Marvel’s capable if formulaic Thor: The Dark World (see Pt. 1 for my review proper) did prove noteworthy in at least one regard in that it offered its audience a peek behind the curtain at the studio’s future plans. What exactly does Marvel have up its sleeve? And does The Dark World have something fresh to say after all?
With an originality that is not remarked upon often enough, the Thor franchise’s unique blend of mythological fantasy and science fiction has created an evocative and utterly distinct world. It is a reality in which the gods of our terrestrial myths inhabit distant, alien planets, where mystically empowered swords and hammers meet energy blasters and singularity grenades on the field of battle, where elf-piloted starfighters chase a hovering skiff under a rainbow bridge that traverses dimensions. So-called “science fantasy”—of which the setting of Asgard and its protectorate realms represents only a narrow sampling—is a largely untapped genre in film and one that is bursting with potential. Perpetually popular in other geek-related media from novels to comics to video games (see the recently published roleplaying game Numenera by Monte Cook for a current example distinct in look and feel from the Marvel universe), the possibilities it offers for freewheeling imagination, mindblowing visualizations, and headily conceptual stories are virtually limitless. While watching The Dark World (TDW), I found myself convinced that the time has well and truly come for a new Masters of the Universe movie and that intellectual properties such as Shadowrun (cyberpunk + high fantasy), Warhammer 40K (military sci-fi + dark fantasy), and The Book of the New Sun (sci-fi as fantasy) are finally ripe for big screen adaptation. Some out there hate the idea of genre mashing, but—when it’s done well—I find it difficult to resist.
As much as I enjoyed seeing the wonder of Asgard brought to life, it was TDW’s role as precursor and lead-in to next year’s Guardians of the Galaxy (GotG) that had me, personally, most excited while watching the film. GotG will mark Marvel’s first theatrical foray into the cosmic side of their universe, its spacefaring galactic scale allowing the studio to tell completely new kinds of stories. TDW sneaks us a few glimpses at what we have to look forward to from that project—from creepy starship interiors and eye-popping space vistas to the fangasmic mid-credits stinger with wardrobe stylings ripped straight from David Lynch’s Dune–and I can honestly say I’ve never before anticipated to this degree a film starring both an extremely self-aware talking tree (Vin Diesel via The Iron Giant) and a gun-toting raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper and treated, I’m guessing, more seriously than general audiences might expect). Diesel and Cooper are joined by a diverse cast, including the likes of Zoe Saldana, Lee Pace, Benicio del Toro, Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, and Djimon Hounsou. It’s been too many years since we had an epic, ensemble space opera, and I think GotG has the potential to capture a special kind of magic with its Avengers meets Star Wars/Firefly premise.
Looking farther ahead, past even 2015’s Avengers sequel Age of Ultron into an assumed Phase Three and beyond, the scale and ambition of Marvel’s plans for their movie properties is almost staggering. I remember seeing the Nick Fury/Avengers Initiative tease at the end of the first Iron Man—Marvel Studios’ debut picture—and thinking about how unlikely it was that it would ever pay off. Four years later, the success of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers as both an excellent film and a moneymaker surpassed most fanboys’ wildest expectations. Even as the credits rolled on that blockbuster, however, the appearance of Thanos signaled to the fan community that Marvel had no intention of resting on its laurels and was aiming even higher. Thanos is extremely bad news and is perhaps best known in comics for his role as the primary villain in the Infinity Gauntlet event, a story that just so happens to involve him making a play for control of the six Infinity Gems in an effort to bring death to the universe (or the universe to Death, rather). If there was any doubt that Marvel is pursuing a theatrical adaptation of this story, TDW’s mid-credits stinger quashed it, offering clear indication that is the direction they’re headed. Unless I’m far off (or superhero movies suddenly start tanking at the box office), I think we can look forward to a major crossover event movie a few years down the road that will incorporate characters from The Avengers, GotG, and any other franchises Marvel gets around to establishing in the meantime, all united to face the threat of Thanos. I can’t imagine a better time in the history of the company to be a Marvel zombie, and I’m relieved to be able to say that even after its acquisition by Disney.
However, if there is one thing that frustrates me about Marvel’s plans for translating their cosmic material to the big screen, it’s that they (presumably) don’t include the Silver Surfer or Galactus—for the simple reason that those two characters are still tied up in the Fantastic Four license held by FOX. I’ve previously lamented the fact that my beloved X-Men are held indefinitely as hostages by that selfsame studio whose sound is so mysterious, but the thought of a Marvel space epic without the shiny sentinel of the spaceways involved is virtually anathema. When one considers the scale of storytelling at which Marvel Studios is currently operating, the hungry cloud story FOX gave us in Rise of the Silver Surfer is almost heartbreaking. Even in that relatively weak presentation, the Surfer was the highlight of the movie (with the possible exception of Chris Evans’ dead-on Johnny Storm). I can only pray that Marvel somehow manages to wrest back control of Mr. Radd and Galactus before the studio commits to specific plots for their as-yet unannounced projects. With FOX now moving forward on a Fantastic Four reboot, however, I’m not setting my hopes too high.
Are you happy with the direction Marvel seems to be headed? Which characters from their stable still need a chance in the spotlight? When does this superhero movie craze reach the point of oversaturation and implode?