The Principal Point

In a sign that nature is healing, Disney is once again blitzing the world with Marvel content. Disney released the trailers (and dates!) for its Marvel shows that have been coming and coming and may, in 2021, actually arrive. I will focus our attention particularly on the Loki series, it being an incontrovertible truth of modern American culture that the principal point of the Marvel franchise is Loki.

Now, I am not going to fangirl about this. In the first place, I have my dignity. In the second, I have noticed that becoming A Fan is the first step on the road to inevitable disappointment, a lesson constantly reinforced during football season. I will say that the trailer is unexpectedly chaotic and creative. A bit of it (the hooded figure, the battlefield) reminds me of the recent Star Wars films, which were polished, professional, and without inspiration. Most of it makes a better impression than that: kaleidoscopic, energetic, different. You feel that the people making it might actually be having fun.

The trailer is a mishmash of enticing fragments: the crash-land in the desert, post-apocalyptic New York, the mysterious time-control organization. We have a triumphant Avengers-era Loki, gloriously saying Glorious, and the TVA showing Loki his alternate life (and self?). There’s a brilliant suggestion that Loki is D.B. Cooper, and a mystifying shot of Loki surrounded by thugs scraped out of a seedy intergalactic bin and wearing Vote Loki campaign buttons. Between the corruption of democratic politics, and the leprechaunish suit Loki sports, it rather suggests Tammany Hall. The Black Widow seems to make an appearance, in an atmospherically devastated landscape, but probably Disney is just being mean.

Whether all of this comes together in a coherent and satisfying way is still unknown. The chance of emotional depth, and a genuine meaningfulness, is unlikelier yet. Marvel usually has more fun than it does heart, and always more action than it does reflection. I take caution, too, that Disney is capitalizing on the proven popularity of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. When Disney cashes in on past successes, it often does so tediously.

But still: I’m paying attention. I am even – tentatively, when I stop reminding myself of the inevitable road to disappointment – a little excited.

A Broadened Horizon

Recently I started getting into Marvel movies. (Yes, I know. Next decade I’m going to discover video streaming services. You’ll want to be around then.) I had been aware of them for years, like everyone else on the planet, and I had even been induced to watch a few. They were very close to me, the people who persuaded me to try Marvel, and so they didn’t mind that I brought my laptop to the experience. It proved an excellent diversion.

The subtle drift of all this is that I am not what marketing specialists would call “the target audience.” The whole idea of superheroes, comic books, and comic book superhero movies left me cold. I thought it all a little goofy, a little too cartoonish: the costumes, the tights, the poundingly obvious names. These prejudices – and that is what they were, because they were not based on any substantive experience with the thing itself – these prejudices deadened my interest.

Nor, in truth, did my initial viewings jump-start it. The movies were not terrible, of course, but neither were they anything I felt impelled to see. The fighting scenes, with their 84,000 punches thrown, seemed interminable and the movies altogether too long (though in fairness, most movies are these days). I thought the franchise put a premium on action over character and wittiness over profundity. I think much the same now; at least, these are the weaknesses to which the franchise trends, and some movies surrender more to them than others.

But if my estimation of the franchise’s weaknesses is the same, my estimation of its strengths has changed. I will say the movies are more enjoyable once you piece things together and your brain stops going What so much. The talent invested in them is plainly enormous, much like the budget. But what I came most to appreciate – the true inspiration of my newfound interest – was the Cap and Loki. I may be cold to the appeal of comic books, and I may be bored by explosions and CGI monsters, but I love good characters. The Cap is my favorite kind of hero. Loki is my favorite kind of villain – and my favorite kind of anti-villain, and my favorite kind of anti-hero. Once invested in the characters, I want to know the story; I want to see the movies.

A happy fact to be drawn from all this: It is possible to overcome a viewer’s (or reader’s) prejudices and even, to some extent, his natural tastes through excellency. Good for creators, because they can win unlikely admirers; good for the rest of us, because we can have our horizons broadened to new enjoyment. Snobs think that superior taste is proved by its narrowness, but some things are gained by the wider view.

It’s a limited grace. Natural tastes can only be stretched so far, and defied even less. All my enjoyment of Thor: Dark World has not translated into a twitch of interest in Captain Marvel. I will never be a Marvel enthusiast, but I am showing up.

Even if it’s mostly for Loki’s beautiful face. And the Cap’s.