Department S 1.26 – A Small War of Nerves

Apparently in 1969, a fellow could leave his car unlocked in a London parking garage for more than a week with the keys in the glove box and expect it’ll still be there. I’d like to think that I almost never comment on what we’re watching, but I think when I do it’s amusing myself at the differences in the world over time. Marie and I were watching a 1973 episode of one of the NBC Mystery Movies, The Snoop Sisters, last week, and I had to marvel at a character complaining that the decks at Rockerfeller Center charged a whole dollar an hour to park. Bet if that guy did give up on finding a street spot, he knew to lock his car.

Also in 1969, the future international movie icon Anthony Hopkins was hungry and looking for work. This episode of Department S is Hopkins’ only ITC credit. Certainly he was busy with the National Theatre throughout the sixties and only appeared on TV and in films once in a while, but it’s a real shame they couldn’t have got him back for a Saint or something. Wouldn’t Hopkins have been an amazing Number Two in The Prisoner? Frederick Jaeger’s also in this, as a very smooth and nasty villain. His plotline gets abandoned as the problem moves to another part of Britain; I’d like to think the police came back for him some other time.

Our son enjoyed this one right until the end. It’s a good missing persons story with guards and mean dogs and last minute escapes, along with some completely lovely location footage in London in and around Waterloo Station, but it ends with a psychological standoff instead of a brawl. That’s certainly the best way this episode should have gone, and it’s a great emotional payoff, but I think any nine year-olds in the audience wouldn’t be wrong for wanting a sock to the jaw instead of talking through the crisis.

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Here’s a non-controversial opinion: The Dark World is the least of the three Thor films. It’s got some memorable moments and good fights, and I like how it gives much more screen time to several of the Asgardian supporting cast than the first movie did, but at the same time it’s a much less involving movie than the original. It’s one of a few projects that Christopher Eccleston took on during his “I’d like one of those big Hollywood paychecks as well, please” phase, and that’s pretty much what this feels like: payday without passion.

Eh, the kid liked it. I guess that’s what matters.

I’d still like to see a Sif and the Warriors Three movie as soon as Jaimie Alexander can take a long break from making Blindspot for NBC. Ah, well. At least Loki’s here. Any movie with Tom Hiddleston as Loki can’t be all bad.

Thor (2011)

There’s a general feeling that the Marvel movies just keep getting better and bigger, but I have a soft spot for the first Thor film, which has a sense of whimsy and fun and a deliberately smaller scale. Our son agrees that it’s the best of the first four movies. It’ll get surpassed, but Kenneth Branagh was such a good choice to direct this. He makes the human stuff and the epic stuff seem so vibrant and entertaining.

Well, I say it’s a smaller scale despite Loki’s plan to destroy the Frost Giants’ home realm of Jotunheim. We’ve not seen a planet really threatened with extinction in these movies yet. But it’s all focused on a small town in New Mexico which is so visually appealing that I wish it was a real place I could visit. Natalie Portman’s character and her scientist buddies have moved into what looks like an old car dealership or garage or something. I just love the look of the place.

The one unavoidable thing in these movies, since they try to look like the recognizable world, is that the government is represented by fun-killing agents in black suits who ruin everything. The town of Puente Antiguo is so colorful and bright, and then they swoop in and confiscate all the lovable scientists’ equipment and data. Clark Gregg can accomplish a lot with the twinkle in his eye and his smile, but mainly what he makes me want to do in that scene is punch him in the nose. SHIELD remains the one note in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that I dislike. They were never so awful in the comics when I was a reader.

Asgard is another beautiful location, a lovely triumph of gold and rainbows. I like Anthony Hopkins as Odin, and I really like Idris Elba as Heimdall. Our son couldn’t quite describe the look and feel of Asgard, and called it “a future city.” After the movie was over, he bugged his eyes out to demonstrate how “I went WOW when I saw Asgard!”

As for the leads, Chris Hemsworth probably won’t go down in the books as an actor with a lot of range, but what he does within them is consistently entertaining. I really like him as Thor, and I loved his character in Ghostbusters, because he does fish-out-of-water extremely well. He’s great with Portman, and with Stellan Skarsgård in a too-short scene in a bar, but this is the first of the Marvel movies to let the villain run away with the picture. I know a couple of women who melt over Tom Hiddleston, which is amusing because butter wouldn’t melt in Loki’s mouth. There was a rumor going around a couple of years ago that Hiddleston would take over from Daniel Craig as James Bond. I wouldn’t stop going to see them.

Actually, there was another rumor going around a couple of years ago that Idris Elba would be the next Bond. That could also be great.

Speaking of comics, the movies have never done right by the Warriors Three. The original Thor comics are some of my favorites from the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby days, and you should swing by a comic book store in your town and pick up the first four of those great big inexpensive Essentials reprints. Most of the issues were split between the main Thor feature and a backup called Tales of Asgard, where Fandral, Hogun, and Volstagg take center stage, and they’re probably the most downright fun comics that Marvel has ever published. The movie’s right to add the Lady Sif to their group, and Jaimie Alexander is very good in the limits of her role, but I figure the studio should plan a proper Sif and the Warriors Three feature as soon as possible, with some epic realm-hopping quest set in the glorious past of Asgard.

Well, I’m also not completely satisfied that Volstagg is played by anybody other than BRIAN BLESSED, who was born for the part, but Ray Stevenson acquitted himself just fine.

One little forgettable bit of this movie is that it’s Jeremy Renner’s first appearance as Hawkeye. It’s not quite a blink and you’ll miss it scene, but it’s very short and he’s just called “Agent Barton,” and so our son didn’t realize who the character was. Poor Hawkeye doesn’t have the same amount of merchandising as the other Marvel heroes, does he? Well, they can’t all be on the marquee, I suppose.