The fusion of Waititi’s aesthetic and Marvel’s story formula works – but the enjoyment comes at the cost of relegating Hela’s invasion of Asgard to a kind of sideshow to the boys-will-be-boys badinage of Thor, Loki and Hulk. Thor returns to Asgard after defeating the fire demon in the film’s prologue to find Loki posing as Odin (Hopkins): Thor – never the brightest tool in the pantheon, hammer notwithstanding – believes he has prevented Ragnarök by removing any possibility of anyone uniting the fire demon’s crown with the Eternal Flame that burns in Odin’s vault. This, in fact, is the deus ex machina McGuffin that affords the Marvel story engine one of its most basic and persistently useful moves: use one Villain to defeat the other just when all seems lost for the Heroes at the end of the movie, as, indeed, was the case at the denouement of the enormously-successful Doctor Strange (2016). Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) pops up here to direct Thor and Loki to their father in Norway, where Odin explains that his impending death will allow Hela, his first-born and general of the armies that brought him the Nine Realms, to return to wreak vengeance on the planet of Asgard. Hela (Blanchett, in a gloriously campy and vicious portrayal of the true nature of a people intent on the Colonization of Other Worlds) obliterates Thor’s hammer Mjolnir, pursues Thor and Loki across the Bifröst Bridge and exiles them into deep space before quickly establishing her rule over Asgard by destroying the Warriors Three, resurrecting her ancient army from the dead and appointing Asgardian champion Skurge (Urban) as her executioner:-
Vigilante lawyer Matt Murdock, protagonist of Daredevil (2015-current), persuades binge-drinking private investigator Jessica Jones (2015-current), former Prison inmate Luke Cage (2016-current) and billionaire martial arts expert Danny Rand from Iron Fist (2017), to combine their efforts against the perfidious Asian Crime syndicate “The Hand”, the Secret Masters behind a series of earthquakes that begins to afflict contemporary New York.
The original line-up of The Defenders from Marvel Feature #1 (December 1971) included the man from Atlantis Namor, the Alien emissary the Silver Surfer, and The Incredible Hulk, central character of both the US tv series (1977-1982) and the film of the same name (2008); this was coordinated by Comic-book Hero Doctor Strange, most recently given the big-budget treatment in Doctor Strange (2016). The membership of the four-strong team of Superheroes changed frequently, however, over the course of its run in Marvel Comics from 1972 until 1986, as it did on a mission-by-mission basis under the name The Secret Defenders (1993-1995), and was always subject to the kind of contractual availability and convenience that made it suitable for current-day aims of the Television arm of the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
“Luke, I am your brother” may not have quite the same cultural resonance as “Luke, I am your father” but the former phrase, spoken to eponymous protagonist Luke Cage (Colter) in episode eight of this seminal Superhero series, performs a similar function to that of the famous line spoken by Darth Vader at the denouement of Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980): it exchanges the Inner Space and emotional turmoil of its protagonist for the society-wide threat posed by a dominant ideology too pernicious to be left unchecked. Both Lukes, Cage and Skywalker, must decipher the buried truths of their family set-ups in order to repair the deep-seated divisions in the culture to which they belong:-
The fourteenth film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and the first since Marvel Studios divested itself from Marvel Entertainment and became part of the Walt Disney Company, first feints at a different approach to the previous thirteen – here our Hero must learn something about the limits of his ego before returning stronger, fitter, faster to the supernal path of self-esteem and individuality – then reverts to the successful formula of a single man saving the Multiverse and everything in it. That this Orientalist confection succeeds so well at wedding the Mythological scale of the Marvel Superhero to the sudden shifts of perspective attendant to the computer-generated age of digital Cinema is down to Doctor Strange‘s visual panache, a typically-stentorian and theatrically-accomplished performance as Doctor Strange by Benedict Cumberbatch and the realization of the longstanding connection between the Cosmological doctrines of Theosophy and the Pulp traditions of storytelling from which Doctor Strange so evidently draws its inspiration:-
Earth’s drought-stricken water supply of 2033 is monopolized by “Water & Power”, led by Villain Kesslee (McDowell), a militarized corporation which first captures Tank Girl (Petty) and her young friend Sam (Ramsower) and then puts Tank Girl and in-house Transportation-expert Jet Girl (Watts) to work luring a troublesome band of Genetically-Engineered Mutants known as “Rippers” – made by combining the DNA of humans and kangaroos – out into the open. Tank Girl makes the acquaintance of a modified M5A1 Stuart tank (“The sheer size of it!” she exclaims, fondling the gun-muzzle, “I’m in love!”) and the resulting confrontation sees the Rippers wound Kesslee – subsequently restored in suitably lurid fashion as a Cyborg – and Tank Girl and Jet Girl escape by tank and by plane respectively. They follow a lead to Sex club Liquid Silver where the Madame (Magnuson) intends to put pre-pubescent Sam to work servicing the depraved desires of paedophile Rat Face (Pop). The duo humiliate the Madame and the other occupants of the club by making them perform Cole Porter’s Let’s Do It (1928) at gunpoint, whereupon Water & Power soldiers storm the impromptu song-and-dance number and recapture Sam. Tank Girl and Jet Girl discover the desert hide-out of the Rippers and inveigle themselves into their affections by taking part in a Jazz-poetry inflected Religious festival and, despite the suspicions of Ripper T-Saint (Ice-T), are trusted by the Rippers to use their vehicles to seize a shipment of Weapons intended for Water & Power – but this proves to be a trap. Kesslee reveals that Tank Girl has been bugged all along and informs her that child protégé Sam is trapped in a pipe of rapidly-filling water. A comic book-style fight ensues and Tank Girl short-circuits Kesslee’s cybernetic rigging by injecting him with one of his own weapons: a handheld hypodermic capable of turning blood into water:-