case in point.

PS, where did Yellow-Jacket get the lasers? Is that common in the MCU? During Iron Man 2 they couldn't recreate Stark Tech, so was Cross using Hydra's Tesseract weapons? Seriously, someone help me out here. 

PPS, I'm like ... so excited about DC's Suicide Squad, and Fox's Deadpool movies, because they look like they might actually break the mold, which would fill me with all the happiness.

Monday, July 20, 2015

On Inside Out

So what does some shmuck on the internet have to say about a well established animation studio like Pixar making another quality film? It'd be like trying to deconstruct the hundredth home-run in a row. What more is left to say? 

Well, at least one thing, that I found rather interesting. So strap in, and join me for a few minutes of your time. 

Most Idiotic Review

" ... in so far as Riley never comes into focus as a true flesh and blood girl (she is just a vessel), there is something odd about the fact that Riley (isn't Riley a boys name?) plays a stereotypical male sport (ice hockey). It's as if the film's creators resist really dealing with a female character — even though, reportedly, Doctor drew on his experience parenting a young girl."  — Alva Noë, (NPR)

There's a lot of things I dislike about this article. Of all things, I'm reminded of an interview that Lawrence Krauss gave back in 2012 where he said, "I'd say that this tension occurs because people in philosophy feel threatened, and they have every right to feel threatened, because science progresses and philosophy doesn't." Now, is Lawrence Krauss a brilliant mind? Of course. Do I respect his work in his fields. Definitely. Is he an ass? Undoubtedly (as a proud atheist, anytime I watch a theological debate with Krauss, the limits of his knowledge base become pretty clear). More to the point, I dislike the idea that philosophy doesn't progess. Or if it does, it's merely adopting other field's of science's tools. 

How does all this relate to Inside Out? Well, Alva Noë makes me agree with Lawrence Krauss. And that can't be good. 

Besides that, the quoted paragraph makes me role my eyes. For one, Riley is a unisex name. Don't take everything and make it a feminist rallying cry, if you please. Jesus Christ. And by the way, hockey is a stereotypically 'violent' sport. But sure, claim it for the male demographic. Why not. I get the distinct feeling that Mr. Noë has a limited experience with women of diverse backgrounds. 

While I have my own issues with the story, Alva Noë's claim that director, Pete Docter's, inspiration is in some way disingenuous is something I find very bothersome. As a young writer, I know I certainly dislike and will get very defensive when questioned about my inspiration. 

Most Accurate Review

" ... this is that rare movie that transcends its role as pure entertainment to become something genuinely cathartic, even therapeutic, giving children a symbolic language with which to manage their unruliest emotions." — Ann Hornaday, (The Washington Post)

As a happy subject of group and private therapy, I love the power Inside Out has as a catalyst for a dialogue on the topic of, well, unruly emotions. My significant other and I? We actually had the opportunity to talk about it with each other, and I'm sure parents everywhere have been given a tool with which better to communicate and educate their children on the topic. I think that's so much more powerful than anything Frozen or Tangled managed to achieve.

What I Say

Today I'd like to forego my usual sections, Plot, Character, and Spectacle, for something a little more ... fluid. 

I think the characters and plotlines in Inside Out, are basic, trite, cliched, and uninteresting.

<Leaps behind cover>

Volatile statement, I know. But before you burn down my blog or kick my dog, let me also say that I think Inside Out is resonant, heartfelt, and thought provoking.

How can I have these two views?

Well, I want to use Toy Story 3 as an example.

Remember this scene?

Pretty emotional right?

What about this scene? 

I would argue that the two scenes are emotional for a different reason. One, the furnace scene, we relate to because after three films we've really grown to know and love these characters, and the idea of their death in a fiery furnace of Hell, is emotional, but I don't think many viewers, especially in the intended audience, had a lot of personal experience to relate to.

But the scene where Andy leaves, that's also emotional. Is it because we find Andy a resonate character? Hah, not likely. We hardly know him. He has no real goals, no obstacles, no heroes journey, and that's okay. The time Andy spends onscreen is pretty minuscule. So why the emotional resonance? I'd say it's because Pixar timed the released of Toy Story 3 so that the original audience for Toy Story would be in their late teens, kids who were graduating High School, packing up for college, and leaving behind childish things. They had a perfect formula for hitting us right in our shared experience.

Perfect, that is, until Inside Out.

Inside Out isn't resonant because we relate to the journey of Joy and Sadness. Frankly, it's kind of a weaker relationship than Woody and Buzz (Joy and Sadness have really cerebral goals and tactics, whereas Woody and Buzz had very definite goals and tactics) but similar in its dynamic. By the nature of having characters who represent an incomplete range of emotions, our protagonists are limited in what they can do. There's only so many ways to spin them. 

So where's the emotional catharsis? It's not Riley, because, like Andy, she doesn't really have a journey. She's a backdrop against which we see the real heroes perform. She's Westeros and Joy and Sadness are the Starks and the Lannisters. Have fun playing that scenario out in your head, oh three people who see this blog.

The reason, I think, is the film literally, unashamedly, tells a really generic story. And that is fine by me. I cried at least four times in the theater. Many manly tears. The film is pointing to things, like moving to a new school, having issues with your family, fighting with your friends, considering running away, and on and on. These are not new concepts, and Riley's journey? Not really that interesting. On a purely external level, she (Spoilers) moves to a new town, doesn't know anyone, decides to run away back home, decides not to. Not ... groundbreaking. But it doesn't have to be. 

I think it's fascinating that you have two sets of uninteresting ideas, a central figure around which all other characters revolve (Riley) who doesn't have much of a journey, and a cast of main characters who are limited in their emotional output by their very nature, and have nebulous goals and tactics, being mainly reactionary (not to mention Bing-Bong, gotta mention Bing-Bong), and make it a resounding success.
Hell Yeah, fiction and the shared human experience.

~ Godzello

Monday, July 13, 2015

On Terminator Genisys

Oh, happy day! What could have possibly pulled my sorry ass out of retirement? What could possibly drag me away from classes and a minimum wage job selling tarts to confused old people and obnoxious teenagers (or alternatively obnoxious adults and confused teenagers)? 

Why it's the fifth installment of the Terminator Franchise?

Is it because it's the most awful thing this side of the curly hairs of Satan's ass-crack? 


Is is the golden egg laid by baby-jesus riding a Indominous Rex? 


Then what the hell is it?

... kinda meh, honestly. 

Most Idiotic Review

"Watching this ponderous spectacle ... I wished I wasn’t the I sent from the present to make sense of impenetrable nonsense. But then I thought about how much worse it must have been for the writers, the director, the producers and the studio executives to have created a feature film that defied their own comprehension, and rendered moot such conventional judgments as good, bad or indifferent. What could anyone have said of the finished film except that it was finished? “Terminator Genisys” plays like the worst of all outcomes." — Joe Morgenstern (The Wall Street Journal)

I hate reviews that try to get clever (I would neeeeever stoop so low) and this case of playing cutesy with the time travel is just ... painful. I also want to point out that old Joe used the word "moribund" which apparently means "at the point of death/in terminal decline; lacking vitality or vigor" but god-forbid we use a description that isn't archaic you pretentious fuck.

His review as a whole is powerfully negative, and being the neurotic type I am, the more I like something, the more I want to find holes, and the more I hate something, the more I search for redeeming qualities. So considering the film was a domestic flop, what good things are there to say? 

Most Accurate Review

"All of that said, the film works far more often than it doesn’t, and while I cannot say it’s on par with the first two films, it’s the best of the last three sequels and the one closest in spirit and style to Cameron’s films. It didn’t skimp on ideas for taking a new approach, it made the story its own and built a new mythology atop the old one, and it successfully revived the story in a way allowing for a whole new examination of where things could go from here." — Mark Hughes (Forbes)

I can get behind this review, if only because I love a good underdog story (that agrees with me). One of the things that I did really enjoy about this movie was the concepts it played with. I won't say they executed them very well, but they had them, and if a film can spark my own imagination, then I'm usually a lot more forgiving from there on out. 

Genisys is, admittedly, the closest of the films to capture the flavor of Cameron's originals, but I still think it's a far cry from Sarah Connor Chronicles, which I think did a far far better job of it. But it does go in new directions.

What I Say -- Spoilers

I liked the film enough to see it twice. 

Plot — Anyone who hasn't figured out the plot must have fallen asleep during the trailer for the movie, because there it is. The whole story spoiled right out the gate. I wonder how things would have played out with a less infuriating advertising campaign. 

For the first time we see the end of the war with Skynet in the future (2027), where Jason Clarke's John Connor defeats the machines. We see the T-800 sent back in time on its mission to kill Sarah Connor in 1984 and we see Kyle Reese volunteer to go back in time and protect Sarah Connor. We also hear John Connor deliver his famous message to Sarah.

Then shit goes crazy. Connor gets attacked by a mysterious Time Lord and when Kyle Reese arrives, not only has the entire timeline changed, but he begins remembering an alternate timeline where Judgement Day never happened. In this timeline, Sarah Connor has been raised by the Guardian, a Terminator sent back with orders to protect her. She calls him 'Pops' and I still don't know how I feel about it.

Honestly, this is my favorite section of the film. There's a lot of nods to the originals, outside of shot-for-shot recreations of certain scenes, and other than Jai Courtney's performance, there's a distinct sense of returning home, at least for me. I enjoy the interplay of time travel though. So I guess I'm a freak.

Then things ... go off the rails a wee bit. They decide to travel to the future. For reasons. Stopping Judgement Day, yadda-yadda. For whatever reason Pops built a time machine. For whatever reason, he could build a time machine. So our heroes embark into 2017 to stop Judgement Day sooner (for them) rather than later, because they're now representing my generation and patience is not on our list of virtues. 

Then the next major twist. John Connor was attacked by an alternate dimension version of Skynet (played by Matt Smith), turned into a T-3000, and sent back to ensure Skynet's success. 

So, in 2017 our heroes battle John Connor and try to murder the murder-bots. Kill the badguy/save the day type of ending.

Character  — 

Arnold holds this movie together. I'll say it, I think he's a damn fine actor. He brings a lot of pathos to scenes where there shouldn't technically be any (I can use big words too, dammit!), and humor to others. And it all seems so effortless to him. Pops might be old, but he's still a scene stealer. 

Emilia Clarke ... tries. My main complaint with her performance is there are times where she seems to be trying too hard to sell herself as this character. That said, I don't think the writing did her any favors. She has a lot of moments where she comes across as ... fake. In that, she's pretending to be strong. Linda Hamilton's (and Lena Heady's too for that matter) Sarah Connor was tough as nails and vulnerable. She was a impossibly tough woman in an even tougher situation, and even when the chips were down, she was a desperate mamma-bear. This Sarah feels like she has something to prove. Maybe she does. In the context of the story, it makes some sense.

Jai Courtney can just stop. Please just stop. He said in interviews that he in no way tried to emulate or capture Michael Beihn's performance, and it shows. He feels like a smart-alecky action-hero, not a war torn survivor. It's jarring and I don't like it. He also has the emotional range of a dried cookie: dusty and disappointing. This too is in the writing however. I could never imagine the original incarnation (or even the Terminator Salvation depiction) trading barbed comments with an aged-terminator in a Grumpy-Day vs Badboy Boyfriend conflict. Also, the love he feels for Sarah never feels ... deep. He kinda just seems like he hasn't gotten laid in a while and in a post Game of Thrones world, who hasn't fantasized about the Mother of Dragons?

Jason Clarke--I'll stop here and say I like him. I hate that it was in the trailers, but I like this. John Connor is a shit. He's always kind of been a shit. So finally the movies took that to it's conclusion. They made him a shit. What I'm trying to say is, this is new. It's a fun idea. It makes ... some sense. But mostly, Jason Clarke just seems to be having too much damn fun with the role. He's the only actor who has a strong connection with whoever he's acting with onscreen, and his relationship with Kyle Reese is one of the few redeeming factors of Jai Courtney's performance. The two bounce well off each other. 

JK Simmons plays a cop who is criminally underused, and I'll skip spoilers because this is getting overly long anyways, but I personally found him a joy to watch. If ever a sequel were to materialize (long shot at this point), I demand more JK Simmons. 

Lastly, Matt Smith, also criminally underused. I don't really like the idea of having a human version of Skynet from an alternate timeline within the Terminator Multiverse ... wait, scratch that. I do like the idea, in concept. In execution, it's the basis for it's own movie, not ten minutes of this one. 

Any one of these ideas could have been sufficient (John turned Terminator, Kyle Reese landing in an alternate timeline, Sarah Connor raised by Pops, Skynet from an alternate reality), but they tried so desperately to cram them all into Genisys--suffice it to say, they were getting dangerously close to the kitchen sink.

Spectacle — There ... is? I don't know, none of the actions scenes really grabbed me. Did anyone see the initial promo photos? That pretty much sums it up.

The beginning had some fun action scenes, but there never was the sense of risk. I'm on the bandwagon here, but I blame overuse of CGI. Fury Road sees Genisys and laughs and laughs and laughs and laughs....

There is one problem the movie has and it's pretty simple, either the first two films used every trick in the book, or, in terms of action, Genisys was more concerned with emulating action-beats from the first films than having their own (but with CGI). The final moments of the conflict between Pops and John Connor are ... cool in theory, but it only achieves catharsis when the CGI takes a backseat to Arnold's acting (Jason Clarke is replaced by his CGI Terminator body by this point. 

I will say I think the soundtrack is quite nice though. I downloaded it and am very pleased. So if nothing else, you can tune out Jai Courtney's every word, Arnold delivering some really shaking Time Travel MacGuffins about Nexus Points and Alternate Timelines and so-on and so-forth, and listen to some pretty cool music. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Movie Mutts Episode 1

Ooh, what's this? I have a new webseries with my fellow movie-snob compatriot? Check it!

Monday, September 8, 2014

On Thor: The Dark World

I hate this movie. I don't hate it because it's bad. It really wasn't all that terrible. It didn't even rub me the wrong way. 

I hate this movie because it had all the pieces to be really damn good ... and misstepped. 
It's sad to say, but any Marvel movie with Tom Hiddleston
is going to be successful 

Most Idiotic Review 

"It’s sad to say, but Thor: The Dark World marks Marvel’s first serious misfire." — Jack Giroux (Film School Rejects)

I don't know what context this is a serious misfire in, or at least, how this is Marvel's first. As far as I can see, it did far better than Thor at the Box Office, and between this and the two Iron Man sequels ... I'm going to stick to my guns and insist those were far shittier films. Robert Downey Jr.'s star power aside, Iron Man 2 and 3 were atrocious, as I've discussed before. Thor: The Dark World is merely disappointing. 
This scene is sadly an accurate depiction of the movie as a whole. 
Most Accurate Review

“Thor is back in another perfectly adequate Marvel movie that pleasantly killed a few hours of your time with enough cool visuals, action, and humor to keep you from wondering, 'Why does the elf man want to shoot magic Kool-Aid into the sky holes?'” — (Screen Junkies)

I feel like these guys hit the nail on the head pretty solidly. There were three parts of this film that just ... fell apart for me, Thor, the comic relief, and the bad-guy. Now that I've written those out they seem much more dire than I originally thought, but let me elaborate. Specifically, Thor's journey from ignorance to self-awareness (as my professors insist all great protagonists go on) ... isn't. It's there, certainly. We're told so, but we're never given an investment into this struggle. If anyone has a more relatable journey, it's, I hate to admit, Loki. 

The Comic Relief are far more annoying in this film, if you ask me, for the simple reason that their antics are cutaways. They're the peanut gallery, not adding to the story ... and when they are adding to the story, blessed-be, they're not that annoying. 

Lastly, the villains in this story were impossible to relate to: generic, unexplained, unsympathetic, and primarily speaking a foreign, made-up language. How exactly was the audience supposed to connect to these guys? And in a film already rocking fan-favorite, Loki, it really seems like these guys got seriously shortchanged. 

What I Say

Plot — Alright, let's see what we have. There is a mystical McGuffin of great and terrible power, a group that wants to control/dominate/destroy the universe with it, and a lone hero (and his ragtag friends) who are the only ones capable of stopping it. And speaking of the McGuffin, I really love how it's a liquid Infinity Stone. I'm not anal enough to let that bother me, I just find it rather funny. 

Sidenote, Sif deserves way more development and screentime
especially compared to Kat Dennings. 
Yep. It's a Marvel film, alright. The problem here isn't so much in the plot as the pacing. We open with a prologue with narration. I forgive this in films like Lord of the Rings, simply because there was so much damn exposition to fit into the films, it seemed a necessity. Also, one of the highly memorable quotes from a highly memorable trilogy was in the opening prologue, so I can also forgive them for doing it damn well (for those unsure, I'm referring to the, "history became legend legend became myth and that things that should not be forgotten are lost," line). Here, though, it just seems lazy, especially when the same information is delivered numerous times throughout the film. 

They keep hammering the notion of the 'Convergence' into our heads. I know they talk about the rule of threes. I know they talk about the rule of threes. I know they talk about the rule of threes. YOU SEE HOW ANNOYING IT IS? It's not really that foreign a concept. "Once every X millennia the Y realms align and their borders become Play-do." We didn't need that hammered into our heads via 2x4 injection to the cranium.

My other major complaint with the pacing is the film's inability to get serious. Bare with me on this one for a moment. SPOILER ALERT 

We have a really touching sacrifice of Thor's mother, Frigga, to save Jane Foster from Malaketh. We see quite a beautiful funeral scene. It's one of my favorite moments of the film, and right as it hooked me with what I considered pretty compelling drama, we cut to Erik Selvig spouting comedic exposition to a psychiatric ward that includes Stan Lee's goddamn cameo. It killed the mood entirely, and it struck me that almost every time the film reached out and did something moving, it skirted away from it, like it was terrified of scaring away their demographic. 

Character — Thor is the big one (no surprise) so I'll start there. It is hinted that this Norse god is struggling with his duty of becoming King of Asgard, and his love for Jane Foster on Earth. Maybe it's because I'm a dried up old cynic who buried the last remnants of my romanticism in the backyard ... but this is not a storyline that the audience can get invested in. This might be for several reasons. It's not written well, or it's just not that engaging in and of itself. I felt like the film stumbled onto an arc for Thor in that his conflict isn't with being with Jane vs Ruling Asgard, so much as, Thor is a guardian, a warrior, a protector, more than a sovereign ruler. His place, where he feels most comfortable, is wading into the fray, not watching from afar. I thought the film would play with this more ... but it doesn't. It threw it into a few lines and then let it sit. 

Jane Foster continues to be a bland character, although I'm of the opinion that Natalie Portman is doing what she can with what she has. She certainly has more chemistry with Hemsworth than she did with Hayden Christensen. I feel like Marvel, while having a ball, has a limited understanding of what strong female characters can be. It makes me miss the days of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with Buffy, Willow, Cordelia, Tara, Anya etc (and I have to mention Fred from Angel). Whedon's strength isn't just in crafting female characters of notable strength, but they're all different. Marvel's female characters ... like their villains, are starting to become threadbare after so much media attention. 

Then again, I've been single for the past five years.
I might not know chemistry if it bit me in the ass.
Malekith is probably the worst villain Marvel has delivered. It's a real shame because, as usual, Marvel casts some really heavy-hitting talent. In this case, Doctor Who's Christopher Eccleston. As a character, this is what we know about the Dark Elves, of which Malekith is the most ruthless ruler. They come from before the universe. They want the universe to go back to the dark. Sure this flies in the face of 90% of layman physics I'm aware of, but we'll ignore that. So that's what we're given. That's it. There's also a McGuffin called the Aether that can turn any matter it touches into anti-matter. Sure we never actually see it do this, but that's what we're told (in voice-over narration, no less). 

Oh, and I guess I have to talk about Loki or I'd get shivved by the Tumblr Girls (they're out there ... watching, waiting). Loki is probably at his best in this film. In Thor he was weak and mildly whiny. In Avengers ... I honestly just felt sorry for him, since he was so clearly out of his own league. This film, he shined, and many people pointed out the relationship between Thor and Loki was far more engaging than the supposed romance (and slash fiction writers rejoiced). That said, I wished they had actually killed him off, just like I wish they're killed Nick Fury in Captain America: Winter Soldier. Like Moffat's seasons of Doctor Who, there's an impending vacuum of threat. The villains are consistently laughable and their heroes are unkillable. 

The Warriors Three and the Comic Relief return in this movie. One set has a distinct advantage over the other in terms of screentime, and I'll be honest, I was less than thrilled with the film's choice. I'm sorry, but the votes are in, and the comic relief in these films ... they're not funny. They're tonally out of place and obnoxious. Why? Every time they start doing their bit, the plot stops. Merry and Pippin might have been comic relief, but they moved the damn story along while they made jokes, or at least their jokes were interspersed enough not to feel like they were highhandedly dragging the movie into the pits of hell. 
Last I'll mention Odin. I love Anthony Hopkins ... I think. It's been a long while since I've seen him in any roll that struck me as anything other than tired. Maybe that's the idea behind Odin, but all I get from him is that this guy really wants to retire, and neither or his son's will oblige him the opportunity to spend the rest of his days on a beach in Cabo. 

Spectacle — The film is a little more rugged than the previous installment. Asgard feels less like a classic Shakespeare set as a lived-in world. It's pretty clear this is the influence Alan Taylor had in taking over the direction from Kenneth Branagh. Since it's built on the skeleton of the previous film's design, I do personally prefer this film's depiction, but it's just personal taste. I was more than a little annoyed by how easily invaded Asgard was though. For the most powerful race in the Nine Realms, the Dark Elves pretty solidly kicked their asses. I'm not even sure why they retreated at all, except for dramatic purposes. It was pretty well shown that the Asgardian forces posed about as much a threat as the Bulk and Skull from Power Rangers. 

The fight scenes are ... less visceral than you'd think a film about a god wielding a magic hammer would be. 

The final fight does have a fun concept and some colorful visuals, but I was so detached from the characters by that point, I just couldn't get invested. The action scenes were really impersonal, is what I'm getting at. They are well choreographed and stylish, but there's no heart to them. This might just be me, but the only moments in the film that warranted as legit ass-kicking, the deaths of two major characters, were greeted by more mundane and tradition venues of drama. That said, when you kill off two of the people closest to the God of Thunder, one might expect a more intense emotional outburst of wanton destruction. Butts should be liberally kicked. 

And what's my takeaway from all this? Well, as I said at the beginning of the review, it's just sad.