Directed by: Alan Taylor. This is one of the ones I already reviewed for a real publication, but unusually, what I wrote there is pretty much everything that I actually had to say about the film. It’s a typical superhero action film, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously and it doesn’t insult your intelligence. Those last two points, for me, are crucial. There’s really nothing of consequence in this film, but it knows it. This film wears its capitalism on its sleeve in such a transparent way, it actually distracted from my ability to immerse myself in the story. After the trailer for Captain America 2 runs before the film, to market the Marvel franchise to us, the movie plops a really blatant and unnecessary surprise cameo from Captain America himself, Chris Evans, as Loki shapeshifts into him in order to make fun of his simplistic patriotic outlook. It’s a throwaway gag, it’s funny, it contributes to the lighthearted rapport they’re trying to build between Thor and Loki, but it’s also some pretty shameless promotion, since they could have built that rapport in a number of other ways. Of course, what’s the problem? They have a product to sell, and we’re the same audience, and we’re right there. And also, at the end of the film, they tie everything up with a bizarre little scene that looks like it was shot for half the budget, giving it a Doctor Who feel (I really thought it was a Doctor Who tie-in because I know so little about it), with Benicio Del Toro in hilariously ridiculous makeup and wardrobe, which apparently all ties in to another franchise (Guardians of the Galaxy—which, as a former comic nerd, even I have never heard of). From top to bottom, this film is screaming at you that it’s not meant to be enjoyed for its story, for its status as an actual movie, as much as it’s meant to be consumed whole, swallowed without chewing, so that the product-commodity-franchise-object can be quickly gulped down your gullet in order to keep your appetite primed for the next blockbuster. But I’m apparently the only one who found all this to be problematic, judging by the audience reaction in the movie theater and by the box office and critical results. For most people, Marvel Studios seem to be offering just enough story content to help people see past the painfully obvious commercial aspect. But then again, I don’t watch TV anymore, so I’ve lost that cerebral gloss that coats against any objection to being marketed to. These guys seem to be giving the public what it wants. What that means is some food for thought I’d like to chew on at length in another post, and in fact, I’m working on a post dedicated solely to the modern superhero genre at the moment. As far as this movie goes, though, it’s a totally passable film, and a totally enjoyable 2 hours. Ultimately, it’s a placeholder, a throwaway plot involving a secret key (which will be a part of a larger story involving other franchises, I’m sure) to be used by the big villain, cast like last time with a consummate, overqualified actor (Chris Eccelston instead of Colm Feore), buried under face paint and CGI and reduced to lofty, faux-biblical stock villain dialogue. The lightness of the film is probably its best feature. The human element with Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgård, that quirky assistant girl, and a great little supporting role from Chris O’Dowd all really help keep the air brisk and keep the whole thing from getting sucked into the gravity of its own bullshit too much. But then, of course, it’s hard to take any of the other stuff seriously. Just another example of the oft-cited schizo tendency in postmodern culture wherein the assertion of a set of values and an interpretive framework is elevated, maintained, and simultaneously poked at, ridiculed, or undermined. Ya know—THAT whole thing. And, of course, I can’t leave until I point out what is perhaps the most interesting visual cue in the film’s endless sea of disposable CGI 3-D graphics. My male eyes would have missed this completely but, as my viewing partner was kind enough to point out, the MacGuffin here, the ultimate weapon of doom that the bad guy unleashes in order to wield the ultimate power with which to shroud the universe forever in darkness, is a reddish black moving liquid substance that floats up and around and hovers in the air, as if in water, and it apparently resembles to no small degree the movement of a lady’s monthly flow as it circulates in a toilet bowl. So perhaps this is one of those extra layers of hidden meaning that the female graphic animators snuck in there as a sly wink at the women in the audience. The pleasures of multi-layered cinema.