This week, the Oscar nominations were revealed, and there was the usual level of debate and discussion surrounding who made the cut and who didn’t. Lady Gaga, Alana Haim and Jodie Comer – the hipster’s three picks for Best Actress – all missed out in favor of expected nominees (Kristen Stewart), Academy darlings (Nicole Kidman, Oliva Colman) and hipster picks different, even less favored (Pénélope Cruz, Jessica Chastain). Best Actor is expected to be hotly contested between Benedict Cumberbatch, Will Smith and Andrew Garfield. Denis Villeneuve missed the best director cut. Two different real-life couples (Javier Bardem and the aforementioned Penélope Cruz, and Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst) were nominated together. But one topic dominated all others: Spider-Man: No Way Home failed.
It’s monumentally stupid that this is the topic of discussion at all. The Academy despises certain genres – Lupita Nyong’o’s horror turn Us was unfairly overlooked a few years ago – and superhero movies may not be treated fairly, but Spider-Man doesn’t. is not Logan. He never really deserved to be in the running. The discussion highlighted one of the biggest (and most annoying) issues in modern cinematic discourse: what do we do with the MCU?
Ever since Scorsese cast the lightest shadow over the MCU, he’s been at war with “real” cinema, but we’re here to end the war one movie recommendation at a time. Since the MCU’s debut in Iron Man, we’ve matched Marvel movies to “real” cinema, hoping to show moviegoers that the MCU has more variety than usually assumed, and hoping to get MCU fanatics branching out a bit. This week we’re at Thor, and if you like Thor, give The Prestige a try.
I first considered matching Thor to Hamlet. Both were directed by Kenneth Branagh, after all, and he clearly drew inspiration from his work on the Shakespearean adaptation in the MCU, but that also seems a bit obvious. I managed to finish two Iron Man movies without going to RoboCop, and I don’t expect to use it for Iron Man 3 either. Spoiler alert but it will probably be LA Confidential. Anyway, with Thor. Much like Hamlet, Thor tells the story of a deep rivalry laced with betrayal, swirling around royal politics. The Prestige essentially moves this battle from the royal court to the stage, with two conflicting magicians united by their similarities and separated by their rivalry, jealousy, and competitive spirit.
The first Thor movie takes some major missteps, with the MCU still struggling to establish superheroes in the real-world context the MCU is grounded in. As a result, he excels at his craziest moments, when he’s in Asgard or in fantasy fights. occur. With Asgard full of magical elements and Loki an illusionist and trickster, the ties to The Prestige and its two illusionist protagonists are clear.
What’s less clear is who the “Loki” of the group is. While Loki was an impressive villain in Avengers, he grew in depth as the MCU went on and he was less of a binary villain, and The Prestige shows his characters as morally grey. Likewise, The Prestige may be about magic and showmanship, but its best moments are the human interactions between its two protagonists. The Prestige excels in Thor’s shortcomings, and that’s what makes them such interesting companions to watch together. The Prestige itself is clearly inspired by Amadeus, if you’re in the mood for triple functionality. Make it a quadruple if Branagh’s Hamlet is also playing. Remember that Hamlet is four hours long.
Thor hasn’t aged well, and if it was a phase three or even phase two MCU movie, it might have been better. Ragnarok completely changes what a Thor movie is, but it didn’t need such a big spin on offbeat comedy to be good, it just needed a better focus on the humanity at the heart of the quarrel. It just had to look more like the Prestige. See you next week for Captain America: The First Avenger. No prizes for guessing that I’m going to compare it to a war movie.
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