Pre-Rumbles: “Thor” vs. “Captain America: The First Avenger”
As Marvel Studios begins their big push to the 2012 release of The Avengers, their films are increasingly taking on more of a soap-opera-like continuity between them. This serialization might be a little aggravating, but so far, it's not keeping the films from being enjoyable in their own right (at least for the most part).
Still, comic book superhero films in general (and Marvel films in particular) are only becoming more prevalent nowadays. This year, we'll see the X-Men prequel, X-Men: First Class. And, only five years after the hit-and-miss (mostly miss) Spider-Man 3, the webslinger will be getting his very own shiny reboot in 2012.
But in The Avengers is Marvel's juggernaut, and before it brings together Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, it has to introduce more members of its roster in their very own films. It can be a little exhausting trying to keep up with these Avengers, so if we really only want to check out one Marvel movie this summer, which should it be? With that question in mind, Flickchart's Reel Rumbles take on a slightly different form as we present: Pre-Rumbles: Thor vs. Captain America: The First Avenger.
Round One: Trailers
I'm not well-versed in comic books, but I do enjoy comic book movies, and the impending release of Thor, in particular, really intrigues me. Uninitiated as I am, it would seem to me that Thor is one major comic book character who has his own line of books, yet may not be all that familiar to the average movie-going public. Marvel's starting to get a bit more obscure with the characters to whom they are providing their own movies. Thor's success may indicate whether or not we will, in fact, ever see an Ant-Man movie.
Judging from the trailer, it certainly looks to be full of bombast, energy and sci-fi intrigue. Obviously, it's going to play fast and loose with the Norse mythology it is inspired by. The fact that the Norse gods who hail from Asgard are actually just aliens has been done elsewhere in science fiction, but the superhero-as-alien shtick also makes Thor seem a lot like Superman. I don't remember Superman fighting monsters that look kind of like the giant offspring of the cave troll and mumakil from The Lord of the Rings.
Thor even has his own Lois Lane, though she's a scientist, not a reporter. And his father, Odin, is alive and well (at least at the movie's outset; he's in the trailer). But yeah, to me, Thor looks like Superman with a Norse accent and antiquated mannerisms (and no need to hide from the authorities).
Captain America: The First Avenger looks interesting in different ways. Genetic manipulation to create super-soldiers or living weapons is certainly nothing new to comic books or comic book movies (see X-Men Origins: Wolverine for an example), but I'm intrigued by Captain America's WWII setting. There appear to be cool gadgets aplenty, and the shot of Hugo Weaving ripping his face off to reveal the Red Skull is suitably cool.
I am not, however, a big fan of the digital manipulation of major characters. It didn't work when they de-aged Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in X-Men: The Last Stand. And putting Chris Evans' face on a scrawny little kid is disconcerting. It might work better if Evans wasn't recognizable to me, but the pre-Captain shots where he is emaciated (can't even think of a better word for that) look weird. (On the other hand, he later looks just as crazily buff as Chris Hemsworth does in Thor.) This is not a deal breaker for me, it's just that recognizable people look odd when they've been digitally manipulated. (See also: Thor's Anthony Hopkins in Beowulf.)
Anyway, I'm normally a sci-fi nut, but I'm digging the period setting of Captain America. (It only begs the question: How does Cap end up in the modern day for The Avengers?) Both films seem like they'll have great action, but Cap also seems like it will be, somehow, less over-the-top. As such, it just nudges out Thor in this round, 10-9.
Round Two: Casting
The headliners for Thor should be enough to make any sci-fi geek smile. Captain James T. Kirk's dad and Luke Skywalker's mom in the same movie? Now, that's cool.
Chris Hemsworth, in the title role, made an impression on me with his small role in the 2009 thriller A Perfect Getaway (in which he also showed off a physique that should serve him well for Thor.) And though he only appears in the first ten minutes, he completely steals the show in Star Trek, where, as the ill-fated George Kirk, he sacrifices himself to save the lives of his ship's crew, including his newborn son, James. These two roles are very different, and Hemsworth pulls them both off wonderfully, meaning he's got chops. And he does display a certain charm in the trailer. If Thor hits, he should definitely be going places.
If Thor is like Superman, then Jane Foster is his Lois Lane. Recent Best Actress Oscar winner Natalie Portman brings a touch of class to the proceedings, though this role looks to be pretty generic for her.
Lending gravitas to Thor is Anthony Hopkins, as Thor's father, Odin. Mr. Hopkins is always a joy to watch...but what's with that eye patch?
Meanwhile, judging by the trailer, the character portrayed by Kat Dennings is either going to provide some amusing comic relief, or quickly become annoying...
As cool as the pairing of Thor's two leads is, one can't discount the cast of Captain America: The First Avenger. With the role of Steve Rogers, Chris Evans becomes the first actor to portray two major comic book heroes in Marvel's movies. Fantastic Four and its sequel may have been poorly received, but there's no arguing that Evans - as Johnny Storm, the Human Torch - was a bright spot in the cast. He's likeable and charismatic, and I'm sure he'll be a pretty good fit for Captain America. (I still wonder about those early scenes, before he turns superhero, though...)
Adding some credibility are Oscar winner Tommy Lee Jones and Oscar nominee Stanley Tucci. Jones is always fantastic, and he's a good fit for a hardened military colonel. But the mad scientist vibe and accent sported by Tucci seem a little silly.
Hayley Atwell is an unknown to me, but judging by the trailer, she goes toe-to-toe with the boys just fine. The coolest part of the casting for me, though, is Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull. The moment when he rips his face off to reveal the Red Skull underneath (what a fantastic makeup job!) gave me goosebumps.
Ultimately, the casting in Captain America impresses me just enough to go head-to-head with the coolness of the Hemsworth/Portman pairing in Thor. This round is a draw.
Round Three: Direction
Whenever I think of Kenneth Branagh, the director, only one thing immediately comes to mind: Shakespeare adaptations. That's not really fair; after all, those aren't the only things the man has directed. And I've never actually seen a film that he's helmed. But he has done Henry V. And Hamlet. And Much Ado About Nothing. (Incidentally, those are his three highest-ranked films on Flickchart.) These, and the rest of the films on his resume, don't exactly scream "comic book movie" to me. This smacks of a tactic similar to Marvel getting Ang Lee to direct Hulk. You'll get a lot of different answers about whether or not that one worked.
Still, I'm a little more familiar with Branagh, the actor. There, he's done at least a little genre work, including the second (and most forgettable) Harry Potter film. His totally over-the-top performance was the best thing about Wild Wild West. Of course, that's not saying much, but it does prove that his sensibilities aren't entirely too stuffy for the source material. Perhaps he will be able to bring a unique perspective to Thor.
Meanwhile, Marvel has bagged a genuine blockbuster director for Captain America. Joe Johnston may be as famous for his mediocre films as for his good ones; he's responsible for the Jurassic Park film that didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of being as good as the first two, and many people would claim that he de-fanged The Wolfman. But anybody old enough should remember that Honey, I Shrunk the Kids was fun when they were young, and his highest-ranked film on Flickchart is, indeed, a good one, and it's a good comic book movie, to boot. The Rocketeer is a heckuva lot of fun, and I'm sincerely hoping Johnston can bring a lot of the same flavor to Captain America.
While admitting that unfamiliarity with Kenneth Branagh's work is coloring my judgment here, it sure seems like Joe Johnston is a better fit to direct a comic book movie, and so wins this round, 10-9.
And the Winner Is...
Both films have a lot riding on their shoulders, as far as how close to the bottom of the barrel Marvel can scrape to create movies featuring new characters, and not just rebooting Spider-Man, and the X-Men over and over again. Both are sure to include blatant setups for The Avengers. But if I were to choose just one Marvel movie to see this year, the combination of a director I think could be a good fit for the material, and the nifty WWII setting just nudge Captain America ahead of the sci-fi/fantasy bombast of Thor for me. It may be more awkwardly-titled, but the winner of this bout, by a nose, is Captain America: The First Avenger.
Thor hits theaters on May 6th.
Captain America: The First Avenger opens July 22nd.