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I Came, I Thor, I Conquered: The Strange Postcolonial Politics of the Thor Trilogy…

The Thor franchise has never been particularly consistent.

Compared to the Iron Man or Captain America films, the three Thor films have lacked a clear sense of unity or direction. Part of this is down to the lack of a singular creative vision across multiple films in the trilogy. Jon Favreau provided a very clear statement of purpose when he worked on the first two Iron Man films, a loose improvisational style tailored around the personality of Robert Downey Jnr. The Russo brothers ensured that Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War were of a piece with one another, pseudo-political action movies.

In contrast, the Thor franchise has always felt like the runt of the litter. The first film in the series was directed by Kenneth Branagh, and bristles with the excitement of getting to play in the comic book world of grand language and bright colours. Branagh pitches Thor as the most classic superhero movie; he borrows the Dutch angles from Batman! and the bright aesthetic from Superman. In many ways, Thor is the most undervalued film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, perhaps the best distillation of the company’s formula applied to the character best suited to it.

Branagh did not return for the sequel, Thor: The Dark World. Marvel initially hired Patty Jenkins, but that fell through due to creative differences. Jenkins would demonstrate her ability to direct mythology-themed superhero action with Wonder Woman, but Marvel replaced her with Alan Taylor. Taylor was a television director, and by all accounts was treated as such by the studio. The film ended up an overstuffed tonal mess, often feeling like a half-hearted (and confused) imitation of the wave of “prestige-tinted blockbusters” that were popular at the time.

The failure of the sequel would lead to a significant delay between the second and third films in the series, not to mention a complete change of direction. The third film in the trilogy, Thor: Ragnarok, would be directed by New Zealander Taika Waititi. Waititi was a comedy director best known for his work on What We Do in the Shadows and The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, who pitched the film as a superhero version of Withnail & I. The result was a film that felt utterly unlike either of the two earlier entries, even sending its title character out into deep space.

As such, the Thor films all exist at odds with one another. There is no consistent throughline to the series. The setting, the tone, the quality, the narrative focus; all of these elements change from one film to the next. The title character is introduced in Thor when he gets hit by a van, can become an inter-dimensional peacekeeper in The Dark World, and wield ray guns and steal space ships in Ragnarok. Attempting to impose structure or consistency upon the Thor films is an act of madness, one compounded when trying to integrate them into The Avengers or Avengers: Age of Ultron.

And yet, in spite of all of this, there are small themes and ideas that simmer through the three films in the franchise, recurring fascinations. In particular, the Thor trilogy is particularly fascinated with the idea of empire. In shifting away from the idea of Asgardians as literal gods or living stories, the franchise instead settled on the notion of Asgard as an imperial power tasked with bringing order to “the nine worlds.” With its magnificent spires, idyllic surroundings, exaggerated British accents, the Thor movies return time and time again to the idea of Asgard’s golden throne as the seat of empire.

Each of the Thor movies approach this idea in different ways, but they all play with the question of imperial legacy in a manner that is arguably more political than anything in The Winter Soldier or Civil War.

Note: This post contains spoilers for Thor: Ragnarok. Continue at your own risk.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Counterpoint (Review)

Counterpoint is a spectacular episode of Star Trek: Voyager, a highlight of the fifth season and of the seven season run in general.

Counterpoint is meticulously constructed, put together with a great deal of care and consideration. This is most obvious in the plotting and characterisation in the episode, in the way that the focus of the story remains constant while peeling back the layers on the characters involved. Too many Voyager episodes indulge in a contrived sequence of “… and then…” plotting, while Counterpoint is an episode that understands what it is about and is content to explore its ideas and its characters to their logical conclusions.

Playing it pitch perfect.

Counterpoint benefits from two superb central performances. Mark Harelik is one of the strongest one-shot guest stars to appear on Voyager, playing Kashyk as an endearingly ambiguous figure caught half way between a conventional romantic lead and a fascist thug. However, Counterpoint works best as a showcase for Kate Mulgrew as Kathryn Janeway. Mulgrew has always been one of the strongest members of Voyager‘s primary cast, but the production team always struggled to play to her strengths while building a consistent character.

Counterpoint is an episode that plays perfectly to the strengths of all involved, creating a symphony where all of the orchestra is playing both in key and in time with one another. At this point in the run, Voyager should be producing episodes like this with much greater consistency.

Near kiss.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Nothing Human (Review)

Nothing Human is very much an example of Star Trek: Voyager doing archetypal Star Trek, those abstract morality plays with elaborate prosthetics that offer commentary on contemporary conundrums.

Nothing Human is essentially a story about scientific ethics, about the question of what to do with information that was gathered through amoral means. Is knowledge tainted by the mechanisms through which it was acquired? Is the use of that research an endorsement of the means through which it was conducted? At the very least, does employing such information erode the user’s moral high ground? Does the use of such data make them a hypocrite, demonstrating a willingness to reap the benefits of such monstrous work, but without getting their hands dirty?

Something inhuman.

These are tough questions, with obvious applications in the modern world. These are the sorts of abstract ethical queries that are well-suited to a Star Trek episode, and there is something very endearing in the way that Nothing Human often comes down to two characters debating scientific ethics in a room together. To be fair, Nothing Human is a little too cluttered and clumsy to be as effective as it might otherwise be, its conclusions a little too neat, its developments just a little bit too tidy.

However, Nothing Human is a great example of the way in which Voyager tried to offer a version of Star Trek reflecting the popular perception of it. Nothing Human is a little clumsy in places, but it is an episode that is very much in line with what casual viewers expect from Star Trek in the abstract.

A Cardie-carrying monster.

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Storm Front, Part II (Review)

This May, we’re taking a look at the fourth (and final) season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Check back daily for the latest review.

Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II arrive at a transitory time for Star Trek: Enterprise.

The fourth season was almost certain to be the end of the show, with Brannon Braga stepping back from the writers’ room to allow Manny Coto the chance to the take the reins. Coto would use the opportunity to more firmly connect the show to its franchise roots, constructing a final season that would serve as something of a bridge between this prequel series and the rest of the canon. However, there was just one problem. Coto inherited a cliffhanger from Zero Hour, the third season finale that stranded Archer in the past with some evil!alien!space!Nazis.

Into the sunset...

Into the sunset…

Although the fourth season of Enterprise is widely praised by the few fans who remained watching until the bitter end, Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II are often overlooked in discussions of the season. Much like These Are the Voyages… at the very end of the season, the opening two-parter is largely treated as a story foisted upon an incoming executive producer that does not reflect his own plans or desires for the season ahead. There is typically a sense of obligation to discussions of the two-parter as little more than a speed bump into the season.

This is a shame. Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II were both written by Manny Coto. Although the producer inherited the basic premise and the brief from his direct predecessors, how Coto chose to approach the material is quite insightful and informative. In that respect, Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II might be seen as an introduction to the Manny Coto era before it properly begins in Home.

"It's been a long road, gettin' from there to here... It's been a long time, but my time is finally near..."

“It’s been a long road, gettin’ from there to here…
It’s been a long time, but my time is finally near…”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Storm Front, Part I (Review)

This May, we’re taking a look at the fourth (and final) season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Check back daily for the latest review.

Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II arrive at a transitory time for Star Trek: Enterprise.

The third season of the show had wrapped on a somewhat unexpected cliffhanger, finding Archer confronted by an evil!alien!space!Nazi in the midst of what looked to be the Second World War. Given that the third season had been written as a single extended dramatic arc about Archer and his crew saving Earth from an alien threat, the twist seemed to come out of nowhere. Instead of allowing Archer and his crew to return home, Zero Hour threw out one final hurdle for the characters; a bump in the road home.

Ship shape.

Ship shape.

However, the episodes also marked a transition behind the scenes. This particular iteration of the Star Trek franchise was on borrowed time. There had been warning signs as early as the first season, but the massive reworking of the show in The Expanse suggested that the network had adopted a “do or die” approach to the future of this lucrative science-fiction franchise. The fact that the third season had its episode order cut and there were suggestions that a fourth season was unlikely suggested that the show had not “done.”

Even aside from all that, the start of the fourth season saw Rick Berman and Brannon Braga taking a step back from the franchise and handing the reins to executive producer Manny Coto. In that respect, Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II might be seen as the collective last gasp of the Berman and Braga era. Give or take These Are The Voyages…

Back to the future.

Back to the future.

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The Lone Gunmen – Eine Kleine Frohike (Review)

This October/November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the eighth season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of The Lone Gunmen.

With Eine Kleine Frohike, the first season of The Lone Gunmen is still in its teething phase.

There is a sense that the writers are still finding the show’s voice and struggling to get the tone right, while also trying to figure out how to structure an episode and what to do with the two new characters. Eine Kleine Frohike is messy and disjointed, but that is to be expected three episodes into the first season of an hour-long comedy. The first season of any show will inevitably be a bit rough; it is very rare for a television series to emerge from its production team fully formed.

Eich bin ein Frohike...

Eich bin ein Frohike…

At the same time, there are a few things that Eine Kleine Frohike does quite well, with John Shiban honing in on a few of the show’s strengths. Most obviously, Eine Kleine Frohike positions Frohike as the heart of the leading trio. Byers has always been the idealist of the bunch, but Frohike has a fundamental (and perhaps unlikely) dignity that makes him a solid foundation for an episode like this. Indeed, the best scene in Eine Kleine Frohike uses Frohike’s humanity to forge a connection with a guest character who otherwise seems like a joke.

Eine Kleine Frohike is too disjointed to really work, but it does represent a clear step forward for the show.

The son also rises...

The son also rises…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Zero Hour (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

There was a very real chance that Zero Hour might have been the last episode of Star Trek: Enterprise to air.

In fact, it was entirely possible that Zero Hour‘s distinctive (and downright provocative) closing shot of an evil!alien!space!Nazi might have been the last shot of Star Trek to air on television for quite some time.

Time is running out...

Time is running out…

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