Talking Movies: Thor: The Dark World

Released: 8 November 2018
Director: Alan Taylor
Distributor:
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Budget:
$150 to 170 million
Stars:
Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Christopher Eccleston, Stellan Skarsgård, Rene Russo, and Anthony Hopkins

The Plot:
After defeating his step-brother, Loki Laufeyson (Hiddleston) alongside his fellow Avengers, Thor Odinson (Hemsworth) has been busying fighting to maintain order across the Nine Realms. However, after his love interest, Doctor Jane Foster (Portman), becomes infected with the mysterious “Aether” and becomes a target of the malevolent Dark Elf, Malekith (Eccleston), Thor is forced to set aside his grievances and team up with his brother to confront this dangerous new threat.

The Background:
Even before the blockbuster release of Avengers Assemble/The Avengers (Whedon, 2012), Kevin Feige, head honcho of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), promised that Thor would have another adventure. The team-up’s unprecedented box office success meant the MCU entered is second phase with a huge amount of momentum and expectation, but the experience of directing Thor (Branagh, 2011) left director Kenneth Branagh drained and reluctant to return for the sequel. At one point, Patty Jenkins was attached to direct but left due to “creative differences”, a decision that angered star Natalie Portman. Once Alan Taylor secured the director’s chair, the filmmakers set about progressing Thor’s relationship with Loki and expanding upon the gritty, more grounded approach to the merger of science and magic seen in the first film. Although Thor: The Dark World surpassed its predecessor’s box office with its worldwide gross of almost $645 million, the film wasn’t as well received as others in the MCU; while the performances and fantastical elements were praised, many criticised the film’s pace and weaker elements.

The Review:
Like the first film, Thor: The Dark World opens with some narration and scene-setting from the wise and powerful Odin Allfather (Hopkins), who tells the story of the Dark Elves (an ancient, malevolent race from the time before there was light in the universe) and their leader, Malekith, who sought to return the Realms back to darkness using the destructive power of the Aether before he was stopped by Odin’s father, Bor (Tony Curran). Unable to destroy the Aether, Bor buried it deep in a far away Realm and Malekith disappeared for aeons to Svartalfheim at the darkest corner of the cosmos. Sadly, this time around the narration falls into the same trap that so many narrations do in that we end up hearing the story all over again when Jane arrives on Asgard; it would have been just as effective to show the opening scene without Odin’s narration and then have him fill the gaps in later, or flash back to the opening battle later in the film to combine them into one scene.

Still a mighty warrior, Thor has matured a lot, though is preoccupied with thoughts of Jane.

Thanks to Loki’s attack on New York City, the balance between the Nine Realms has been upset and Thor has been too busy setting things right alongside his allies to make good on his promise to return to Jane. Thor still retains much of his arrogance in battle (but then again, when he can explode a Kronan with one swing of Mjölnir, I feel a little pride is understandable) but he’s noticeably changed since learning humility in the first film; he’s far more respectful to Odin, who treats him as more of an equal for his good deeds, but the two disagree on Thor’s feelings for Jane. Odin believes that, since human lives are so fleeting, Thor would be better served turning his attentions towards his ally and comrade, Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander), but the Thunder God is driven to distraction by his yearning for Jane. This actually sows the seeds for an eventual character arc for Thor in the MCU; since the first film, Thor has been groomed for and expected to take the throne but, here, we see that his adoration for Jane and Earth means that he cannot focus on the remaining Realms in the way a true king of Asgard should. We’d see the culmination of this in Avengers: Endgame (Russo and Russo, 2019), of course, where he abdicates his royal responsibilities and finally embraces his true self but, here, he’s at a crossroads between doing what’s right for him and doing what’s right for the cosmos.

Thanks to being possessed by the Aether, Jane visits Asgard and we see more of the mighty Realm.

Despite her half-hearted attempts to move on from the hunky Thunder God, Jane remains equally distracted by thoughts of Thor; however, when Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) alerts her to odd readings nearby, she can’t help but investigate in hopes of seeing Thor return to Earth. Instead, they find odd gravitational and special anomalies at an abandoned industrial district in London that render some objects weightless and transport others to another dimension. Following the source of the signal, Jane is unwittingly sucked into the Aether’s hidden dimension and absorbs the protoplasmic Infinity Stone. Their paths finally cross again when Heimdall (Idris Elba) loses sight of her in this moment and Thor returns to check on her, finding her not only as feisty as ever but also incredibly dangerous thanks to the Aether’s influence. This results in one of the best things a sequel can do and that’s taking a character tied to one world in the first film (Jane) and bringing her to another (Asgard) in the sequel; just as Thor was a stranger in a world beneath him in Thor, so too is Jane a stranger in a world beyond her here. Odin is unimpressed, nay angered, that Thor would bring a mortal to all-mighty Asgard and Jane is both overwhelmed and captivated by the technology and culture of the Golden Realm.

Malekith might be a bit of a weak villain and a waste of Eccleston but damn, does he look bad-ass.

Malekith’s plot can only occur at a specific time when the Nine Realms are in perfect alignment known as the “Convergence”, which temporally sees brief portals to the Nine Realms open up and cause all kinds of disruption and conveniently comes around at the same time as the Aether is discovered. Having fled to the further reaches of the universe with what little remained of his army following his defeat, Malekith is also awoken when the Aether is disrupted by Jane and immediately restarts his campaign to claim its awesome power. Considering how strong and complex a villain Loki was in the first film, it is admittedly disappointing to see him followed by Malekith, a character whose motivations basically boil down to wanting to spread darkness and discord throughout the known universe simply because he wants to. Indeed, Malekith is so obsessed with his plot for power and destruction that he willingly sacrificed a great number of his own people during the great war with Bor. However, I don’t really know much about the character as he’s only popped up in a couple of the Thor comics I’ve read, so all I’m really looking for in a superhero villain is someone who looks cool, is vaguely threatening, and for the hero to butt heads with (anything else is just a bonus for me), so my main gripe with Malekith is that the filmmakers completely wasted an actor of Eccleston’s talents since the Dark Elf disappears for massive chunks of the film and is mainly just seen posturing and monologuing until the finale.

Loki steals the show in every scene he’s in and completely overshadows Malekith.

It doesn’t help that Loki returns to this film and not only overshadows Malekith at every turn thanks to Hiddleston’s effortless charisma but also steals every scene he’s in. Following his defeat in Avengers Assemble, Loki is brought before his father to explain his actions; Loki is unapologetic and even arrogantly justifies his actions as simply being his divine right to conquer and rule lesser beings such as humankind. Odin, however, is unimpressed, countering that it was Loki’s destiny to die and that only Odin’s mercy spared him from that fate so that he could grow to hate him. Indeed, Odin specifically states that it’s only because of the mercy of his wife, Frigga (Russo), that Loki has been condemned to an eternity in the dungeons of Asgard rather than execution for his heinous acts. Ever the petulant child, Loki remains an emotionally complex and damaged character; he is deeply resentful of his father and brother, and yet still has much love for his mother and truly believes that he was simply doing what was destined of him to do and that his actions pale in comparison to the blood Odin has spilt in his aeons of conquest.

Malekith’s army, led by the monstrous Kurse, storm Asgard and kill Frigga.

Although they lack the numbers they once had (largely because of Malekith nonsensically killing most of them), the Dark Elves are quite a formidable army; wielding energy weapons and grenade-like devices that cause miniature black holes that destroy everything in range, their numbers are further bolstered by Algrim (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a Dark Elf that Malekith transforms into Kurse, a monstrous being of pure rage and animalistic strength. Having infiltrated the prisoners being taken to Asgard, Kurse causes a jailbreak; though he amusingly decides against freeing Loki, the God of Mischief directs him in Odin’s direction and unintentionally causes his beloved mother’s death when Kurse delivers a fatal stab wound to Frigga after she chooses to protect Jane. Just as Frigga’s death sends Thor into a blind rage, scarring half of Malekith’s face in the process, so too is Loki distraught by her loss; united in their grief, Loki agrees to assist Thor in once more defying Odin’s decree to remain on Asgard and use a secret exit to track the Dark Elves to Svartalfheim. Seeing Thor, Jane, and their allies interacting with Loki is a source of great amusement since none of them like or trust him but are forced to rely on him, and Loki of course uses the situation to his advantage to fake his death as part of his ultimate scheme to seize Asgard’s throne.

While his Asgardians allies don’t factor too much, Thor’s human friends play a vital role in the finale.

In a surprising twist, the consequences for Loki’s brain tampering are seen in Doctor Erik Selvig (Skarsgård), who has been driven to near madness by what he saw and learned while under the spell of Loki and the Tesseract. Despite his unpredictable and wild demeanour, this proves to be valuable information in helping Thor and his allies oppose Malekith’s plot. Unfortunately, the Warriors Three – Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (Zachary Levi), and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) – are still largely used for little more than comic relief and to add recognisable Asgardian bodies to the fight scenes but Thor: The Dark World does manage to squeeze in a far larger role for Heimdall; he not only takes down a Dark Elf ship with nothing but knives(!) also suffers a crisis of conscience when his duties as Gatekeeper are rendered superfluous by Malekith’s looming threat. Similarly, Odin is greatly expanded upon; grief-stricken by his beloved’s death, he prepares to fortify Asgard’s defences and sacrifice as many Asgardian lives as it takes to ensure ultimate victory, once more pushing Thor into taking matters into her own hands.

The Nitty-Gritty:
In a nice change of pace, much of the Earth-bound side of the story is set in good old Blighty so we get to see London under threat from cataclysmic destruction rather than the United States, which is nice, and much more of the film takes place on Asgard. Jane’s arrival causes much consternation among the Asgardians, who believe her to be largely inconsequential and meaningless even though she possesses the Aether, with only Thor and Frigga treating her with any kind of respect and kindness. While awestruck by the beauty and magnificence of Asgard (she has, after all, effectively paid a visit to Heaven), Jane still manages to hold her nerve; she openly challenges Odin’s boorish attitude towards her and even slaps Loki right in the face for the destruction he caused in Avengers Assemble. As for Loki, he adds a great deal of comedy to the film through his witty criticisms of Thor’s plan, demeanour, and actions; he even assumes Steve Rogers/ Captain America’s (Chris Evans) form in an amusing scene and seems to live to mock and critique his brutish brother.

Thor: The Dark World wonderfully expands the cosmic scope of the MCU.

While Thor masterfully introduced the idea of the MCU’s vast cosmic universe, Thor: The Dark World expands upon it wonderfully; as mentioned, a great deal takes place on Asgard and just the film’s very existence was further proof that there are many competing legends, stories, and warmongering races out in the galaxy just waiting for their time to strike. Accordingly, the film is much bigger and action-packed in its scope; unlike the first film, Thor is at full power for the entire movie and we get to see him and his people in far more battles than before. The opening depiction of Asgard’s war with the Dark Elves effectively set up how desperate and obsessed Malekith is with obtaining the power to achieve his goals, the prison breakout was a great way to showcase Loki’s indifference (however true or false) to the fate of his adopted people, and Malekith’s merciless campaign against Asgard made sure that both Thor and Loki would have personal stakes in the battle against Malekith. Of course, it’s not all perfect: the destruction of the Bifröst Bridge was this big, emotional event in Thor but it’s since been rebuilt and the status quo has returned as a result, which kind of undermines the first film’s ending (though, to be fair, that already happened in Avengers Assemble so I’m really not sure why a line or something wasn’t added in to Thor to downplay this event or at least plant the seeds of hope for Thor).

Loki plays on his brother’s affections to weasel his way to a position of power once more.

Still, the costume design remains incredible; of all the MCU characters, Thor may very well be my favourite both in terms of his character and his visual representation. His always looks fantastic, as do all of the Asgardians, and I really like the threatening and somewhat alien design of the Dark Elves; Malekith may be a bit of a weak villain in terms of characterisation but he definitely cuts an intimidating figure. The film also beautifully and naturally continues the ongoing sibling rivalry between Thor and Loki; Loki’s deceptive nature is key to tricking Malekith into freeing Jane from the Aether and, while he initially appears to have double-crossed his brother and reverted to his vindictive ways, it turns out that Loki was simply playing a role to give Thor the opportunity to try and destroy the Aether. So committed to this role is Loki that he even shields, an actively saves, Jane from attack and ultimately dies in Thor’s arms in an emotionally weighty scene after suffering mortal wounds to destroy Kurse. Of course, this is later revealed to all be part of a grander deception by Loki as the film ends with the twist that he has somehow disposed of Odin and taken his form as king, a surprise that the third film would unfortunately simply explain away in anticlimactic fashion rather than capitalise on the potential of Loki ruling Asgard under the guise of his father.

Thanks to his allies, Thor is able to end Malekith’s dark ambitions and save the Earth once more.

Of course, there has to be a big, climatic battle between Thor and Malekith at the end of the film. Having absorbed the Aether, Malekith wields incredible cosmic power that more than makes him a match for Thor’s brute strength. Easily able to take Thor’s blows, and even his lightning, the battle between Thor and Malekith rages through the Nine Realms thanks to the Convergence, which makes for a striking visual as they topple and tumble between the Realms (and, amusingly, all over London) and Malekith teleports around, renders himself incorporeal, and attacks with tendrils of red energy. Unlike in the last film, where Thor took out the Destroyer in a triumphant return to full power and bested Loki in a dramatic battle between siblings, Thor actually has help this time around as Jane, Selvig, Darcy, and Darcy’s intern Ian Boothby (Jonathan Howard) construct and place the specialist scientific equipment needed to send Malekith packing back to Svartalfheim, where he is subsequently crushed by his own ship. It’s definitely a bigger and more bombastic finale than the first film, which was obviously much more focused on Thor proving his worth as a hero and a warrior, but Phase Two of the MCU was all about kicking things up a notch and Thor: The Dark World definitely does that while still addressing and hitting the same emotional beats and themes of the first film.

The Summary:
Honestly, to this day I still don’t understand why people don’t like Thor: The Dark World; it’s very similar to how I don’t get why people rag on Iron Man 2 (Favreau, 2010) but I think some of the problem might be that the first films were so well done and Phase One of the MCU was such a massive surprise in terms of success and consistent quality that expectations were maybe a bit too high going into the sequels. Now, obviously Thor: The Dark World isn’t quite as good or memorable as the first film (primarily because of how weak Malekith is) but it’s a really good follow-up to the themes and characters set up in Thor and Thor’s character progression in Avengers Assemble. I like how the scope is so much bigger, how the society and inhabitants of Asgard are expanded upon, and how well it sets up the Infinity Stones and contributes towards the larger overall narrative of the MCU’s second phase. The film is far more action-packed while still being humorous and heartfelt, developing the complex relationship between Thor and Loki while also showing how much Thor has grown as a character since the first film. Maintaining the franchise’s incredible costume design, special effects, and visual style, there’s a lot to enjoy in Thor: The Dark World and I definitely feel like it’s worth another look with fresh eyes.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Are you a fan of Thor: The Dark World? If not, what is it about the film that you dislike, specifically? What did you think to Malekith as a character and a villain? Did you enjoy Thor’s character progression and the expansion of his relationship with Odin and Loki? What did you think to setting more of the film off-world and in a location other than the United States for a change? How are you celebrating Thor’s debut this month, if at all? Whatever you think about Thor: The Dark World, sign up and leave a comment below or drop a line on my social media.

Talking Movies [Thor’s Day]: Thor


In August 1962, Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby introduced readers of Marvel Comics (specifically Journey into Mystery) to Thor Odinson, God of Thunder and mightiest of the Asgardian deities. Through associations with Marvel’s premier super team, the Avengers, and a number of cosmic, mythological adventures, Thor has gone on to become another of Marvel’s most successful and versatile characters, with appearances in cartoons, videogames, and a number of incredibly profitable live-action movies. Being as it’s the first Thursday (or “Thor’s Day”) of the month, what better way to celebrate the God of Thunder than to take a look back at his impressive MCU debut!


Released: 6 May 2011
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Distributor:
Paramount Pictures
Budget:
$150 million
Stars:
Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgård, Kat Dennings, and Anthony Hopkins

The Plot:
The heir to the legendary throne of Asgard, Thor Odinson (Hemsworth) is a brash warrior who longs for glory and is almost unstoppable thanks to his enchanted hammer, Mjölnir. After inciting war between Asgard and the Frost Giants of Jotunheim, he is stripped of his powers and banished to Earth by his father, Odin Allfather (Hopkins), and forced to learn humility to reclaim his lost powers.

The Background:
Thor may have been the fourth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) but a big-screen adaptation of the character was originally pitched by director Sam Raimi to 20th Century Fox back in the nineties; though the project lay dormant for nearly a decade, it gained momentum after the success of X-Men (Singer, 2000). After the character and movie rights changed hands numerous times, writer Mark Protosevich came onboard to draft a script that was part-superhero, part-Biblical allegory for the fledging Marvel Studios as part of producer Kevin Feige’s outrageous plan to introduce a number of Marvel’s greatest heroes in solo movies before uniting them against a common foe. After Matthew Vaugh dropped out of the project, Guillermo Del Toro briefly flirted with the concept before Marvel scored a massive coup by securing Kenneth Branagh as the film’s director. Relative-unknown Chris Hemsworth beat out his own brother and co-star Tom Hiddleston for the title role and Branagh landed a coup of his own by casting renowned actor Anthony Hopkins as Odin, who lent a credibility and gravitas to the production. As the first film in the MCU to introduce cosmic, magical elements, Thor was to be a bridge between science and magic and to help expand the scope of Marvel’s shared universe, while still laying the foundation for their first big team up. Thor released to widespread acclaim; the film made just under $450 million at the box office and catapulted Hemsworth and Hiddleston to superstardom in the process.

The Review:
After Iron Man (Favreau, 2008) proved to be such a phenomenal success, I was cautiously optimistic about the fledgling MCU; when Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) appeared in the film’s post-credits scene and hinted at other “[superheroes] flying around” and name-dropped the “Avenger Initiative”, the excitement for what was to come was palpable. And yet even I was curious as to how the films, which had been so heavily based in technological and science-fiction, would introduce more bizarre, cosmic events and characters such as Thor. When Mjölnir appeared in the post-credits scene of Iron Man 2 (ibid, 2010), the possibilities for Thor’s inclusion in this world suddenly seemed endless; was he known to the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.)? Had he appeared in Marvel’s shared world before? For me, Thor was the true test of whether the MCU would be an actual success because its one thing to present characters augmented by science but it’s quite another to have them rub shoulders with a literal Norse God!

Thor was our introduction to what would become a much larger and more dangerous universe.

Thor was also a first in the MCU for opening with a narration, fittingly enough by Odin himself, that briefly introduces the idea of the Nine Realms and Asgard’s place in the tapestry of the universe; thankfully, this information isn’t made completely redundant when it’s shared with other characters later in the story as Thor notably relates the true nature of the universe in a different way from his more grandiose father. A wise, enigmatic, and stern figure, Odin has high hopes for both of his children regarding their destiny as future kings of Asgard. It’s important to not that, while Asgard is certainly populated by beings we would consider to be superhuman, they are not strictly Gods in the MCU. Instead, they are others of their kind have been worshipped as Gods, had stories told about them as though they were Gods, but are just as mortal and fallible as we are for all their superior strength, technology, and durability. For me, this doesn’t diminish Thor’s appeal or that of the Asgardians; they’re still incredibly long-lived, with Thor himself being thousands of years old and yet still very much a child, and capable of wondrous acts, such as instantaneous travel across the Nine Realms thanks to the Bifröst and summoning thunder and lightning with their incredible weapons.

Be merciful, say “death,” For exile hath more terror in his look, Much more than death. Do not say “banishment.”

Asgard is a realm of great prosperity and peace; for centuries, Odin has led the Asgardians in defending the Nine Realms from chaos and incursions and the film begins with him ready to step down and pass those responsibilities onto Thor, his eldest son. Heralded as a hero, Thor is a battle-hungry warrior who has proved himself in conflict time and again to be brave and strong enough to lead his people into battle, but Odin cautions that a true king must also be wise, fair, and just. Nevertheless, he’s fully prepared to pass the crown to Thor when the ceremony is interrupted by Frost Giants from the desolate ice realm of Jotunheim who attempt to reclaim the mystical Casket of Ancient Winters from Odin’s treasure vault. Angered at the Frost Giants’ blatant disrespect and consumed by his pride, Thor disregards his father’s decree that he is to launch no counterattack and heads into Jotunheim alongside his allies to confront their king, Laufey (Colm Feore), an action that angers his father as it breaks the shaky, but long-standing, truce between the two realms. With Asgard now on the brink of an unnecessary all-out war, father and son rage at each other in a fantastically well-acted scene in which Odin’s heartbreak at Thor’s sheer blind arrogance is all too clear; enraged at Thor’s reckless actions, Odin strips Thor of his powers and armour and banishes him to “Midgard” (what we call Earth) without his hammer in a burst of fury.

Thor finds allies on Earth but is devastated when he finds he can’t lift his enchanted hammer.

Rendered a mortal, Thor is both angered and dismayed at what he sees as his father’s cruel and unjust punishment. Almost immediately, he (quite literally) bumps into a group of scientists in New Mexico: Doctor Jane Foster (Portman), Doctor Erik Selvig (Skarsgård), and spunky intern Darcy Lewis (Dennings). The three are conducting research in the area when Thor is deposited in their laps through what they perceive as a wormhole and become immediately captivated by him for his physicality, lineage, and knowledge of worlds beyond our own. Her curiosity piqued, Jane becomes enamoured by Thor; the mysteries of his being are as attractive to her as a scientist as his allure is to her as a woman and he is equally taken by her inquisitive nature and scientific tenacity. Thor’s arrival also attracts the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D., who dispatch Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) to secure the area, resulting in Jane’s notes and equipment being seized. Eager to retrieve Mjölnir, atone for disrupting Jane’s work, and to prove to the group that he is the God of Thunder, Thor is aided in infiltrating the S.H.I.E.L.D. base but is left devastated when he finds his hammer has been enchanted so that only one who is “worthy” can lift it. Finally realising the folly of his impetuous ways, Thor becomes repentant and is heartbroken to learn from Loki (Hiddleston) that his father has died of a broken heart and that he can never return home, but finds solace in regaling Jane and his newfound friends with stories of Asgard and the Nine Realms.

Loki is a manipulative trickster who conspirers to seize the throne of Asgard for himself.

Of course, Thor has been deceived, as has all of Asgard, but the God of Mischief himself, Loki. Raised alongside Thor and having fought by his side in countless battles, Loki nonetheless finds himself constantly in his brother’s shadow; smaller and slighter than his muscle-bound brother, Loki’s strengths lie in illusions and manipulation rather than brute force and strength. With his silver tongue, he easily encourages Thor’s campaign into Jotunheim with but a few words all while conspiring with Laufey to murder Odin and take what will not be willingly given to him. Craving the throne of Asgard for himself, Loki showed the Frost Giants a way into Asgard that even the all-seeing Heimdall (Idris Elbra) was blind to and, after learning his true heritage as Laufey’s son, he flies into a distraught rage at his adopted father that exacerbates his falling into the “Odinsleep”. Seizing his opportunity, Loki claims the throne and prepares to allow his true father to enact revenge on his fated enemy; after toying with his brother and leaving him distraught with his lies, Loki resolves to tie up loose ends with the Destroyer, a massive mechanical construct that he sends to Earth to kill Thor so that his rule can never be challenged. There’s a reason why Loki is one of the MCU’s most enduring characters, both as a villain and an anti-hero, and that’s largely due to Hiddleston’s masterful performance at capturing the God’s anguish and fury at being denied his rightful time in the sun; there’s a tragedy to Loki that motivates his actions and an intriguing dichotomy as he both loves and hates his brother and father, respects and is envious of them, and his every motivation is geared towards winning the affection and approval of both by any means necessary.

Thor’s allies provide him with the support necessary to be a great warrior and a better man.

Luckily for Thor, his Asgardian allies learn of this plot and arrive on Earth to aid him. The large and ravenous Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), the grim and stoic Hogun (Tadanobu Asano), Fandral the swashbuckling romantic (Josh Dallas) – collectively known as the “Warriors Three” – and Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander), the strong-willed warrior maiden, all willingly follow Thor into even the depths of Jotunheim and have fought many battles alongside him and Loki. At first, they are devastated to learn of Thor’s banishment but pledge their allegiance to their new king out of loyalty to the throne of Asgard. When they learn the truth of Loki’s deception, however, neither they nor Heimdall hesitate to provide Thor with back-up but, fundamentally, these characters are primarily there for comic relief, to flesh out Thor’s world and relationships, and to add a few more superhuman bodies to the battle against the Destroyer. Indeed, the film wisely places much of its focus and runtime on Thor’s burgeoning relationship with Jane and grounding him in the “real world” of the MCU in the process. Not only does this provide some amusing moments (Darcy tasing Thor, his attempt to escape the hospital, and Erik trying to match beers with him are notable highlights), but it also gives Thor the chance to learn that there’s more to life than glory and battle and he grows from a selfish, arrogant warrior into a selfless hero who puts others before himself and is willing to sacrifice his own life to save even those he has only just met.

The Nitty-Gritty:
At its core, Thor is a tale of fathers and sons; fittingly Shakespearean in its grandeur and scope, Thor weaves a story of betrayal and secrets as Odin’s attempts to maintain and foster peace between Asgard and Jotunheim ultimately lead to the destruction of his family. Though a benevolent figure, Odin is harsh and uncompromising; he doesn’t hesitate to subject Thor to a punishment worse than death as recompense for his foolhardy and rash actions. At the same time, though, it’s pretty clear that Odin does this fully expecting Thor to learn humility and to prove himself worthy of Mjölnir once more. Doing away with the dual persona of Doctor Donald Blake was a great move, I feel (and I enjoyed the quick shout-out to Thor’s traditional alter ego), as it really isn’t necessary to tell this story and it’s so much more impactful seeing the muscled, fittingly God-like Thor struggle to adapt to being a mortal.

Thor is forced to learn a lesson in humility to earn back his power and his hammer.

Of course, the downside to this is that Thor isn’t really Thor for the vast majority of Thor’s runtime; we get to see him in full regalia at the beginning of the film, where Asgard is rendered in stunning beauty, and for the climatic finale but, in the middle, he’s stripped down to the basics. However, this is obviously the entire point of the film and it works fantastically as a way to slowly introduce these cosmic and outlandish concepts to the otherwise grounded MCU. Dumped on Earth as a mortal, Thor’s history is related to us and the other human characters by Selvig so we can see how Asgardians were worshipped as Gods here on Earth, and Thor reveals to Jane that magic and science are one and the same in the realm of Asgard and directly relates outlandish concepts like Yggdrasil to Jane’s more scientific understanding of the universe. This grounded approach to the subject also results in two extremely emotional and impactful scenes: the first is Thor’s cry of utter anguish when he finds that he cannot lift Mjölnir and the second is his triumphant return to full power after giving his life. Thanks to us following Thor’s journey from braggart to humility, it’s not hard to share Thor’s adulation at having proved himself worth once more.

I absolutely love Thor‘s visual style and costume design.

One of the things I absolutely love about Thor is the costume design and aesthetic of the film; Asgard is a gorgeous golden city full of wondrous and grandiose architecture and technology and its inhabitants, particularly our main characters, look absolutely fantastic all decked out in their armour and attire. Even now, the sheer spectacle of seeing the likes of Thor, Odin, and Loki in glistening armour remains impressive and I absolutely love how weighty Mjölnir seems and how intricate all of the costumes are. Clearly inspired by Olivier Coipel’s 2007 redesign of the character, Thor looks both familiar and suitably updated for his big-screen debut and I love how the film showcases even ridiculous aspects of his powers, such as spinning Mjölnir around rapidly in order to fly. That’s not to discount Loki, Heimdall, and Odin, who all look stunning as well; garbed in regal armour, Odin appears both wise and glorious and Loki looks both regal and menacing fully garbed in his green and gold attire and sporting a fearsome horned helmet. Add to that the visual of the Destroyer wrecking its way through New Mexico, the dark and dreary ice wasteland of Jotunheim, and the imposing, demonic appearance of the Frost Giants and you have a film that, while not necessarily action-packed like other MCU movies, is visually breath-taking to behold.

Loki is defeated and presumed lost, just like Thor’s road back to Earth and Jane.

Thor also turns things on their head a bit by kind of casting S.H.I.E.L.D. as antagonists; concerned only with isolating Mjölnir and learning everything they can about the hammer’s arrival, both S.H.I.E.L.D. and Coulson appear much shadier and untrustworthy than in their previous appearances. However, this is obviously just a misunderstanding and, by the end of the film, Thor pledges to Coulson that he is a trusted ally and the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent is more than willing to return Jane’s work to her after getting to the bottom of the incident. Restored to full power, and now fully aware of his brother’s deception, Thor returns to Asgard to confront Loki, who has killed Laufey as part of his desperate attempt to win Odin’s approval. Although Loki is far from a physical match for his brother, he’s more than capable of holding his own thanks to his illusions and his prowess with daggers and a staff, and refuses to listen to Thor’s pleas to end his mad aspirations for power. Although bested by his inability to lift Mjölnir, Loki sets the Bifröst to remain open, thus threatening the very existence of Jotunheim and forcing Thor to make another sacrifice, this time of the heart as he willingly destroys the Rainbow Bridge and strands himself on Asgard (…for a short time) to end Loki’s theat. In the end, Thor tries to save his brother from falling into the chaotic abyss beyond Asgard but the mischief-maker ends up willingly falling into it after his pleas for Odin’s approval are rejected. With Loki presumed dead and the doorway to Earth closed, Thor reconciles with his father, having grown into a wiser man over the course of the film, and is moved to learn from Heimdall that Jane is tirelessly searching for signs of his return.

The Summary:
Honestly, Thor may very well be my favourite solo film of the MCU’s first phase; if this film were to be made now, I have no doubt that Marvel Studios wouldn’t have played the concept anywhere near as safe as they did here but it’s thanks to Thor easing the general audience into the fantastical, cosmic aspects of the MCU that we now just take for granted that we now have so many mystical and alien heroes and stories in this interconnected universe. A fantastic marriage of action, humour, and resonating themes of betrayal and humility, Thor is both grandiose and grounded in its scope; add to that some absolutely stunning visuals, costume design, and performances from Hemsworth, Hiddleston, and Hopkins and you have a truly unique superhero film that set the standard for the genre to be so much more than just mindless action. The sheer gravitas that Kenneth Branagh brings to the narrative and these often ludicrous characters is astounding and his vision of the story as this Shakespearean epic was absolutely spot-on, resulting in one of the most beloved and memorable anti-villains in the MCU and the beginning of a far larger story arc for Thor (and his brother) within these films and it all began here, with a harsh lesson in humility for the battle-hungry Thunder God.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Are you a fan of Thor? Where does it sit for you in MCU hierarchy, especially in Marvel’s first phase? What did you think to the performances by the actors and the Shakespearean slant on the narrative? Were you impressed with the film’s visuals and costume design? What did you think to Thor’s lesson in humility and his romance with Jane and what are your opinions on Loki as a villain? How are you celebrating Thor’s debut this month, if at all? I’d love to hear your thoughts on Thor in the comments or on my social media so feel free to drop me a line and be sure to check back in next Thursday for my review of the sequel!

Screen Time: Loki (Season One)

Season One

Air Date: 9 June 2021 to 14 July 2021
Network: Disney+
Stars: Tom Hiddleston, Owen Wilson, Sophia Di Martino, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Wunmi Mosaku, and Jonathan Majors

The Background:
It’s hard to deny that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has evolved from humble beginnings into a nigh-unstoppable multimedia juggernaut. Although Marvel Studios dabbled in television ventures before with the likes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013 to 2020) and their Netflix productions, the launch of Disney+ saw head honcho Kevin Feige produce a number of streaming shows that aimed to maintain and expand the continuity of the MCU going forward. Considering how popular Tom Hiddleston’s rendition of the Norse God of Mischief, Loki Laufeyson, has been since his first appearance in the MCU, it’s perhaps not surprising (or, dare I saw it, inevitable) that he was received his own spin-off series in which he would be revealed to have been causing mischief throughout history. The project was seen as the perfect opportunity to fill in some blanks in the MCU, expand Loki’s character and relationships, and help lay the foundation for Phase Four’s focus on exploring the vast multiverse and branching timelines within the MCU. Originally conceived of as a single-season show, Loki was extended into a second season to better develop the show’s intricate plot points, which explored the nature of Loki’s character and fate and the complexities of time and reality in the MCU. Loki’s debut episode was the most-watched series premiere on Disney+ the week it launched and the show was met with universal praise; critics loved the banter between Loki and Mobius M. Mobius (Wilson), the unique nature of its presentation and narrative, and the show’s focus on expanding the scope of the MCU beyond even the all-powerful Infinity Stones. While a second series is in development, the show’s fallout was established to have significant impact on the MCU’s fourth phase and immediate future thanks to establishing that time has been fractured and literally anything is now possible.

The Plot:
After stealing the Tesseract during the events of Avengers: Endgame (Russo and Russo, 2019), an alternate version of Loki is brought to the mysterious Time Variance Authority (TVA), a bureaucratic organisation that polices time. They give Loki a choice between being erased from existence due to being a “time variant” or helping to fix the timeline and stop a greater threat.

The Review:
It’s actually been pretty fun catching up with the 2021 Marvel Disney+ shows this year; I was a bit late getting to them because my television and service provider don’t carry the app, and it just isn’t the same watching on a smaller screen. Since it’s looking like we won’t get a home media release, this seems like as good a time as any to catch up with Loki since Thor: Love and Thunder (Waititi, 2022) releases tomorrow, though I will say that I wasn’t too excited at the prospect of Loki getting his own spin-off series. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the character, but his death in Avengers: Endgame seemed like a fitting end to his story and continuing one with his character like a decision geared more towards cashing in on Tom Hiddleston’s popularity more than anything else. As it turned out, though, Loki proved to be one of the most essential and important aspects of the MCU’s fourth phase thanks to it delving deep into the multiverse and exploring the scope of the time travel elements introduced in Avengers: Endgame that would become so important throughout subsequent MCU productions.

Loki is apprehended by the TVA and coerced into helping hunt down a dangerous variant of his.

Loki begins by reusing footage from Avengers: Endgame to remind viewers that an alternative version of Loki stole the Tesseract from the Avengers during their time heist, and goes on to show that he teleported to the Gobi Desert; however, his attempt to subjugate a group of Mongolians is interrupted by “Minutemen” from the TVA, who arrest Loki for “crimes against the Sacred Timeline”. Although he is a formidable opponent thanks to his Asgardian durability and powers of illusion and deception, Loki is completely baffled by the TVA, who are able to slow his personal perception of time to a crawl while still allowing him to feel pain in “real time” and “rewind” him whenever he tries to escape thanks to fitting him with a “Time Twister” collar. Confused and insulted at the bureaucratic and humiliating methods of his captors, Loki is nonetheless powerless to oppose them and forced to stand trial for his crimes when he’s brought before Judge Ravonna Renslayer (Mbatha-Raw) in what amounts to a kangaroo court. He’s given no representation, has little understanding of the crimes committed against him, and makes a good point that it was the Avengers who disrupted the timeline rather than him. However, his proposition to hunt them down as recompense for their actions is dismissed since they were “supposed” to travel through time, but he wasn’t meant to escape. Naturally, Loki finds this accusation ludicrous; after all, how was he supposed to know that he wasn’t meant to take advantage of that situation according to his nature? His requests to meet with the Time-Keepers are denied as their “busy” dictating the “proper flow” of the Sacred Timeline, and is found guilty of his crimes and sentenced to be “reset”, much to his outrage. However, he’s spared from this vague fate by the intervention of TVA analyst Mobius M. Mobius, who recruits Loki to help investigate a series of Minutemen killings across the Sacred Timeline perpetrated by a mysterious individual who has also been stealing the “reset charges” the Minutemen use to “reset the timeline” after a divergence. The somewhat jaded but nonetheless approachable Mobius interrogates Loki to get to the root of his selfish ambitions; Loki desires little more than to rule the Nine Realms and believes that all life is beneath him, and that only he has the power and wisdom to maintain order across reality. Mobius is disappointed that Loki wants to squander his vast potential on merely oppressing others and forces him to relive, through a movie projection, his subjectively-recent failure against the Avengers and the mischief he caused as D.B. Cooper. Loki rejects the notion that he’s not in control of his own actions or destiny, which he adamantly believes is to rule, but Mobius questions Loki’s violent and selfish ways as they’ve brought him nothing but failure and, to press this point, shows Loki the life that his mainline counterpart lived: in a harrowing moment, Loki’s devastated to view the footage of his selfishness resulting in his mother’ Frigga’s (Rene Russo) death.

Mobius is a loyal agent of the TVA, which polices the Sacred Timeline, but has a fondness for Loki.

Mobius confronts Loki with the truth: that he wasn’t born to rule, he was born to cause pain and suffering in order for others to be the best versions of themselves. Mobius admires Loki’s mischievousness and adaptability, but is adamant that he can provide much-needed insight into his investigation. The vast, brass-hued offices of the TVA headquarters exists outside of time and is where disruptive “variants” such as Loki are tried for their crimes. The interior merges out-dated technology and aesthetics with advanced time-altering devices and a reality-warping science-fiction exterior. The TVA is all about rules, regulations, paperwork, and bureaucracy; time “passes differently” there, so no one really knows how long they’ve been there, and no magic works there. The purpose of the TVA is explained to a baffled Loki by Miss Minutes (Tara Strong), the organisation’s chirpy and pretentious anthropomorphic cartoon mascot; a long time ago, a devastating multiversal war threatened to destroy all reality itself before the enigmatic Time-Keepers (voiced by Majors) amalgamated the infinitesimal separate timelines into the Sacred Timeline, and stood guard over it to keep time flowing in the proper order. When “variants” deviate from the Sacred Timeline, it creates a “Nexus Event” which could cause full-scale madness as the timeline splits into multiple branches and heads towards another multiversal war. Thus, the Time-Keepers created the TVA to maintain and police the Sacred Timeline, removing variants and setting the timeline back to normal; Loki is not only sceptical but finds the prospect of “three space lizards” deciding the fate of trillions of lives to be an absurdity. He sees the TVA as an illusion, a desperate attempt at controlling “the weak” by inspiring fear in others, but is convinced of their power after finding that the Infinity Stones are powerless there (which is a fun shorthand to show just how the TVA is far beyond anything we’ve seen in the MCU up until this point). Curious, he views more of his counterpart’s life and, over the course of an emotional and distressing sequence, sees all of the character progression the “prime” Loki went through, including grieving for his father, Odin Allfather (Anthony Hopkins), reuniting with his brother, Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth), and ultimately perishing at the hands of Thanos (Josh Brolin) to protect his brother and his fellow Asgardians. Having witnessed first-hand the potential for heroism and honour within him, Loki admits to Mobius that he doesn’t enjoy killing or hurting others; it’s just part of his own illusion to assert control of himself and others.

Hunter B-15 and Ravonna distrust Loki and question Mobius’ fascination with him even after learning the truth.

Since he can’t return to the timeline, Loki is intrigued to learn that Mobius’s target is another Loki variant who has been specifically targeting Minutemen, and he agrees to assist in the hopes of gaining an audience with the Time-Keepers. Neither Ravonna Renslayer or Hunter B-15 (Mosaku) approve of Loki’s involvement, seeing him as both a liability and an untrustworthy, insubordinate backstabber. Mobius, however, fully believes that Loki can provide unique insight into his counterpart’s thinking and methods and that anyone, even a Loki, is capable of change, despite this being directly against the Time-Keepers’ design. Ravonna is the only one in the TVA depicted as having met and communicated with the Time-Keepers, who are eventually revealed to be wizened, amphibious alien creatures who sit in a huge, foreboding stone chamber beneath the TVA and lord their presence and power by positioning themselves above all others. Ravonna is absolutely loyal to the Time-Keepers’ vision for stability and order; she enforces their will without question and, even when their true nature is revealed and she’s fully aware that she and everyone in the TVA (to say nothing of everyone ever) have been deceived and manipulated. She has a particular vendetta against Loki, whose variants have a reputation as troublemakers and has personally seen to it that many different versions of him have been “pruned” for violating the Time-Keepers’ laws. She has a close relationship with Mobius, one based on a shared belief in the TVA and on mutual respect; while he’s never met the Time-Keepers and is a little off put that she keeps trophies of his investigations in her office, it’s clear that they have a lot of faith in each other’s abilities, and she thus questions Mobius’s trust in Loki and the two even end up set against each other by the finale. After Ravonna literally stabs him in the back since she maintains that the TVA can’t have been for nothing, regardless of the truth, Mobius tries to appeal to her morals in an attempt to rebuild the TVA into something better to avoid stripping people of their free will, but she refuses and heads out to find her own purpose, clearly hurt that he threw away their friendship and mission in favour of Loki.

Sylvie is obsessed with bringing down the TVA and confronting whomever is behind ruining her life.

Still, Ravonna remains a vindictive, bureaucratic administrator; she had no qualms about arresting a female variant of Loki for “crimes against the Sacred Timeline” when she was just a little girl (Cailey Fleming) and guilty of little more than existing and playing with her toys. Although terrified, she swiped Ravonna’s TemPad and fled into the timestream, and Ravonna has been pursuing her ever since. Everywhere the variant went caused a Nexus Event as her timeline was erased and she wasn’t supposed to exist, so she found sanctuary at the ends of worlds and civilisations and, over time, grew to resent and hate the TVA for taking everything away from her. Renouncing the name Loki, she grew up to become Sylvie (Di Martino) and used the TVA’s own technology to hunt down their Minutemen and swipe their reset charges with the express purpose of “bombing” the Sacred Timeline and throwing the TVA into chaos. Unlike Loki, who relies on his daggers and illusions to combat and deceive others, Sylvie is adept at enchantment; through physical contact, she draws upon her victim’s memories to enthrall them with lifelike illusions. This power has the additional impact of revealing that Minutemen like Hunter B-15 and Hunter C-20 (Sasha Lane) (and, in fact, everyone at the TVA) are all variants who were plucked from their lives and turned into the Time-Keepers’ puppets. Although they are as condescending, narcissistic, and deceptive as each other, Sylvie is very different from her male counterpart; she’s more direct and brutal, for one thing, has a greater knowledge of the TVA and time travel, for another, and has a very different history thanks to Ravonna’s meddling. Not only was she aware of her true heritage from an early age, but she spent the majority of her life on the run from the TVA and thus wasn’t trained in magic by Frigga. Instead, she taught herself and, as a result, her powers and experiences are very different from Loki’s; like him, she is alone and finds it difficult to trust others, preferring to use and cast them aside as a means to an end, but she’s also become paranoid and self-reliant after a lifetime of running. Her goal is to infiltrate the TVA, tear it down from the inside out, and confront the Time-Keepers directly; a goal she succeeds at, only to learn that the Time-Keepers are merely mechanical constructs and part of a greater deception. Thus, she sets out to find the puppet master behind the Time-Keepers and is forced into an alliance with Loki to reach her goals.

In the ultimate narcissistic move, Loki falls for “himself” and throws the multiverse into chaos as a result.

Mobius knew that Loki wouldn’t be able to resist proving himself the superior of the two, but even he is astounded to discover that Loki has fallen for his female counterpart; although they are antagonistic with each other and constantly playing a game of one-upmanship against each other, especially in the early going, Loki and Sylvie are forced to rely on one another to survive. When trapped on Lamentis-1 and facing their imminent death, Loki delivers a rousing speech painting Sylvie as a survivor who was able to slip through the TVA’s fingers and almost single-handedly destroy their entire organisation and, when they hold hands and take solace in each other’s company, it causes a Nexus Event greater than anything the TVA have seen before. After being apprehended and subjected to a time loop where Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) repeatedly beats and berates him, Loki lies to Mobius in order to protect Sylvie and is visibly hurt when his former friend lies about her demise and relieved to learn that she’s still alive. Sylvie is furious when she learns that the Time-Keepers are mere puppets, and equally devastated when Ravonna appears to erase Loki from existence right before her eyes just as he was about to admit his true feelings to her. Since pruned timelines and variants are impossible to completely destroy or reset, they’re transported to the “Void”, a post-apocalyptic wasteland filled with relics from deleted timelines (it even includes Thanos’ helicopter!) and home to Alioth, a massive cloud-like creature that hunts and consumes all life. When Sylvie learns of this, she transports herself there specifically to reunite with Loki and to push past the Void and to the man behind the TVA; this involves a significant risk as Sylvie proposes enchanting the monstrous Alioth. As this venture could cost them their lives, Loki and Sylvie share an intimate moment beforehand, one made more awkward by their inability to properly express, trust, or connect with others; Loki promises that, despite this chequered past, he has no intentions to betray her even if he gained his coveted throne and they promise to figure out where they go next once they’ve achieved their goal.

The Void is home to the monstrous Alioth and a whole slew of Loki variants.

Loki takes the concept of multiple timelines and really runs with it; in the MCU, divergent timelines are created due to time travel or going against the Sacred Timeline, and this can lead to completely new universes and new variations on characters and worlds forming. The TVA is made up of these variants, who have no memory of their previous lives, and is built on a series of rules that dictate how the timestream works: Minutemen can’t just travel to before an incident occurred since Nexus Events disrupt the time flow and can only be pruned in real time, and variants like Sylvie can effectively avoid detection by hiding out at the worst Nexus Events in history, such as cataclysmic events like the destruction of Pompeii. Reset timelines and pruned variants are sent to the Void to be consumed by Alioth, and Loki is stunned to find this hellscape populated by more of his variants: Kid Loki (Jack Veal), “Boastful” Loki (DeObia Oparei), Alligator Loki (Wally), and Richard E. Grant in a 100% comic-accurate costume as “Classic” Loki! The variants encourage Loki to focus on staying alive rather than trying to escape and take him to their underground shelter and share their Nexus Events: Kid Loki killed his version o Thor, Boastful Loki claims to have defeated all of the Avengers and taken the Infinity Stones for himself, Alligator Loki(who the Lokis are able to understand presumably telepathically, though we never hear his thoughts) ate the “wrong neighbour’s cat”, and Classic Loki used his magic to fool Thanos with an illusion and was arrested the moment he tried to leave his a self-imposed exile. Loki is dismayed to see all of his worst attributes on show: Boastful Loki betrays his comrades to President Loki (Hiddleston) and his rag-tag group of variants, who promptly turn on him and cause them to waste their energies in petty squabbles and fighting. Classic and Kid Loki lament their fate to constantly lie and cheat and betray each other, and to be doomed to the Void as the “God of Outcasts” whenever they try to change their nature, but Loki remains determined to kill Alioth and bring down the TVA.

Quite unexpectedly, Loki forges some real friendships and relationships but is constantly judged for his past deeds.

Despite his untrustworthy and deceptive nature, Loki forms a bond with Mobius that quickly develops into an unlikely friendship; a self-confessed fan of Loki’s, he fully believes that there’s more to the God of Mischief than the Sacred Timeline would suggest, and he’s personally hurt when Loki appears to have betrayed him and joined forces with Sylvie, a notorious killer. However, when he learns of Ravonna’s deception and the true nature of the TVA, he and Loki reach an understanding of trust and true friendship, only for Loki to be left devastated when Ravonna seemingly erases Mobius from existence in a scene that has more than a few visual, thematic, and emotional parallels to Loki’s murder of Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). Thankfully for Loki (and the audience), Mobius is merely transported to the Void, where he has an emotional reunion with Loki before sharing a heartfelt hug with his newfound friend and heading back to the TVA to “burn it to the ground”. Loki also finds allies in his Void variants; while they refuse to leave the Void since it’s now their home and find the idea of challenging Alioth laughable, Kid Loki gifts Loki with a blade and Classic Loki, moved by Loki’s plight and ambition, uses all of his powers to distract Alioth with a full-scale recreation of Asgard at the cost of his life. Of course, his greatest and most unpredictable ally is Sylvie; although they are united in their desire to confront the one behind the TVA and in rejecting the idea that they’re not in control of their destinies, Sylvie is absolutely obsessed with getting revenge for her stolen life and refuses to make any compromises. Thus, the two come to blows since Loki has managed to change his true nature but Sylvie is unable to let go of her past. Seeing his intervention as a betrayal, she fights him in the Citadel at the End of Time with all of the multiverse in the balance, but he repeatedly tries to reason with her; he doesn’t want to hurt her, or anyone else, and tries to convince her that the situation is bigger than either of them but she sees it another of his deceptions to achieve his “glorious purpose”. Although Loki believes that he’s gotten through to her and the two share a tender kiss, he’s devastated when she uses the TemPad to send him back to the TVA and has her revenge on the one responsible for her pain.

Unable to let go of her pain, Sylvie kills He Who Remains and seemingly dooms the multiverse to all-out war.

This would be the enigmatic “He Who Remains” (Majors), an eccentric man clearly driven mad by untold aeons of isolation and the pressure of presiding over all of time and space in the Citadel at the End of Time, a surreal cosmic wasteland devoid of life where time has no meaning. There, the Sacred Timeline exists as a perpetual stream of boundless energy, like a concentric ring of water surrounding the ancient, decrepit, cracked citadel. Upon arrival, Loki and Sylvie reject his offer to reinsert them into the Sacred Timeline in a non-disruptive way and allow Loki to reign over all of his universe with the Infinity Gauntlet and give Sylvie the happiness she desires. He Who Remains is said to see all, control all, and be all that is left at the beginning and the end of time; accordingly, he’s easily able to avoid Sylvie’s attempts to kill him using a pre-programmed TemPad since all of life, our decisions, actions, and words, is recorded in volumes of typed up pages, like a movie script, providing him cosmic awareness. Although they’re angered and insulted at the idea of one man dictating the course of their lives, and everyone else’s, he admires their tenacity and adaptability but fully believes that his deceptive methods, and the TVA, were necessary to protect the Sacred Timeline from multiversal war and his far less benevolent variants. He reveals that, long ago, his variants discovered the multiverse and came together in narcissistic and self-congratulatory peace. Soon, some of them saw it as an opportunity to conquer new worlds and all-out war broke out; contrary to the Time-Keeper dogma, He Who Remains explains that he found Alioth (a creature “created from all the tears in reality”), experimented on it, and harnessed its power to consume all of time and space end to the mutiversal war. He then isolated his timeline and set up the TVA to not only keep divergences from arising but also keep his evil variants from creating more explicitly “evil” havoc. He then offers Loki and Sylvie two choices: kill him and risk something worse taking his place or take over as the overseers of the Sacred Timeline to ensure stability. Naturally, Loki and Sylvie are incredulous, but his explanation is simple: he’s tired and far older than his appearance would suggest and desires someone young and eager to take on the burden. Unable to see past that point in the conversation, and with the timelines beginning to diverge, he’s genuinely excited to see what path they choose. Fully aware that, eventually, he will end up back there as always, He Who Remains doesn’t resist when Sylvie kills him, resulting not only in the Sacred Time to rapidly and uncontrollably splintering into an infinitesimal number of branches but Loki finding all memory of him has been erased and a variant of He Who Remains has replaced the Time-Keepers as the overseer of the TVA!

The Summary:   
I was pleasantly surprised by Loki; as mentioned, I had become a little burnt out by the character (even though I initially believed that Avengers: Endgame would end with the revelation that he was still alive and causing mischief in the universe) because of how often he crops up and how popular he is, but Tom Hiddleston absolutely kills it in the role and it’s a joy to see him given more time to shine in this show. Like the other Disney+ shows, Loki’s presentation is absolutely top-notch and on par with that of its silver screen cousins; I initially wasn’t a fan of the multi-font title, but the shifting fonts really sold the idea of there being countless variants of worlds and characters and I absolutely loved the anachronistic, nonsensical presentation of the TVA. Nothing there makes any sense as there’s outdated computers and naïve office workers existing side-by-side with reality-warping technology and futuristic gadgets, all of which makes it very surreal and visually interesting. Even the sight of Loki garbed in a mundane shirt and tie and going through files of paperwork to get a lead on Sylvie ties into the bizarre nature of the show; for all their power, omniscience, and ability, the TVA is still reduced to filing paperwork and going through the motions of bureaucracy as dictated by an unseen corporate overlord. While it was jarring to have “Lamentis” (Herron, 2021) set largely on a train mid-way through the season, this allowed for a fantastic introspective discussion of Loki and Sylvie’s nature, differences, and characters and the show more than made up for it with the spectacle of Lamentis-1’s impending doom, the many visual Easter Eggs to spot scattered around the Void, and the cosmic eccentricity of the Citadel at the End of Time.  

Loki is full of great, and surprisingly emotional, performances from all of its cast.

As mentioned, it’s the performances that really help Loki to shine; although Hiddleston is playing a different, far less humbled and heroic version of Loki (this Loki was literally leading an alien invasion of New York City and causing untold death and destruction for his own ends mere moments before he was arrested), the implication is explicitly made that Loki has always been this misguided and tortured character. His issues go far beyond being overlooked in favour of his brother or undervalued because of his true nature as a Frost Giant and instead tie into the show’s overall themes regarding destiny. Loki believes it is his right to rule, to subjugate others to his will, but admits that he has no real desire to hurt or kill others; it’s simply part of the nature and the illusion of being in control he is projecting. His relationship with Sylvie and the other variants helps him to see the ugly side of his true nature almost as much as the noble end to his mainline counterpart and he very quickly grows beyond his own selfish desires. However, despite his growth as a character, he’s continuously judged because of his past misdeeds and his reputation as a trickster; even those closest to him, such as Mobius, Sylvie, and the other Lokis, have difficulty trusting that he’s not just playing some larger endgame to seize power for himself and, in the end, he has to prove it by physically opposing the one person he’s grown to care about (who is, ironically, “himself”). I was also surprised to find that Owen Wilson was a standout addition to the cast; I’m no fan of his but he excelled in his role, projecting a friendly and affable demeanour while also being somewhat conflicted. He truly believes in the TVA’s mission but also believes in free will and people’s capacity for change; little things like his desire for a jet ski and his loyalty to Loki above even the TVA help to make him an enjoyable character and I really liked the rapport between him and Loki.

Loki’s experiences see him change from a selfish trickster to fighting to ensure the stability of the multiverse.

Mobius and the other variants help to tie into another of the show’s themes, that of destiny versus free will. Even Classic Loki finds it difficult to believe that a Loki could ever be more than a conniving, backstabbing traitor, and Mobius is driven to reveal the truth of the TVA to Hunter B-15 and all of the Minutemen simply because he believes it’s not their right to take free will away from anyone, regardless of the will of the Sacred Timeline. Loki actively and adamantly resists the notion that he’s not in control of his actions; he recognises power, for sure, but not that he’s some mere puppet, even when the truth is staring him in the face. However, his desire to be free from the TVA’s machinations become secondary to the fate of all reality when he learns that killing He Who Remains will result in rampant timelines and the coming of an even worse, far less reasonable threat. He battles Sylvie not because he desires to be lord of all space and time but because he feels it’s their responsibility to keep the timeline safe and that they can be far more benevolent overseers of the Sacred Timeline. When the first trailers for Loki came out, I was concerned that it was going to be a throwaway show depicting Loki popping up throughout time to cause mischief but, instead, Loki greatly expands upon the idea of time travel in the MCU, showing that this rather mundane-looking organisation routinely prunes and maintains the Sacred Timeline but also opening up the possibility of different actors playing different versions of these characters. This not only gave us the great Richard E. Grant as a comic-accurate Loki but also opens the door for potentially limitless stories to be told now that the multiverse has been broken as a result of Sylvie’s actions.

Despite having grown close, Loki is unable to keep Sylvie from splintering the timeline into infinite paths.

Sylvie presented a unique opportunity for Loki to see himself in a new light and to discover new things about himself; primarily, how alone he’s been and his capacity for love. The romance between the two is volatile and chaotic, but it’s what separates him (both of them) from all their other variants. It’s something that simply shouldn’t be, and gives them the power to overcome Alioth and, effectively, confront “God” face-to-face. However, Sylvie has spent too much time alone and her nature is to be distrustful of everyone, even “herself”, whereas Loki undergoes significant character growth to form a true friendship with Mobius and to actually care about the fate of all reality. He’s aghast when he learns that Mobius and the others are variants who’ve lost their worlds and lives and his desire to expose the TVA is motivated as much by his own rejection of their dogma as it is his wish to open their eyes to the truth. While the other Lokis are content to live out their lives in the Void, he has something worth fighting for: his friends and, more importantly, Sylvie. When they come to blows over He Who Remains, he constantly tries to talk sense into her, which shows just how far he’s come, and is heartbroken when she sends him back to the TVA and seals the fate of the multiverse. His first thought isn’t for himself but to warn Mobius of He Who Remains’ malevolent variants, only to discover that his friend has no memory of him and that he’s too late: a variant of He Who Remains has conquered the TVA and Loki may be the only one aware of what’s happened to the multiverse as a result of Sylvie being unable to see the bigger picture. This ends the show with Loki in a unique situation; before, everyone judged him as a deceptive trickster but, now, people will have no reason to trust him because they have no idea who he is!

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Were you a fan of Loki? What did you think when the show was first announced? Did you enjoy seeing Tom Hiddleston take centre stage and what did you think to Loki’s character arc throughout this first season? Which of Loki’s variants was your favourite and what did you think to Sylvie and the romance between her and Loki? Were you surprised by the reveal of He Who Remains and what do you think will happen now that the Sacred Timeline has been disrupted? Are there any of the Loki variants you hope to see in the future? Feel free to sign up to drop your thoughts on Loki below, or leave a comment on my social media, and be sure pop back next Thursday (and next month) for more Asgardian content.

Screen Time [Multiverse Madness]: What If…? (Season One)


In September 1961, DC Comics published “Flash of Two Worlds” (Fox, et al), a landmark story that brought together two generations of the Flash: the Golden Age Jay Garrick and the Silver Age Barry Allen thanks to the concept of the multiverse, an infinite number of parallel universes that allowed any and all stories and characters to co-exist and interact. Marvel Comics would also adopt this concept and, to celebrate the release of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Raimi, 2022) this month, I’ve been both celebrating the Master of the Mystic Arts and exploring the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) equivalent of the multiverse every Sunday of May.


Air Date: 11 August 2021 to 6 October 2021
Network: Disney+
Stars: Hayley Atwell, Chadwick Boseman, Samuel L. Jackson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Ruffalo, Michael B. Jordan, Chris Hemsworth, Ross Marquand, and Jeffrey Wright

The Background:
As a big comic book fan, it’s been absolutely amazing seeing the MCU become a multimedia juggernaut and some of Marvel Comics’ most beloved characters and concepts come to life on screen. Although Marvel Studios dabbled in television ventures with the likes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013 to 2020) and their Netflix shows, they really doubled down on TV productions for the MCU’s fourth phase to produce content for their parent company’s streaming service, Disney+. With MCU head honcho Kevin Feige behind them, the Disney+ shows aimed to maintain and expand the ongoing continuity of the MCU, but I don’t think anyone could have predicted that Marvel Studios would delve so deeply into the multiverse that we’d seen an adaptation of What If…? What If…? began life as a semi-consistent series of hypothetical, often light-hearted (or downright dark), stories that presented Marvel heroes and storylines with subtle (or major) changes. The Disney+ show followed this format and recontextualised the premise as an animated anthology series that would explore what the MCU would be like if characters or events had unfolded differently. The show’s animation was headed by Stephan Franck and sported a cel-shaded design that emphasised hyper-realism; as the MCU was officially exploring the concept of the multiverse, episodes could be part of the franchise’s overall canon and many recognisable faces, names, and voices returned to put a new spin on their iconic roles; however, although voice recording was able to continue remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, this production sadly marked the final performance of the late Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa/Black Panther. What If…? was received extremely well and the series was praised as a love-letter to the fans; despite some reservations about the format and presentation, reviews were primarily positive and spin-offs were quickly announced as either being in production or on the cards. Crucially, the multiversal scope of the series would be revisited in the live-action MCU films and characters and concepts from the show even seem set to cross over into the main MCU canon going forward.

The Plot:
From beyond the multiverse, the cosmic being known as Uatu the Watcher (Wright) observes as the events of the MCU unfold differently, resulting in Peggy Carter (Atwell) becoming Captain Carter, Doctor Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) becoming a force for evil, a zombie infection running rampant, and T’Challa (Boseman) becoming Star-Lord. However, when a version of Ultron (Marquand) acquires the Infinity Stones and threatens the entire multiverse, the Watcher must break his oath of non-interference to assemble a heroic force capable of fending off this threat.

The Review:
Because of the nature of the series, I think it’d be much better to look at each individual episode, what they do and how they work by themselves, and then talk about some overall themes and give my opinion on the entire concept down in the summary. The first season of What If…? is a nine-episode series of animated adventures that examine familiar characters and events in the MCU but change things about in subtle, or major, ways to create entirely new stories as part of the MCU multiverse. These alternate realities are observed by the enigmatic Watcher, a cosmic being bound only to observe and never directly interfere, and who acts as the narrator of the show. The Watcher’s opening narration explains the basics of the multiverse; as we were told in Avengers: Endgame (Russo and Russo, 2019), time and reality in the MCU is not a single, linear, fixed path. Instead, multiple timelines and alternate universes exist, with the deviations occurring from different decisions being made at key moments in time, however big or small. In this regard, time is less like a line and more like a river, with an infinite number of paths trailing off all over the place, and the Watcher acts as our impassive guide to this vast multiverse. The Watcher also serves as our narrator, quickly catching us up on the events preceding the episode and explaining when, where, and how each divergent timeline was created; however, he has taken a solemn vow to never interfere in the events he witnesses, no matter how gruesome or extreme they are.

Peggy takes Steve’s place and is forced to make the ultimate sacrifice to stop Hydra’s interdimensional beast.

The series kicks off with “What If…Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?” (Andrews, 2021), essentially a retelling of Captain America: The First Avenger (Johnston, 2011). Unlike in the original timeline, Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR) Agent Peggy Carter chooses to stay and watch on the ground as skinny, ill-bodied Private Steve Rogers (Josh Keaton) prepares to become a super soldier. However, when the Nazi sleeper agent attacks the experiment this time around, Peggy manages to keep him from escaping with a sample of the serum but Steve is wounded, so Peggy ignores the orders of her commanding officer, John Flynn (Bradley Whitford), and voluntarily becomes enhanced to the peak of human physical conditioning before the experiment is lost forever. Promoted to head of the SSR, Flynn is outraged at the result; disgusted that the super soldier serum was wasted on a woman, he refuses to allow Peggy to actively participate in the war, much less on the front line, out of sheer prejudice, much to her chagrin and fury. As before, Hydra figurehead Johann Schmidt/The Red Skull (Marquand) seeks to usurp Adolf Hitler and claim victory for himself with the mysterious and all-powerful Tesseract. Flynn, however, is unimpressed by the threat and unwilling to risk even one man, let alone an entire platoon, on recovering the cube; luckily, inventor Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) believes so strongly in the Tesseract’s threat that he furnishes Peggy with a striking Union Jack-style costume and a familiar Vibranium shield so that she can single-handedly recover the Tesseract from Schmidt’s Hydra colleague, Doctor Arnim Zola (Toby Jones), decimating an entire convoy of Hydra’s soldiers with efficiency and glee and earning herself an official promotion to “Captain Carter”. Although he lost his best shot at fighting alongside his friend, Sergeant James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Steve is fully supportive of Peggy’s newfound strength and abilities and only too glad to pilot Stark’s Tesseract-powered “Hydra Stomper” armour. However, following an action-packed montage, Steve is apparently lost during a familiar assault on an armoured train; though grief-stricken, Peggy forces information out of Zola and leads an all-out assault against the Red Skull’s fortress, where they find Steve alive but are too late to stop the Red Skull from opening a dimensional rift with the Tesseract. The tentacles of a gigantic, interdimensional, Lovecraftian creature breach the portal, killing Schmidt and threatening all life on Earth; Peggy and Steve fend off the beast as Stark tries to shut down the portal, but Captain Carter is forced to sacrifice herself to the unknown by physically forcing the creature through the rift. The story then skips ahead to find the Tesseract being reactivated, spitting Peggy and the remains of the beast’s tentacles out into a Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.) facility where she meets Director Nick Fury (Jackson) and Agent Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and learns the bittersweet news that the Allied Forces won the war but she is now seventy years in the future, and thus forever cut off from her friends and loved ones.

T’Challa is a galaxy-renowned force for good who has a positive influence on even the Mad Titan himself!

While the first episode arguably played things a little safe, we really see the potential of a What If…? series with the second episode, “What If…T’Challa Became a Star-Lord?” (Andrews, 2021), which wildly deviates from the story of Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014). Young T’Challa (Maddix Robinson) longed to explore beyond Wakanda but was shielded from the chaotic outside world by his beloved and overprotective father, T’Chaka (John Kani), only to be abducted due to a mistake by Yondu Udonta’s (Michael Rooker) subordinates. Surprisingly, he was excited at embarking on adventures throughout the cosmos with the Ravagers and, while T’Challa doesn’t possess the Black Panther’s near-superhuman abilities, he sports all of Peter Quill’s (Brian T. Delaney) gadgets in addition to his Wakandan fighting prowess. His greatest assets, however, are his charisma, diplomacy, and reputation as a Robin Hood-type figure. Indeed, T’Challa is far more competent, notorious, and respected than his mainstream MCU counterpart; not only does Korath the Pursuer (Djimon Hounsou) know who he is, he views sparring with Star-Lord as the greatest honour and willingly joins his crew. T’Challa’s positive influence means the Ravagers put their skills towards helping others rather than for personal reward, thus sparing Drax the Destroyer’s (Fred Tatasciore) family and even convincing Thanos (Josh Brolin) that his destructive aspirations weren’t the answer to the galaxy’s problems! Touched by T’Challa’s mission to save others after the presumed destruction of Wakanda, Nebula (Karen Gillan), now a far less violent and far more beautiful woman, proposes a heist to steal the Embers of Genesis, a cosmic dust capable of ending galactic hunger, from Taneleer Tivan/The Collector (Benicio del Toro). While sneaking around the Collector’s museum, T’Challa finds a Wakandan spacecraft and is angered to find that Yondu lied to him about Wakanda in order to help him realise his true calling as an adventurer. The two reconcile in the best way possible: by teaming up to fight with this much more formidable version of the Collector, who is enhanced by weapons, technology, and items retrieved from some of the MCU’s most powerful and prominent individuals and races. Thanks to their teamwork, the Collector is disarmed and left at the mercy of his captives, and T’Challa forgives Yondu’s deception before reuniting with T’Chaka and his people in Wakanda, bringing his two families together in celebration over their mutual friend. Across the world, however, a greater threat awaits when Ego (Kurt Russell) comes looking for his son, here a mere Dairy Queen employee.

Pym is revealed as the culprit but, after taking him into custody, Loki usurps his threat and conquers the world!

“What If…the World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?” (Andrews, 2021) takes us back to the middle of Iron Man 2 (Favreau, 2010) and Nick Fury and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow’s (Lake Bell) latest effort to recruit Tony Stark/Iron Man (Mick Wingert) to the Avengers Initiative. Fury is horrified when his attempt to stave off Stark’s palladium poisoning apparently has the unexpected side effect of killing the would-be Avenger; this tragedy is quickly followed by Thor Odinson (Hemsworth) being accidentally killed by Hawkeye’s errant arrow and the archer later being found dead while locked in an impenetrable S.H.I.E.L.D. cell. Fury suspects that his recruits are being targeted by an unknown party, and charges Natasha to escape Brock Rumlow’s (Frank Grillo) custody and make contact with Doctor Betty Ross (Stephanie Panisello). Though initially distrustful of Natasha due to her association with those who’ve hounded her friend, colleague, and former lover, Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Ruffalo), Betty is convinced to take a closer look at the injector used on Stark and theorises that a microscopic projectile fired from the needle killed the superhero. Hungry for blood after learning of Hawkeye’s death, Natasha agrees with Fury’s theory that their killer is targeting Avengers recruits; unfortunately, General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (Mike McGill) arrives looking to arrest Banner and sparks his transformation into the rampaging Hulk as in his solo film. However, the seemingly immortal Green Goliath also falls victim to the mysterious killer when he violently explodes from the inside out, and things escalate even further when Loki Laufeyson (Tom Hiddleston) arrives looking to avenge Thor’s death. Fury manages to buy himself one day to solve Thor’s murder on the promise of delivering the culprit to the God of Mischief and, when Natasha finds that a dead agent’s credentials were used to access S.H.I.E.L.D.’s database, she’s brutally beaten to death by an unseen assailant, and only able to tell Fury that all the deaths are relating to “hope”. This, however, is enough to piece together the perpetrator’s true identity: Doctor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who targeted Fury’s recruits in the guise of the size-altering Yellowjacket after his daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), died while working for S.H.I.E.L.D. A broken, bitter, twisted old man, Pym blames Fury and has become a deranged killer due to his grief and anger. However, Pym and his tech are outmatched when Fury is revealed to be Loki in disguise but, after Pym is defeated and taken into Asgardian custody, Loki double-crosses Fury and declares himself ruler of humanity. To combat this threat, Fury gets back to work assembling his super team, starting with calling Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Alexandra Daniels) back to Earth and uncovering Captain America’s frozen body.

A grief-stricken Dr. Strange finds he cannot save his love no matter how many times he tries to alter the past.

The show shifts over to the world of magic and mysticism for “What If…Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?” (Andrews, 2021), which presents a world where Dr. Strange and Doctor Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) are still a couple in a loving relationship. Fully supportive and enamoured by Dr. Strange, Christine encourages his ego and his skills as a surgeon, but sadly her influence doesn’t extend to his driving skills. However, in this world, Dr. Strange is relatively unharmed from the car crash that took his MCU counterpart’s hands but is left grief-stricken when Christine dies as a result of his negligence. In a bid to fill the void in his life, and his heart, Strange travels the world and, once again, ends up studying the mystic arts at Kamar-Taj under the tutelage of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). Like his mainstream counterpart, Strange becomes the Master of the Mystic Arts after the Ancient One’s death and successfully bargains with the Dread Dormammu (Cumberbatch), but remains preoccupied with the mistakes of his past and the promises offered by the Eye of Agamotto’s time-bending abilities. Haunted by memories of happier times with Christine, Strange ignores the warnings of the Ancient One and his manservant, Wong (Benedict Wong), and uses the Eye to place his current consciousness into the body of his past self. Unfortunately, the tragedy still occurs no matter how safely he drives, which route he takes, or even his refusal to go to the award speech as Christine dies again and again whether he’s there or what he does. Dr. Strange’s anguish at being unable to save Christine isn’t helped by the Ancient One’s explanation that her death cannot be averted as it would create a potentially universe-destroying time paradox (if Strange prevents her death, he won’t become a sorcerer and be able to go back and save her).

Strange Supreme saves Christine, but only briefly and at the cost everything that ever is or was in his reality.

Refusing to believe that Christine is fated to die, and angered at the Ancient One’s refusal to help him break this “absolute point” in time, Dr. Strange uses the Eye to flee from the confrontation and consult the ancient tomes of the Lost Library of Cagliostro. There, he meets O’Bengh (Ike Amadi) and learns that one can potentially gain the power he requires by absorbing magical beings; thus, Dr. Strange conjures a variety of demonic, Lovecraftian, and magical creatures (including gnomes, familiars, dragons, and even the octopus-like creature Captain Carter fought). When they won’t willingly share their power, he resolves to forcibly take it, and quickly becomes obsessed with gaining more and more magical power from these entities over the course of centauries to become “Strange Supreme”. As he does so, he grows increasingly monstrous and takes on more of their attributes, but is shocked to learn from O’Bengh that he’ll never be powerful enough to achieve his dreams due to the Ancient One using magic from the Dark Dimension to split him in two and create two concurrent timelines. His other half, who took Wong’s advice and moved on from Christine’s death, is charged by an echo of the Ancient One to oppose his dark doppelgänger before his ambition erases all of reality. When Strange Supreme’s attempts to coerce his other half into joining his cause are rejected, a magical battle ensues that spans multiple dimensions. Despite Wong’s protective spells and Strange’s efforts to talk down his dark half, Strange Supreme’s centauries of basking in the powers of countless magical beings makes him the superior and he’s ultimately able to absorb his missing half. Finally whole again, Strange Supreme succeeds in undoing Christine’s death but is transformed into a demonic being by the effort this requires; understandably, she is horrified by his nightmarish appearance, and he’s left helpless to stop the time paradox from devouring all of his reality. Desperate to preserve the world, he begs the Watcher for help but he refuses to get involved, despite wishing to punish Strange Supreme’s reckless arrogance, and the once Sorcerer Supreme is left alone, despondent, and remorseful in the tiniest pocket of reality with nothing but his grief and regret for company.

Banner is horrified to find the world, and many of its heroes, infected by a zombie virus.

One popular, recurring storyline in Marvel Comics in recent years has been the Marvel Zombies spin-off (Various, 2005 to present) that tells of a devastating zombie plague overwhelming the Marvel universe (and beyond). A version of this reality is explored in “What If…Zombies?!” (Andrews, 2021), which finds the Hulk crash-landing into the Sanctum Sanctorum as in Avengers: Infinity War (Russo and Russo, 2018) only to find it, and the streets of New York City, deserted. When Iron Man, Dr. Strange, and Wong arrive to take care of Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) and Cull Obsidian (Terry Notary), Banner’s elation soon turns to horror when the three are revealed to be vicious, flesh-eating zombies who tear Thanos’s children to shreds, instantly infecting them in the process, and Banner is only saved from the same fate thanks to the timely intervention of Dr. Strange’s Cloak of Levitation, a swarm of ants commanded by Hope van Dyne/The Wasp, and Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Hudson Thames). Spider-Man’s amusing orientation video shows that the MCU’s zombies largely confirm to the “rules” commonly associated with their kind; they’re decomposing corpses with a voracious hunger who turn others with a single bite and can only be killed by removing the head or destroying the brain. However, they’re not as mindless or shambling as traditional zombies; they’re intelligent enough to co-ordinate their attacks and utilise tech like the Iron Man armour and magic like the Sling Rings. In a change of pace, the Watcher reveals a definite origin for the zombie outbreak by relating how Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) became infected with the virus while stuck in the Quantum Realm; when she bit Hank Pym, he brought the virus back with him and the entire world was quickly overrun once the Avengers were turned.

The survivors narrowly escape Zombie Wanda, completely unaware of a greater threat waiting in Wakanda.

Banner joins up with the few uninfected survivors and learns from Okoye (Danai Gurira) of a possible cure at Camp Lehigh, New Jersey; the group travel to the Grand Central Station, where they’re attacked by zombified versions of Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Hawkeye, and Captain America. Although they lose Harold “Happy” Hogan (Jon Favreau), the group is able to get the train working and fend off the zombies thanks to Okoye and the Wasp. However, the train is attacked by Zombie Cap, who infects Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) and forces Bucky to end his undead existence, retrieving his shield in the process, but Hope is also infected from a small cut she receives after disposing of Sharon. Although Peter tries to remain optimistic that she’ll be cured before she can turn, Hope sacrifices herself to atone for her part in causing the outbreak by carrying the group through a horde of zombies and dropping them off at Camp Lehigh. There, they find the zombies refuse to breach the camp thanks to the presence of the Mind Stone in the Vision’s (Paul Bettany) head; he and the severed head of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) reveal that the Mind Stone’s properties can reverse the zombie virus, and the group is excited to spread the cure throughout the world from Wakanda. However, Banner learns that they’re not the first to respond to the Vision’s beacon, and Bucky is horrified to find that the Vision has been feeding parts of other survivors (including T’Challa) to a zombified version of Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) since she’s proven resistant to the Mind Stone and he’s been unable to kill her due to his love for her. When Wanda breaks free and proves uncontrollable due to her powers and hunger, the Vision rips the Mind Stone out of his head to atone for his actions and the group’s escape is covered by Bucky and the Hulk, who finally emerges from Banner’s psyche and is able to resist the zombie’s bite and hold back Wanda so the others can take off. The one-legged T’Challa, beheaded Lang, and shellshocked Peter console themselves with the knowledge that they’ll be able to save the world once they reach Wakanda, completely unaware that the nation has already succumbed to the infection and is under the rule of a zombified Thanos and his partially-completed Infinity Gauntlet!

Killmonger rescues Stark and becomes his most trusted confidante to kill his way to his birthright.

We then go back to where the MCU all started in “What If…Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark?” (Andrews, 2021), which recreates the opening moments of Iron Man (Favreau, 2008) with one key difference: right as Tony Stark is about to be injured by one of his own missiles, he’s saved by N’Jadaka/Erik Stevens/Killmonger (Jordan), who fends off the Ten Rings soldiers looking to kidnap Stark and thus means that the genius, billionaire philanthropist never learns the humility or courage that led to him becoming Iron Man. Instead, he remains a conceited, arrogant, self-serving glory hound who believes that he needs to build bigger, better weapons to protect America’s interests. To that end, he drafts in Killmonger, who wastes no time in publicly outing Obadiah Stane (Kiff VandenHeuvel) as the man who bankrolled the Ten Rings’ attack on Stark, and Stark is so grateful to his saviour that he quickly promotes Killmonger to his new Chief Operations Officer, alienating Virginia “Pepper” Potts (Beth Hoyt) in the process. Killmonger swiftly becomes Stark’s closest friend and confidante and, together, they create robot drones, the “Liberators”, based on Killmonger’s fandom for anime. Killmonger pushes Stark to use Vibranium as a power source for the Liberators, and Stark sends in Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle) to steal some from Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis). However, the Black Panther attacks the meeting to recover stolen Vibranium, only for Killmonger to reveal his true intentions and kill T’Challa with one of Stark’s weapons. He chastises Rhodey for wearing the uniform of his oppressors and kills him with the Black Panther’s claw to make it seem like they killed each other; thanks to Just A Rather Very Intelligent System (J.A.R.V.I.S.; Bettany), however, Killmonger’s actions are revealed to Stark. Stark tries to avenge his friend’s murder using a Liberator, but Killmonger easily bests the drone and kills Stark with a Dora Milaje spear, which escalates the tensions between the United States and Wakanda into all-out war. General Ross assumes control of Stark’s assets and the Liberators are pushed into mass production; Killmonger then kills Klaue in order to deceive the Wakandans, then seizes control of the Liberators to lead his people in “defeating” the invading army. His victory and battle prowess wins over his uncle, T’Chaka, and earns him the mantle of the Black Panther; however, T’Challa’s astral warnings of Killmonger’s impending defeat are left a distinct possibility not only due to Ross’s obsession with continuing the war but also when Pepper and Shuri (Ozioma Akagha) agree to work together to expose Killmonger’s deception.

This Thor just wants to party, but his good time is spoiled by Captain Marvel and Jane blabbing to Frigga.

“What If…Thor Were an Only Child?” (Andrews, 2021) lightens things up a bit by retelling the events of Thor (Branagh, 2011); in this version of the story, in the absence of a brother to grow up alongside, Thor is little more than a lackadaisical, party-loving frat-boy who, despite still being worthy of Mjölnir, is far more interested in wasting time revelling with his friends than following his mother, Frigga’s (Josette Eales), instructions to behave or becoming a bore like his father, Odin Allfather (Anthony Hopkins). To avoid the all-seeing gaze of Heimdall (Idris Elba), Thor and his drinking buddies head the Midgard, the most backwater, insignificant world in all the Nine Realms, and invite guests from all over to join them in a massive, nonstop party. Tracking the cosmic disturbance and fearful of an alien invasion, Doctor Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) investigates and is both disturbed to find that Thor’s parties are so out of control that they can kill planets and won over by the Thunder God’s otherworldly charm. Jane and her intern, Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), join the party, quickly being swept up in all the intergalactic chaos and merriment on display; Darcy even marries Howard the Duck (Seth Green), and Jane and Thor get matching tattoos, but soon wake up to massive hangovers and the arrival of S.H.I.E.L.D. Acting Director Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) is deeply concerned that Thor is leaving a trail of destruction as he takes his party on the road, and calls in Captain Marvel to assist with the perceived threat. Thor’s reunion with fellow party animal Prince Loki of Jotunheim is interrupted by Captain Marvel’s arrival; Thor brushes off her demands that he leaves, and a fight ensues that sees the two battle all across the globe. Despite Thor’s petulant, childish nature, the two are seemingly equally matched in terms of power and durability, but Carol’s forced to hold back her full power to avoid damaging the world or endangering lives. Since Jane disagrees with attacking or eliminating Thor since she’s so enamoured by him, she uses her tech to contact Heimdall and literally tells on Thor to Frigga. As Hill prepares an all-out nuclear strike against Thor, he’s terrified by Frigga’s impending arrival and begs his guests to help him clean up all evidence of their shenanigans. Despite Thor’s best, most frantic efforts to put right all the anarchy he and his friends had caused, she sees through his deception; however, rather than being mad at Jane for selling him out, he thanks her for teaching him a lesson in humility and asks her out…only for he, and the Watcher, to be stunned by the sudden appearance of an alternate version of Ultron!

This alternate version of Ultron is such a threat to the multiverse that the Watcher is forced to intervene.

This cliff-hanger is explained in the following episode, “What If…Ultron Won?” (Andrews, 2021), which presents a post-apocalyptic world where Black Widow and Hawkeye are the only Avengers left to oppose the all-powerful Ultron. In this world, Hawkeye not only sports his ridiculous mohawk and a mechanical right arm, but Ultron successfully fulfilled its goal to cause an extinction-level event by claiming the Vision’s body as its own, killing Iron Man, Cap, and Thor, and launching a worldwide nuclear attack that decimated humanity. When Thanos arrived looking to retrieve the Mind Stone, Ultron split him in two with one shot and claimed the Infinity Stones for itself, becoming a God-like being capable of laying waste to entire worlds and Realms with its endless supply of drones. Asgard, Ego, Xandar, and countless others all fall before Ultron’s power and even Captain Marvel is unable to oppose it; having eradicated the vast majority of life across the universe and ascended to a higher pane of existence, Ultron not only sees but also hears the Watcher. Although the Watcher previously considered intervening in Dr. Strange’s story, he held true to his vow of non-interference since he deals in a cosmic balance beyond the lives of mere mortals, even ones as powerful as the Master of the Mystic Arts. However, Ultron’s threat is so terrifying even to this cosmic observer that the Watcher is sorely tempted to assist Natasha and Clint in their efforts to coerce Zola’s artificial intelligence into helping them. The Watcher is pleased when their perseverance pays off but, although Zola is able to possess one of Ultron’s drones, he cannot shut down Ultron’s hive mind as Ultron is outside of the known universe, meaning Clint is forced to sacrifice himself so that Natasha and Zola can escape. The Watcher is aghast when Ultron not only does the impossible and breaches his cosmic observatory but is also able to match even the Watcher’s cosmic power. Their battle sees them literally smashing the dimensional barriers into numerous alternate realities and sees Ultron devour a whole universe and force the Watcher to flee. While Ultron prepares to lay waste to the entire multiverse, the Watcher is forced to turn to Strange Supreme for help in opposing Ultron’s threat.

The Guardians of the Multiverse join forces to end Ultron’s threat.

This story, and the entire show, comes to a head in the final episode, “What If…the Watcher Broke His Oath?” (Andrews, 2021), which sees the Watcher recruiting Captain Carter, T’Challa Star-Lord, Killmonger, Party Thor, and a previously unseen version of Gamora (Cynthia McWilliams) to join Strange Supreme as the Guardians of the Multiverse. He enlists each of them right as they’re in the middle of tying up loose ends from their respective episodes and emphasises that every one of them is needed to protect something even bigger than their individual lives or concerns. Captain Carter immediately recognises the gravity of the situation, while Strange Supreme sees this as his chance at true redemption, and, despite the odds, they all tentatively agree to work together to combat Ultron, steal his Soul Stone, and destroy it using Gamora’s “Infinity Crusher” device. While Strange Supreme struggles to contain the dark magics within his body, Gamora is troubled by Killmonger’s obsession with Ultron’s technology, and Thor accidentally attracts Ultron’s attention, but the group is thankfully shielded by Strange Supreme’s protection spell. Following Captain Carter’s lead, the Guardians are able to launch a co-ordinated attack that allows T’Challa to swipe the Soul Stone; when Ultron makes short work of Zombie Wanda and follows the Guardians to its home reality, it gets summarily pummelled by the Guardians’ repeated attacks and Strange Supreme’s ability to counteract both Ultron’s Time Stone and match its enlarged form with his monstrous magic. Although they’re stunned to find the Infinity Crusher ineffectual because it and the Infinity Stones are from different realities, Ultron’s threat is ended when Captain Carter helps Natasha avenge Clint and fire an arrow containing Zola’s consciousness into Ultron’s armour, erasing its sentience once and for all. In the aftermath, Killmonger claims Ultron’s armour and proposes using the Infinity Stones to “fix” their universes; when they refuse, he attempts to destroy them and they’re saved by a Zola-controlled Vision, who tries to take the Infinity Stones for himself. Before they can properly get into a potentially devastating battle over the gems, Strange Supreme freezes them in time and seals them within a pocket dimension, ending their threat once and for all. The Watcher trusts Strange Supreme with watching over the two, and returns everyone to their proper place and time; since Natasha’s world was left lifeless by Ultron, the Watcher sends her to help Nick Fury overthrow Loki, and then alters his vow of impassive observation to a pledge to protect the multiverse when needed.

The Summary:
At first, I wasn’t too sold on What If…?’s animation style; the slick, computerised cel-shaded look has never been a favourite of mine, but I was quickly won over by it due to how closely each character and episode mirrors their live-action counterparts. Everything from the recreation of certain shots, to the musical cues, to the costumes and likenesses perfectly emulates the source material each episode is based on, meaning we get the brown-hued colour scheme of World War Two for Captain Carter, the barrage of bizarre cosmic colours for Star-Lord, and the industrial, high-tech grey of Stark and S.H.I.E.L.D. facilities. Although some notable names from the MCU didn’t return to lend their voices to their iconic characters, What If…? employs the services of some incredibly gifted soundalikes and even goes the extra mile in presenting a version of Bruce Banner that resembles both Edward Norton and Mark Ruffalo, which is fitting considering we encounter this character between his solo film and his first big MCU crossover. Animation also means that What If…? is theoretically able to do absolutely anything it desires, regardless of budget, and is limited only be the imagination of the animators; thus, while things are a little on the safe side with slightly different retelling of Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor, and other MCU films, it’s not long before we’re seeing massive Lovecraftian creatures, a whole host of Marvel heroes interacting in ways we’ve not really seen before, an additional taste of the cosmic madness of the universe (and multiverse), and a wide variety of both horrifying and oddball concepts to really test the waters of what the MCU is capable of going forward.

Captain Carter and T’Challa Star-Lord are just as competent, if not more so, as their MCU counterparts.

I really liked that, despite their reversed roles, Peggy and Steve still have a mutual attraction based on mutual respect and their respective struggles; Peggy faces an uphill battle due to being a woman in a male-orientated world (and war) that constantly weighs her down even after she’s enhanced by the super soldier serum, and of course Steve has been overlooked and undervalued his entire life due to his gaunt frame and sickly nature. While everyone else is either incredulous due to her being a woman or impressed by her fighting prowess because she is a woman, and she must prove her worth through her deeds to win them over, Steve admires the person that she is and her fighting spirit; he’s the only one that doesn’t judge her for her gender and who doesn’t need convincing that she’s the right person for the job and is only too grateful to be an active combatant alongside her in the Hydra Stomper. Peggy is also quite different in the role; like Steve, she attacks it with a sense of duty and honour, but she also takes far more joy in her newfound abilities. There’s a sense that she’s finally able to let loose, that she’s been given the physical gifts to realise her full potential, and she literally dives head-first into making the most of that opportunity. T’Challa’s characterisation as a galaxy-wide force for good is a fitting tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman; unlike Peter Quill, T’Challa is a well-respected and competent space mercenary, and I loved the running gag that he’s somehow able to convince even the most maladjusted individuals to give up their villainous or tyrannical ways simply through presenting a convincing argument. Korath is only too willing to change sides simply out of his worship of Star-Lord, and his crew follow his lead into doing good deeds simply because he was such a positive influence on them. Unfortunately, he’s not able to have the same influence on the Collector, who’s not only blinded by his position in this universe, but also driven by his inherent greed and given a major power boost thanks to his artefacts. However, while threats still remain in this timeline, on the surface it seems to be a far more peaceful and united universe simply thanks to T’Challa’s positive influence on others.

What If…? isn’t afraid to get very dark and show twisted or corrupted versions of these popular characters.

Things take a turn to the dark side once the Avengers (especially Stark) start getting killed off; What If…? is a self-contained show within the larger MCU multiverse, meaning literally anything can happen to anyone, and seeing the franchise’s core six heroes be so brutally murdered really hammers that home. It also gives Hank Pym, someone introduced later into the MCU, a chance to be a more prominent player in this sandbox; seeing him active in the MCU’s first phase is a great way of fleshing out the world in a unique way, especially as he’s become a murdering psychopath. This is a Pym whose neuroses and paranoia have been pushed to breaking point, which deftly showcases just how much of a threat a guy with Pym’s intellect and technology can be to even the most superhuman individuals. Of course, the epitome of dark character turns is the tragic tale of Strange Supreme; it’s absolutely heart-breaking to see Dr. Strange left so desperate and despondent by Christine’s loss that he fell deeper and deeper to the darkness. His frustration and anguish at being unable to change the past see him become obsessed with gaining more and more power, to the point where he is fixated only on being reunited with his love. This makes him blind to all pleas, even those of his uncorrupted counterpart, and it isn’t until all of reality is about to be erased forever that he realises the error of his ways. Sadly, by then, it’s much too late for him to undo anything; Christine once again dies in his arms and everything that ever was is unravelled due to his time paradox; even the Watcher judges his heinous actions, and the once mighty Strange Supreme is left alone and repentant in the tiniest slither of reality. It’s a poignant and gut-wrenching take on the snarky, stubborn, and arrogant Sorcerer Supreme, one that shows just how dangerous a threat he could be if he lost his strong moral compass, and it’s a testament to the show that the character remained a tragic and relatable figure right up until the end rather than simply being a malevolent antagonist.

What If…? showed characters are their grimmest and worst and also at their most carefree.

Easily the darkest tale is the inclusion of zombies; never before has the MCU veered so closely towards traditional horror and I really appreciated the bleak, gory change of pace. It was fantastic seeing the MCU’s most powerful characters reduced to animalistic ghouls, forcing the few survivors to battle their lifelong friends and making painful sacrifices to ensure the safety of others against overwhelming odds. This was also a prime opportunity to show a new side to the Vision; him luring in survivors just to feed his love is a haunting glimpse at the darker side of his cold, calculating logic. We’ve seen such behaviour, this overpowering sense of denial, in zombie films before and, here, it served as a gruesome reminder of just how close to the brink this alternate reality is to total collapse. This continued in Killmonger’s welcome reappearance, with his alternate tale basically showing what could have happened if he had succeeded in his goals of reclaiming his Wakandan birthright; Killmonger was always one of the MCU’s more driven and dangerous antagonists and his episode showed just how truly vindictive and sadistic he really was. He had no qualms about deceiving or using anyone and any resource at his disposal, and even incited an all-out war just so that he could get himself into a position of trust and power, which serves as a stark reminder to just how ruthless a villain he really was. The party-loving version of Thor is the polar opposite; Party Thor cares little for battle or being a king and just wants to enjoy himself. He revels in being the centre of attention and throwing the biggest, most outrageous parties in all the Nine Realms and is lauded amongst his guests as being the wildest party animal around. Thor is a consummate free spirit and a friend to all; alien races, Gods, and recognisable beings from all across the cosmos cheer his name and share in his revelry, making for some of the most light-hearted and amusing moments in the entire series as Surtur (Clancy Brown) tries it on with Lady Liberty and Frost Giants deface Mount Rushmore. This episode also leads to one of the best fist fights in the series as Thor and Captain Marvel trade blows, but he delights in the fight as much as he does in enjoying himself with mead, and only the disapproval of his mother finally shakes Thor from his apathy and pushes him to make amends for his reckless merriment.

The Watcher is forced to take action for the first time in his long life in order to defend the multiverse.

Of course, things come to a suitably dramatic and action-packed conclusion with the final two episodes, which finally force the Watcher into action. Up until then, the watcher existed outside of the normal universe, powerful and cosmic enough to remain completely undetected, but Ultron’s sentience and force grows to such an extent that it’s able to sense the Watcher, breach his observatory, and begin a maniacal campaign to conquer and destroy the entire multiverse. Untold aeons of quietly observing the multiverse haven’t exactly dampened the Watcher’s power cosmic, but in the face to Ultron’s might, enhanced by the six Infinity Stones, the enigmatic onlooker is forced to do the one thing he has never done and ask for help, calling upon the characters he has been observing and asking them to intervene where he cannot. Seeing these wildly different versions of these characters interacting was a blast; they arguably got on the same page much faster than the regular Avengers (which is no doubt due to the short length of the episodes) and were able to launch a united attack on Ultron as a result. Indeed, Ultron kind of got a bit shafted in the last episode; it went from going toe-to-toe with a cosmic being to getting battered about by a handful of mortals and Godlings simply because the Guardians were able to keep the pressure on and keep Ultron from activating the Infinity Stones. Realistically, Ultron could’ve just “snapped” them all away, but then that wouldn’t be anywhere near as exhilarating for a final battle now, would it? Seeing Killmonger claim the gems and just the idea of what his twisted imagination would use them for was a cool moment, as was the idea that he might someday escape his trap to threaten the multiverse again, and just about the only issue I had with that last episode was the random inclusion of a Gamora when they could’ve maybe employed Zombie Wanda instead. Overall, though, I thoroughly enjoyed this series; the presentation, the humour, the fun twists on established characters, and the bizarre stories were all really fun and engaging and I can’t wait to see more from this as the MCU continues to expand into more and ore obscure concepts.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Did you enjoy What If…?? Which episode was your favourite, and which of the alternate characters did you like the most? Did you enjoy the Watcher’s inclusion and characterisation? What did you think to all the cameos and the animation style? Did you enjoy seeing Ultron as an all-powerful force and what did you think to its battle with the Watcher? Were you also disappointed that Gamora didn’t get her own episode? Are you a fan of the What If…? comics and, if so, which was your favourite? What other hypothetical scenarios would you like to see explored in a future season? Whatever your thoughts on What If…?, sign up to drop a comment down below and check back next Sunday for the final instalment of Multiverse Madness.

Talking Movies: What If…? Thanos and the Masters of Evil

Talking Movies

In Avengers: Infinity War (Russo and Russo, 2018) the Mad Titan, Thanos (Josh Brolin), finally made a significant appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). When the idea of a two-film saga based on the Infinity Gauntlet comic book (Starlin, et al, 1991) was first announced, I, like many others, had many theories about what was going to happen, who was going to live and die, and how everything was )going to go down. For example, before Thor: Ragnarok (Waititi, 2017), I was certain that Thanos’ big entrance was going to immediately establish his threat by hanging him storm into Asgard kill Odin Allfather (Anthony Hopkins), and claim the Tesseract (and, obviously, the Space Stone it help). After all, how better to establish this big bad villain than by having him kill a God?

Thanos’ Black Order made their MCU debut in Avengers: Infinity War.

Instead, of course, Thanos wrecked Thor Odinson’s (Chris Hemsworth) ship and slaughtered half of the Asgardians onboard. Still an impressive feat, to be sure, but one that focused more on Thanos’ grandeur and pretentious philosophy rather than his actual physical strength thanks to the bulk of the work being undertaken by his underlings, the “Children of Thanos”. Headed by Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), Cull Obsidian (Terry Notary), Proxima Midnight (Carrie Coon/Monique Ganderton), and Corvus Glaive (Michael James Shaw), the Children of Thanos didn’t actually appear in The Infinity Gauntlet and are, instead, relatively recent additions to Thanos’ ranks who first appeared (as the “Black Order”) in Infinity (Hickman, et al, 2013). In the film, we don’t really learn much about these guys at all except that they enforce Thanos’ will with unquestioning loyalty and that he trusts them to help him gather the remaining Infinity Stones and, while they certainly look visually interesting, they’re mostly disposable bad guys for the Avengers to fight in place of Thanos.

While Abomination is a good choice, I definitely think Ronan could’ve taken Cull’s place.

Now, I’ve never read Infinity; I have no emotional attachment to the Black Order or any of the characters and, as a result, they were merely nothing more than henchman to me and I only really recall one of them being referred to be name (“I take it the Maw is dead?”) While I enjoyed their inclusion in the film, I can’t help but feel like they could have been dropped and supplanted with some other, more recognisable MCU villains had some other films and events happened just a little differently. For example, take Cull Obsidian; he’s Thanos’ muscle who basically does nothing and is largely inconsequential. What if, instead of killing Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) in Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014), Ronan had been soundly defeated and humbled and, having seen the extent of Thanos’ power (he did destroy Xandar (offscreen), which was what Ronan wanted, after all, and would be enough to bring Ronan to heel, I would wager), he pledged himself fully to Thanos’ cause to get revenge against the Guardians of the Galaxy? I’m not massively familiar with Ronan but it seems to me like it was a bit of a miss-step to kill him off when he could have fulfilled a role in Thanos’ little gang at the very least, if not remain as a recurring antagonist for the Guardians. Another potential replacement for Corvus would be Emil Blonsky/Abomination (Tim Roth) who, at the time, had been conspicuous by his absence from the MCU. However, arguably, it wouldn’t make as much sense for Thanos to recruit the Abomination as he’s not exactly floating around in the depths of space for him to encounter.

What if Loki or the Red Skull had aligned themselves with Thanos in place of Ebony Maw…?

Intrigue was equally high in the build-up to The Avengers/Avengers Assemble (Whedon, 2012); I was hoping to see a version of the Masters of Evil, with Loki Laufeyson (Tom Hiddleston) joining forces with Johann Schmidt/The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) – who was clearly transported away from Earth by the Bifrost at the end of Captain America: The First Avenger (Johnston, 2011 – and either the Abomination or Doctor Samuel Sterns/The Leader (Tim Blake Nelson) once they got to Earth. While I was happy with the first Avengers team-up we got, I do feel this was another missed opportunity that we never saw this anti-Avengers team-up. Consequently, I feel like we could have swapped out Ebony Maw for either of these characters; in The Infinity Gauntly, Thanos was advised by Mephisto, a role many expected Loki to play in Infinity War given his mischievous and devious nature. Naturally, of course, you could argue that this wouldn’t really fit with Loki’s character arc by that point but remember how he feigned loyalty to Thanos and then tried to stab him in the neck? Well, imagine that but throughout a large portion of the movie. Loki pledges fealty, willingly hand shim the Tesseract, and spends the remainder of the film waiting for the perfect moment to strike and then he’s killed for his efforts. Obviously, the Red Skull finally showed up in Avengers: Endgame (Russo and Russo, 2019) in a slightly different role as the Stonekeeper (Ross Marquand), but again…what if the Red Skull had replaced Ebony Maw? How much more interesting and impactful would it have been to see the Red Skull empowered by Thanos and making a triumphant return as Thanos’ chief torturer? Sure, if his death was the same then you could argue that he would’ve been “wasted” or been killed off too easily but I still feel like this would have been a better use of the character than as the keeper of the Soul Stone (a role that could’ve been filled by character’s envisioning the Stonekeeper as someone close to them, perhaps?)

With some tweaks, nebula could have taken Corvus’ role as Thanos’ chief assassin.

Corvus Glaive is a trickier one to “replace” in this hypothetical alternate world, however I have one  suggestion: Nebula (Karen Gillan). Now, similar to Loki joining Thanos, this would require quite a few changes to Nebula’s character arc; in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Gunn, 2017), she finally buried the hatchet with her “sister”, Gamora (Zoey Saldana) and it was great seeing her grow as a character, put aside her hatred, and learn how to work alongside the Guardians and the Avengers. In The Infinity Gauntlet, Nebula spends most of her time as a mindless zombie thanks to Thanos’ wrath but plays a vital role in his downfall by stealing the Gauntlet for herself (and promptly being driven mad by its power). By tweaking her character arc, or having it so that Thanos either intimidates or reprograms her into subservice, you could replace Corvus with a more prominent and recognisable character and still find ways to weave her existing arc into the story. Like, what if, after Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, Nebula is forced into Thanos to serve him (maybe he threatens to kill Gamora/the Guardians or promises to “repair” her once he’s assemble the Gauntlet) in Corvus’ place; she could still have been ripped apart and tortured to force Gamora into revealing the Soul Stone’s location and would have even more motivation to turn against her “father” since he would have lied to and manipulated her once again.

If Hela wasn’t going to take Death’s place, she could’ve replaced Proxima Midnight.

Another character who I, like many, expected to play a prominent role in Infinity War was Hela Odindottir (Cate Blanchett), a character who a lot of people expected would take the role of Lady Death as the object of Thanos’ affections. Of course, this didn’t turn out to be true as Hela was killed in Thor: Ragnarok and Thanos’ motivations were changed from worshipping Death to wanting to bring a sense of balance to the galaxy. Still, how awesome would it have been if Hela had taken Proxima Midnight’s place in the Dark Order? If killing the Allfather didn’t show you that Thanos was a bad-ass, bringing the Goddess of Death to heel totally would have and could have made for a much more memorable female villain for the finale in Wakanda. Again, there’s the question of her being killed off but what better way to help showcase Wanda Maximoff’s (Elizabeth Olsen) sheer power than by having her shred a Goddess to pieces? Or you could rewrite her death to maybe come at the hands of her brother, Thor, and his new weapon, Stormbreaker, to sell the awesomeness of the weapon.

As cool as the Black Order were, would a version of the Masters of Evil have been better…?

Ultimately, I was more than happy with Avengers: Infinity War, Endgame, and the MCU’s portrayal of Thanos overall. His underlings were find cannon fodder for the film and helped to serve as extensions of the Mad Titan’s will but I do feel it would have been even more awesome to see these more recognisable villains swayed to Thanos’ cause so that we could see them interact with their rivals, and other heroes, in new and interesting ways. Sure, many have cropped up again since then and the potential of a Masters of Evil in the MCU is still there, I just think that maybe these huge movies could have been made even bigger if things had been slightly changed to accommodate these more familiar characters. Do you agree or disagree? Maybe you’re a big fan of the Black Order from the comics? Perhaps you’d have like to see a different route taken? Do you even want to see the Masters of Evil in the MCU? Either way, feel free to sound off in the comments below.

Back Issues [A-Day]: The Avengers #1


Having introduced comic readers to a whole host of colourful characters, in September of 1963 the legendary duo of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby brought together six of Earth’s mightiest heroes to form the Avengers. A super team like no other, with a constantly rotating roster, the Avengers has become the premier team of Marvel Comics and, thanks to the team and its individual members forming the backbone of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, have become an unbelievably popular and successful franchise in their own right.


Story Title: The Coming of the Avengers!
Published: September 1963
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

The Background:
In 1960, DC Comics brought together their most popular and powerful characters to form the Justice League of America. Never ones to let the competition get a leg up on them, and having seen successful with the Fantastic Four and the debut of the X-Men in that very same month, Marvel Comics head honcho Martin Goodman asked Stan Lee to create a similar team of superheroes. Helpfully, Lee and a number of his most famous collaborators had already established a number of colourful characters to bring together: Tony Stark/Iron Man, Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk, Doctor Donald Blake/Thor Odinson, and Doctor Hank Pym/Ant-Man and Janet van Dyne/The Wasp.

Since their introduction, the Avengers have changed members and fought many cosmic threats.

Since the debut issue, the Avengers have been a consistent and influential presence in Marvel Comics; the roster constantly shifted and changed, with the Hulk leaving the team in the second issue and Lee memorably dusting off the long-retired character of Steve Rogers/Captain America in issue four. Since then, the team has expanded and changed many times, seen spin-offs and splinter groups, been disassembled and reassembled, and taken part in all manner of massive cosmic events in the decades since their introduction.

The Review:
“The Coming of the Avengers” begins with Thor’s brother, Loki Laufeyson, the God of Mischief, imprisoned on the “dreaded Isle of Silence” in the mythical realm of Asgard. This is, of course, back when Loki was a despicable, irredemable villain whose previous mad schemes for power and conquest were thwarted by his brother; consequently, Loki is incensed at being exiled to the barren wasteland by Odin Allfather and plots a devious scheme for revenge.

Loki burns with a desire to destroy Thor, not Blake, and sees the Hulk as his chance to do so!

Though his physical self is trapped, Loki is able to use his vast magical abilities to project his disembodied self across the length of he dimension-spanning Bifrost and down to Earth, the planet Thor loves so dearly. He spies in on Donald Blake but dismisses him as a lame and insignificant mortal; he is acutely aware that Blake and Thor are one and the same but desires victory over Thor, not his crippled mortal shell. After many long hours, Loki comes upon the Incredible Hulk and is instantly intrigued by the creature’s brute strength and disdain for humanity. Thanks to Loki’s manipulations, the Hulk is blamed by the media when a train almost derails (despite the fact that the Hulk went out of his way to keep the train on track after Loki’s tricked him into damaging the tracks). Concerned for the well-being of his friend, Rick Jones desperately attempts to contact the Fantastic Four for help but Loki intercepts the broadcast and successfully coerces Blake to transform into Thor.

Words almost can’t express how much I despise Janet’s characterisation in these early comics!

However, Rick’s broadcast is also intercepted by Ant-Man and the Wasp and Tony Stark, who eagerly leap into action to stop what they perceive to be one of the Hulk’s trademark rampages. Though he’s now decked out in his slightly more streamlined gold plated armour (which can also charge through solar power), Stark is still entirely reliant upon his iron plated chest device to keep him alive but, nevertheless, he’s eager to test the strength of his armour against the Hulk’s much-vaulted power. The Fantastic Four eventually pick up the transmission regardless of Loki’s interference but are unable to assist since they’re already busy on another case but Rick and his fellow “Teen Bridge” are star-struck when Thor, Iron Man, Ant-Man, and the Wasp all show up to answer their summons. This is probably as good a time as any to talk about how much I loathe Janet van Dyne, especially in her earlier appearances in the sixties and seventies! She’s such a ditzy, scatterbrained little tart; all she ever does is think about her hair, make-up, and appearance and constantly fawn over other men right in front of her partner/husband, Hank. Sure, Hank is generally much more focused on his work, the mission, or being professional and is largely neglectful and ignorant of Janet but that doesn’t excuse her God-awful characterisation. Similar to Susan Storm/Invisible Girl, Jean Grey/Marvel Girl, and many of Marvel’s supporting female characters at the time, Janet is constantly patronised and spoken down to by men but, unlike many of them, she actually deserves such harsh treatment since she’s more of a glorified model or brainless celebrity than a capable superheroine, much less an individual worthy of their respect since all she wants to do is drool over Thor’s muscles!

Sadly, this is the closest we get to a fight between Thor and the Hulk.

Anyway, having inadvertently brought together some of Earth’s mightiest heroes, Loki changes tactics and uses his powers to trick Thor into thinking the Hulk is right outside their door! Acting without thought or logic, Thor immediately heads out to battle the Green Goliath and immediately heads to Asgard when he realises that the “Hulk” is merely one of Loki’s visions…just as Loki planned all along! Meanwhile, the Hulk, now free from Loki’s control, has…disguised himself as Mechano the Mechanical Man and hidden himself away at a circus? Thanks to Ant-Man’s uncanny helmet, which allows him to control and communicate with ants, Pym is able to first locate the Hulk and then use countless numbers of ants to cause a cave-in beneath the beast’s feet. Unimpressed and irritated, the Hulk easily bursts free of the trap and reacts with anger when Ant-Man attempts first to calm him and then to trap him.

The Hulk outsmarts Iron Man (!) and lands a crippling blow to Stark’s armour.

As in his debut appearance, the Hulk is far more than the mindless, rampaging beast he is generally known as; he’s eloquent and intelligent, using words like “masquerade” and being smart enough to disguise himself as a circus performer and use weapons to blow the Wasp out of the air and render her helpless. The Hulk is kept from crushed the Wasp into a fine paste by the timely arrival of Iron Man; after Iron Man’s attempts to lure the Hulk into a trap fail, he gives chase but the Hulk is wily enough to allow Iron Man to pass harmless overheard so that he (as in the Hulk) can deliver a crippling blow to Stark’s “propulsion battery”.

Loki is apprehended but the battle between Iron Man and the Hulk continues to rage!

Over in Asgard, Odin grants Thor permission to travel to the Isle of Silence to confront Loki and he has to overcome numerous traps and hazards conjured by Loki’s black magic along the way. Thor perseveres and shatters Loki’s magical barrier using his enchanted hammer, Mjölnir, in his mission to “avenge” Loki’s foul deed. However, Thor is kept from attacking Loki first by the sudden arrival of a monstrous troll, a nature of the isle, and then by Loki’s deceitful illusions. Regardless, Thor triumphs again by summoning lightning to drive the creature away and then dispels Loki’s duplicates with an implausible twirling of his hammer. Though Thor has Loki in his grasp and intends to bring him to Earth to answer for his deception, there’s still the little problem of the Hulk to contend with; Iron Man, having repaired his battery, continues his pursuit of the Hulk to an automobile factory, where the Hulk is able to endure and outwit Iron Man’s attempts to subdue him.

Loki is defeated with ridiculous ease and a new super team is born!

Thor interrupts the battle and reveals that Loki was behind everything; Hulk’s desire to make Loki pay for framing him is momentarily avoided when Loki breaks free of Thor’s grasp and prepares to resume his battle with his hated brother…only for a hoard of ants to open a trapdoor beneath his feet and cause him to fall into an lead-lined chamber. With the threat ended, Ant-Man suggests that the six of them join forces as a team, which the others (including the Hulk, despite everything he went through during the issue) readily agree to and it is the Wasp who suggests the team’s name: The Avengers!

The Summary:
“The Coming of the Avengers!” is a breath of fresh air after the year I’ve had looking back at early origin stories and comic books; even compared to standalone stories of the time, it’s refreshing to not have the plot be endlessly bogged down with recaps of the characters’ origins and to not have every other piece of dialogue by a description of that character’s ability. Characters do still have an annoying tendency to monologue and describe what they’re doing as they’re doing it but it’s a far more action-packed issue than some other comics I’ve read this year, that’s for sure.

The brisk pace means some characters get more focus than others but there’s still time for cameos…

If you’re a newcomer to Marvel, this is obviously a bit of a disadvantage since you’d have no idea who any of these characters are; the only characters who really get any extended backstory and focus are Thor and Loki, which is only natural considering it is Loki who drives the main plot of the issue. However, we never see an appearance from the Hulk’ alter ego (Banner isn’t even mentioned in the issue), Ant-Man and the Wasp are never seen outside of their costumed identities, and the comic even has time to waste panels on a cameo by the Fantastic Four. The intention, however, is pretty clear: Rick’s first thought is to call the Fantastic Four since there are only a couple of superhero teams in existence at that time and the implication is that Loki is a threat worthy of the Fantastic Four’s involvement, which thus makes the Avengers appear just as capable and formidable by proxy. Not that the Avengers really need any help in that regard; each character has already had numerous chances to shine and show how capable they are in their solo issues but what better way to showcase that to its fullest than by pitting them against the Hulk, the most powerful mortal in Marvel Comics at the time?

For all his power and scheming, Loki is incredibly ineffectual and his plan massively backfires!

Iron Man, especially, is eager to pit his skills and augmented strength against the Hulk’s (who sadly never gets to tussle with Thor to see which of the two truly is mightier) and it’s certainly unique seeing Ant-Man and the Wasp futilely try to subdue the beast with traps and trickery. It’s not a perfect story by any means; I could talk for days about Janet’s characterisation and she basically does nothing except buzz around, pine after Thor, and name the team and Loki never thinks to use his powers to send the Hulk into a mindless rampage to help tip the balance in his favour. Indeed, though Loki’s powers are vast and have the potential to be extremely dangerous, he’s pretty ineffectual as Thor easily fights off his illusions, he’s anti-climatically defeated by Ant-Man and the Wasp (of all people), and all he succeeds in doing is uniting Earth’s Mightiest Heroes as a team. He might have had more success if he’d tried to manipulate them into fighting each other or used his powers to better effect but, as an excuse to bring together six of Marvel’s most formidable superheroes into a super team, “The Coming of the Avengers!” succeeds far more than it fails…it just needed to be a bit longer and have a bit more interaction between the characters.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

How do you feel about “The Coming of the Avengers!”? Do you feel it was an effective introduction to Marvel’s newest and greatest team or do you, perhaps, find it a little weak and light on content? Which of the original line-up is your favourite? What did you think to the Wasp’s characterisation and the treatment of females during this time? Which version of the team is your favourite or who would you like to see on an Avengers roster one day? Do you think the singular threat of Loki was suitable enough justification for bringing together these heroes or would you have preferred a bigger threat? How are you celebrating the debut of the Avengers today and what are some of your favourite Avengers storylines, characters, or adaptations? Feel free to share your thoughts and opinions on the Avengers in the comments below.

Talking Movies [National Superhero Day]: Avengers Assemble


In 1995, Marvel Comics created “National Superhero Day” and, in the process, provided comics and superhero fans the world over with a great excuse to celebrate their favourite characters and publications.


Talking Movies

Released: 4 May 2012
Director: Joss Whedon
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Budget: $220 million
Stars: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Stellan Skarsgård, and Samuel L. Jackson

The Plot:
When Loki Laufeyson (Hiddleston) arrives on Earth wielding a mind-controlling spear and in search of the Tesseract, Nick Fury (Jackson), director of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.) activates the “Avenger Initiative”. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey Jr), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Evans), Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Ruffalo), Thor Odinson (Hemsworth), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Johansson), and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Renner) are called into service but, with such big egos and personalities among their ranks, these assembled heroes must find a way to co-exist before they can combat this otherworldly threat.

The Background:
The development of an Avengers film began in 2003 with an outrageous plan to release a series of solo films for each character before having them all meet up, similar to how the Avengers formed in the comics back in 1963 courtesy of Martin Goodman, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Dick Ayers. It was an unprecedented move, one which saw fledging studio Marvel Studios roll the dice on lower-tier heroes such as Iron Man and win big time with a slew of massively successful and popular superhero films, each one hinting towards a much larger, shared cinematic universe.

Like their comic counterparts, the Avengers assembled after a series of solo adventures.

When the time came for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to finally meet onscreen, Marvel Studios turned to Joss Whedon to rewrite the script and direct the film and included Iron Man (Favreau, 2008) and Iron Man 2 (ibid, 2010) director Jon Favreau as an executive producer. After some differences of opinion, Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige chose to recast Edward Norton in the role of Banner/Hulk and easily the biggest superhero film of all time was officially underway. The Avengers (known as Avengers Assemble here in the United Kingdom) was an absolutely phenomenal success, making over $1.500 billion at the box office, receiving rave reviews, and kicking off the extraordinary blockbuster success we know of today as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

The Review:
Avengers Assemble was the first time we had ever seen superheroes come together in a big screen, big budget movie. Before the MCU, before Iron Man, superheroes always existed in isolated bubbles and never interacted and, as a big fan of the interconnected world of the comics (not just in Marvel but in DC Comics and pretty much ever comic publication), I was excited to see these characters come together onscreen for the first-time and will always lean towards an interconnected, shared continuity. It was a risky venture taking admittedly B to D-tier characters like Iron Man and Captain America and shaping a series of movies around them but Avengers Assemble totally justified that risk, allowing these volatile egos and characters to share the same screen and mixing fantasy, science-fiction, magic, and technology all together in one action-packed adventure.

Loki comes to invade Earth and realise his grandiose desires for power and servitude.

Loki’s threat is immediately established when he suddenly arrives on Earth and makes short work of Fury’s men and then uses his spear to take control of Professor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) and Barton. Though only a singular villain, one whom Thor has been able to best in combat before, Loki is a significant threat to the world since he is, effectively, a God and he has the entire Chitauri army at his command. Before the Chitauri arrive, though, Loki is formidable enough to justify bringing in Iron Man (despite Fury’s earlier reservations) and Cap since Thor wasn’t supposed to be able to get back to Earth. When Thor does arrive, his mission to capture Loki and bring him back to Asgard is hampered by Earth politics (since Fury wants to hold Loki accountable for the death and destruction he’s already caused) and as a result Loki manages to manipulate the fledgling Avengers into bickering and fighting with each other rather than him, allowing him to take possession of the Tesseract and bring the Chitauri to Earth. While he avoids active, physical combat, Loki is a daunting opponent when he does engage in battle, able to go toe-to-toe with Thor (thanks, largely, to Thor holding back out of love for his brother), easily catching Hawkeye’s arrow, and tossing Stark out of a window with just one hand. His downfall comes not only through the unification of the Avengers but is spelt out by Stark, who monologues about how, win or lose, they would hunt down and hold Loki personally responsible to ensure that he never truly wins, and, of course, more explicitly through the sudden and hilarious beat down he receives at the hands of the Hulk.

It’s a rough experience for Cap, who has awoken to a world that has radically changed.

Essentially, the film is a significant chapter in Cap’s story; since Captain America: The First Avenger (Johnston, 2011) ended with Cap being dethawed in the modern day, this was only the second time we had seen him in action; unfortunately, because of the nature of the film, Cap’s reintegration into society is largely glossed over and, rather than being dwelled upon, is replaced with Cap wishing to be given a mission, a focus, a reason to fight in the modern world. As a result, he unquestioningly follows Fury’s directions primarily out of instinct, duty, and a need to have a reason to go on in a world that has largely passed him by; he clashes with Stark’s rebellious attitude, believing that they should follow orders like soldiers, but is convinced enough to investigate further and is disgusted to find Fury in possession of Chitauri technology and with contingencies in place to combat the Avengers since they have the potential to be a threat to humanity. Cap is all business when in battle, instinctively taking command and exuding leadership even though he is the most out of touch and out of place of all the characters; his initial antagonism with Stark is eventually put aside to lead the team during the Chitauri invasion and Cap fights to the bitter end even when he is vastly overpowered by the alien forces, taking the most damage of any of his team mates (including the “weaker” members like Natasha and Barton).

Stark joins the team with his own agenda but eventually comes to respect and defer to his peers.

Stark is just as stubborn and snarky as ever; he’s clearly insulted by Agent Colson (Gregg) and Fury’s decision to relegate him to a “consulting” role in the Avengers Initiate despite his claims to not want to be part of the team and believes himself to be the only one smart and capable enough of combating Loki’s impending threat. He comes aboard with the program purely out of a selfish desire to lord himself over Fury and the other Avengers and to learn more of S.H.I.E.L.D.s secrets, using them to call Fury out on his hypocrisy, and constantly goading his team mates (particularly Banner) into being themselves and rejecting Fury’s orders and control. While the prevailing arc for the entire team is learning to work together, Stark personifies this as he is the most antagonistic and reluctant to work as a team; he’s the most affected by Coulson’s death due to him knowing the agent the best, his experiences witnessing death and suffering first-hand in Iron Man, and his inability to properly cope with death and loss. Coulson’s death galvanises Stark, turning his incredulity to vengeance and giving him the motivation to not only put aside his ego to work with the team but also acknowledge Cap’s superior leadership skills.

The naturally apprehensive Banner has attained a measure of tenuous control over the Hulk.

Banner appears very differently to where we left him in The Incredible Hulk (Leterrier, 2008); fearing the unpredictability and ferocious nature of the Hulk, he has stayed in hiding, suppressing the Hulk with some success, but is unable to deny his innate wish to help others in need with his scientific and medical expertise. Banner has managed to keep the Hulk at bay not only through a risky and unique technique (he’s “always angry”, indicating that he constantly keeps his emotions at a level where the Hulk is satiated but doesn’t actually emerge) and a vehement refusal to acknowledge or speak the Hulk’s name. Banner is convinced to help advise on Loki’s spear by Natasha’s beauty and simply her asking him nicely, rather than forcing him to comply, but, while he is clearly excited to be working with S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Tesseract and forms a fast, budding friendship with Stark (with Stark goading Banner and acting like an annoying brother to him), he quickly comes to realise that Fury’s intentions aren’t entirely noble and questions the validity and ability of a team that is little more than a “timebomb” of ego and emotions. When the Hulk is forcibly unleashed as part of Loki’s plan, he is unbridled rage and fury, lashing out at everything and everyone around him in a mindless rage since the transformation was against Banner’s will. Later, during the Battle of New York, Banner initiates the transformation willingly and the Hulk is much more…maybe not “docile” but let’s say willing to cooperate, taking Cap’s orders and specifically targeting to Chitauri threat while protecting and aiding his teammates. A measure of Banner’s influence and the Hulk’s intelligence is seen as the Hulk makes the effort to save Iron Man from his fatal fall and his dismissive grunt of “Puny God!” after beating the piss out of Loki.

Thor’s complex relationship with Loki is a pivotal plot point throughout the film.

Thor’s arrival on Earth comes out of nowhere and is quickly waved away with a brief line about “dark energy”; personally, I never liked this or understood why the filmmakers had the Bifrost be destroyed in Thor (Branagh, 2011) when they knew very well that Thor would be back in Avengers Assemble but it is what it is and Thor is there. Thor is handicapped by his emotions towards his brother; he is elated and heartbroken to see Loki alive after believing him dead and just wants his brother to abandon his crusade and come home. Loki, however, is too full of jealously, rage, and resentment and constantly taunts, defies, and dismisses his brother, who finds himself unable to simply wade in, muscles bulging, and retrieve Loki thanks to opposition from Iron Man, Cap, and Fury and the greater issue concerning the Tesseract. Thor offers knowledge of another world, another level of understanding, that is unique amongst his teammates and spends much of the film believing his brother still has good in him and wishing to return him home. After Loki kills Coulson before Thor’s eyes and tries to kill him with a trap intended for the Hulk, Thor reluctantly gears up and enters the fray, so determined to stop his brother’s mad schemes that he’s willing to fight alongside the Avengers and submit to Cap’s orders since he, like Cap, is a stranger in this world and still learning how to navigate modern, human society.

Natasha remains a mystery despite the showcase of her skills and hints towards her past.

Natasha is still relatively new in this film since audiences only saw a fraction of her true character and abilities in Iron Man 2 so it’s good that she gets a solo action scene at the start of the film to showcase her physical and manipulative abilities. We learn bits and pieces of her character and backstory through her interactions with Banner, Loki, and Barton but she remains very much a mystery even by the end of the film. This would, of course, continue over the years since Black Widow was one of the last of the original Avengers to get a solo film, meaning an air of mystery constantly surrounds her, but much of her arc is focused on her relationship with Barton (which is one of duty, gratitude, and mutual, platonic respect) and her commitment to Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. Like Cap, she follows orders unquestioningly but it also feels like she has her own agenda and reasons for going along with S.H.I.E.L.D.; while she, like Barton, is one of the weakest links in the Avengers, she’s still capable enough to hold her own against the Chitauri…for a time, at least.

Though he spends the majority of the film under Loki’s spell, Barton proves a formidable opponent.

Barton, who is only referred to as Hawkeye once in the film, spends most of the movie under Loki’s command (though this does harken back to his comic book beginnings as a villain); as a result, all we know about him is the few bits and pieces Natasha reveals about their relationship and their background. However, we do get to see him in action on more than one occasion; he’s a crack shot, almost to superhuman levels, and is able to bring down an entire Helicarrier with a single, well-placed arrow. He is an essential soldier in Loki’s army, offering him insight into Fury’s operation and resources, but is also able to provide the Avengers with key information regarding Loki after Natasha literally knocks some sense into him. He proves himself capable enough in the finale by providing much needed and peerless cover from a high vantage point, from which he is able to take out multiple Chitauri with a few well-aimed shots. He’s easily the least developed of all the characters thanks to the role he plays in the film but it works for the plot and means we’re left wanting to know more about him and his backstory.

Fury, the mastermind behind the Avengers, always as a contingency for every eventuality.

Fury plays a much larger role in this film than in the previous MCU movies since he’s a pivotal supporting character rather than a mere cameo; he believes that Loki represents a very real threat to humanity but also believes wholeheartedly in the concept of heroes and the ability of the Avengers Initiative to combat Loki’s threat. He opposes the World Security Council when they dismiss the Avengers as a legitimate solution and when they order a nuclear strike on New York which, along with his own brand of snark and dry wit, makes him a rebellious and layered character in his own right. However, he’s also a secretive and manipulative individual, constantly telling everyone only as much as they need to know and a handful of half-truths (as Stark says: “Fury’s secrets have secrets!”) and believes in having contingencies against any and all possible threats, both foreign and domestic. While he doesn’t fight alongside the Avengers in the final battle, he’s crucial to their formation and is a charismatic and alluring figurehead for their group. Sadly, this was as prominent as Fury would be for some time, with him quickly going back to being either a cameo or supporting character over the years, which is a shame as it’s always great to see Samuel L. Jackson in the role and interacting with these characters.

Coulson is the glue that connects the Avengers and his death galvanises the team into action.

Similarly, Coulson also gets much more screen time and development this time around; still acting as Fury’s go-to and the liaison between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers, Coulson (whose first name is revealed to be “Phil” rather than just “Agent”) is the relatable man among Gods, the common thread that links all of these volatile personalities together. Initially, all they really have in common beyond their heroic tendencies is their relationship with Coulson, with Stark having the closest link to him and Coulson being especially in awe of Cap, his hero and idol, and Coulson’s death is both sudden and heartbreakingly brutal. It’s a fantastic moment that serves to galvanise and motivate the them and, as much as I’ve enjoyed some episodes and seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013 to 2020), it did annoy me that his dramatic death was undone so soon after the film’s release. Thankfully, the MCU movies don’t acknowledge Coulson’s resurrection so his tragic death remains the principal motivating factor behind the coming together of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Considering the large cast of bombastic, unique characters and actors, Avengers Assemble is fantastically well paced; sure, Natasha and, especially, Barton don’t get anywhere near as much screen time or development as established guys like Cap or Stark but they get several character defining moments and character beats that help to keep them relevant and integral to the plot. The film isn’t full of non-stop action but it never feels slow or like it’s wasting time; any time there isn’t some kind of physical conflict, there’s a conflict of character, beliefs, or ideologies as each of the characters interacts with each other in different ways. The central conflict in the film is between the individual Avengers as much as it is with Loki as each one must learn how to interact and co-operate with the other, which leads to some friction between Rogers and Stark, disdain from the God-like Thor, and distrust from the understandably agitated Banner.

Loki’s influence exacerbates the tension within the fledgling team…

This all comes to a head in one of the film’s most intense moments where the fledgling Avengers argue over Fury’s manipulations, the threat each of them oppose, and their conflicting egos in a scene that is easily as powerful as any of the film’s fight scenes. Here, each character talks and argues over each other; lots of fingers are pointed, egos are bruised, and accusations are made thanks to the influence of Loki’s spear, which exacerbates their most negative aspects and fuels the distrust and tension between the group. It’s an amazingly realised scene, with lots of dynamic camera work on offer and allows the characters to vent their frustrations and concerns about each other, the mission, and the inevitable escalation of conflict that threatens Earth now that it has experienced otherworldly threats and, in it, these conflicting personalities actually grow stronger as a result of their brutal honesty.

Even when he’s clearly outmatched and in over his head, Cap continues to fight.

However, amidst this, there are also numerous amusing little moments that help to add to the film’s levity and develop each character: Rogers handing Fury a $10 bill after being awe-struck by the Helicarrier, Stark pointing out that one of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents is playing Galaga (Namco, 1981), Thor’s humiliation regarding Loki’s actions and heritage, and Banner’s flashes of anger all help to make the characters real and relatable. One of the best examples of this is Cap’s confrontation with Loki in which he, despite being “out of time”, recognises Loki’s evil and potential threat and openly opposes him just as he did a similar dictator in World War Two and engages him in combat despite Loki’s clear physical advantage over him. Cap’s whole character is that he continues to fight no matter the odds and that is continuously seen in Avengers Assemble as, even when outclassed or outnumbered, he continues to get back up and go on with the fight until it’s done, one way or another, and fails to give in to intimidation from concepts beyond his time such as Gods, aliens, and advanced technology.

Seeing these colourful and volatile individuals interact is every fan’s dream come true!

Their interactions with each other are equally impressive, with the heroes just as likely to come to blows as they are to work together; this means we get to see these bright, colourful costumed characters fighting with each other as much as alongside each other. Iron Man fights with Thor, Cap joins in to make it a triple threat, Black Widow fights with Hawkeye, and Thor memorably goes toe-to-toe with the Hulk to set up a friendly rivalry that would be fantastically revisited in Thor: Ragnarok (Waititi, 2017). It’s a staple of superhero team-ups that the heroes simply must fight at least once and Avengers Assemble delivers on this in spades; we’ve watched each of these characters in their own films, or be involved in other MCU films, over the years so to see them match wits, trade blows, and fight together is a true fanboy’s delight.

The Chitauri are, admittedly, underwhelming antagonists but they serve their purpose.

The finale is little more than a battle against mindless, indistinguishable alien hoards who, conveniently, operate in a hive mind and are “easily” shut down by Stark tossing a nuclear weapon at their mothership. I honestly expected a version of the Masters of Evil for the first Avengers movie, with Loki joining forces with Johann Schmidt/The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) outside of the Realms and then teaming up with Emil Blonsky/The Abomination (Tim Roth) and/or Samuel Sterns/The Leader (Tim Blake Nelson) once they reach Earth for a smaller scale, six on six style team vs. team movie and, in some ways, it is a bit disappointing that the Avengers only went up against one villain and an army of drones but it really works in the film since the entire point of the movie is to bring these volatile characters together. The actual antagonist could have be anyone or anything and it wouldn’t really matter but it being Loki works wonders thanks to Tom Hiddleston’s iconic performance; he’s truly a snake in the grass, a wily, manipulative, vindictive villain who is intelligent and cruel enough to match wits with each of the Avengers both physically and vocally and the only previous villain I could see being able to do anywhere hear as good a job would be Hugo Weaving.

The Avengers win the day but a greater, far more powerful threat looms in the background…

One issue I have though is that, as much as I loved the “Avengers Assemble!” scene we eventually got, I still don’t get why we couldn’t have heard that iconic cry during that awesome panning shot of the team standing back-to-back. I think we definitely could have heard this cry in each of the team-up films and appearances of the group and it wouldn’t have taken away from that impactful scene; if anything, it would have added to it since it would be a rallying cry for the reunited heroes. Still, the Battle for New York is amazing in its scope; the Chitauri may be interchangeable alien drones but they are relentless. The Avengers are able to combat them and easily defeat them but their numbers are legion and, apparently, inexhaustible and it isn’t long before they are overwhelmed even with the might of Thor and the Hulk. The Chitauri’s larger reinforcements and advanced weaponry and sheer numbers mean that it is simply a matter of time before the Avengers, for all their power, are overwhelmed and Loki is successful, meaning that the Avengers’ main concern is holding the line and keeping the invasion at bay while their team mates confront Loki and cut off the source of the invasion. All throughout the film, Loki converses with “The Other” (Alexis Denisof) and is clearly being given power and resources from an unseen third party, revealed at the very end of the film to be none other than Thanos (Damion Poitier). At the time, we could never have anticipated the extent to Thanos’s threat and importance to the MCU but the bringing together of cosmic characters like Asgardians and threats like the Chitauri and Thanos only hinted at how large and varied the MCU was destined to become.

The Summary:
Avengers Assemble is still one of the biggest and most entertaining movies in the MCU and, perhaps, ever made. Of all the movies in the MCU’s first phase, it’s easily my favourite and, for me, set the standard not just for subsequent MCU team-up movies but for every film in the MCU going forward. No longer were these characters going to exist in their own isolated bubble; they would interact with their fellow characters, reference the larger world we finally saw in all its glory, and be part of something much bigger and greater than a series of self-contained films.

Avengers Assemble is my favourite Phase 1 film and remains a top tier MCU movie.

For me, this is the greatest appeal of the MCU; before Iron Man, superhero films were always solo affairs and we never saw heroes interact with each other. Thanks to the MCU, all of that changed and, finally, the movies came to resemble the comics by having a shared universe that has a tight continuity and an actual tangible, long-term plan. The film is alive with character moments, an amusing dry wit, and action-packed sequences but, as thrilling as the bombastic fight scenes can be, it’s all the little interactions and interpersonal conflicts that really make this film so entertaining and appealing to me even to this day.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

What are your thoughts on Avengers Assemble? How do you feel it holds up now that the MCU has become this massive, multimedia juggernaut? Were you disappointed that the film focused solely on the one villain and side-lined Hawkeye with a mind control sub-plot or were you satisfied with Hiddleston’s performance and the interpersonal conflicts between the characters? Which of the Avengers is your favourite and which of the comic’s characters are you excited to learn more about or see join the team? Which of the MCU movies, shows, or characters is your favourite and why? How are you celebrating National Superhero Day today? Whatever your thoughts, leave a comment below and be sure to stick around for more superhero and comic book content throughout the year.