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All the things not said in Thor Ragnarok

OK so let me wax a little bit poetic about the costuming in Thor Ragnarok, and a little more specifically how they may be telegraphing a new arc for Loki post-Ragnarok.  I am, as anyone who’s taking one of my classes will tell you, a huge fan of the use of color subtext in film and other visual media.  It’s subtle, it’s often clever and it can be as big an emotional driver as sound and story in the right hands.

Colors are chosen for a reason. You get that right?  Much has been made of Superman’s “red/white/blue” color scheme or Batman’s transitions between blue or black capes and cowls during different periods of his run.  In any society, even in contemporary society, colors mean things. In the United States red is used for love, white or silver is used for purity, you get the kind of thing I mean.  This subtext is going to change depending on where you live, but with the globalization of media, those lines are getting blurred all the time.  Right now, however, there is a color language that everyone innately understands because of their cultural context, even if they can’t call out the meanings case by case.

In Thor Ragnarok, Loki, who up until now has been our favorite mischievous evil-doer, has his look and his top black-sheep status swiped by Hela.  His older, adoptive sister storms into the film in her own iconic green and black threads and her own stunningly horned headgear. 

Hela in full vamp.Hela in full “Battle-dress”

And then she promptly kicks everybody’s ass, essentially making Loki look like he’s been playing dress-up in his big sister’s vampy heels, rather than embracing evil on a serious and visceral level.  As far as “evil” is concerned, Loki is and has been a poser.

Loki in his green Asgardian “super suit”at the start of the film.

When we next see Loki his color palette has changed.  He hasn’t gone with the primary-colored stylings of his brother (who undergoes his own costume-transformation) but rather than the green and black and gold-tones we have become accustomed to seeing as Loki’s “Asgardian super-suit”, everything is cast much more blue

Thor and Loki, post ass-kicking

He’s ceded the black and green of the “bad-guy” for shades of blue and brown. He’s aligned himself, color palette wise, with his brother (look at how the blue on Thor’s left shoulder brace matches the blue on Loki’s everything). With the good guys.  Someone else has taken up the mantle of Big Bad, and Loki has begun to reinvent himself…  Or has he?

When we get to the final fight sequence, the green comes back, it’s a lot more subtle, a lot more subdued than Loki was sporting at the outset.  BUT, let me draw your attention to those knives Loki’s sporting.  See those handles?  See that blue there?  Whatever change Loki started after Hela took his look is still there and is helping to drive his actions.

The focus of this film is Thor, lets be clear about that, but in the background (playing younger-brother second fiddle as always, I suppose) we’re being shown the start of a change in Loki’s character, possibly with an eye towards an “Agent of Asgard” spin for our favorite almost-villain.  I mean, in the mythologies, Ragnarok was the end of all things, followed by a reboot, the world starting over.  You wouldn’t have to stretch very far to suggest that, now that Loki’s arc as the “bad guy” is over, that character might evolve into something new.

This is the way the world….

I had the privilege today to hear a 90 year old newspaper man catch himself using an insensitive term in a pitch and correct himself with grace.  The world did not end.  The ground did not shake.  Everyone in the room took one, very small, step closer to being better than we were before.

Atomic Blonde and My Childhood Nihilism

Good goddamn, Atomic Blonde was something else.  With Charlize Theron as an unreliable narrator and James McAvoy as good-guy douchebag-gone-native this may be in my top-ten favorite cold-war spy films ever.  It’s a “genre” film, make no mistake about that, but if you have ever been a fan of ’70’s/80’s spy fiction, this is going to be right in your wheelhouse.

I grew up during the cold war.  I was probably in 4th grade when it finally hit home that if the PTB’s pissing matches ever went past the point of no return, I was going to be one of the lucky ones who was vaporized on impact.  It was… unsettling at the time.  When your formative years involve regular reminders that all it would take was a bad transistor, or a flock of pigeons, or a bright red balloon in the wrong airspace at the wrong time, to end the world as you know it, you’re looking at a certain embrace of your inevitable radiation-fueled disintegration.

On older family member once remarked that my generation had no fear.  That the comfort and security of a regular paycheck and well-defined working hours didn’t seem to hold as much attraction for us.  But when you grow up with the complete destruction of humanity as a very possible outcome before you even make it out of puberty, what the hell else can they do to you?  This sense that, we’re all just shuttling around behind the scenes while the facades of our major players keep shouting rhetoric at each other onscreen is one of the key drivers in this film.  While posturing is going on, there is “real work” being done behind the scenes and that idea is one of the most attractive things about the cold war genre. There are people out there taking actual actions.  Not superheroes, not billionaire playboys, just someone who has a job to do.  Anyone can save the world.  They just have to be in the right place at the right time.

For me, there were a lot of things to love about Atomic Blonde.  Charlize Theron absolutely makes you believe that she is physically capable of pulling off every one of those moves.  They do the Actor the service (and, yes, this is a service) of allowing her character to get bruised, spit blood, stomp around town in a stylish coat and a black eye.  They (and likely Ms. Theron bought into this) are not interested in keeping her “pretty”.  None of this is “pretty”, none of it is glorified.  It is death, betrayal and mayhem on an intimate, fingernail-peeling, scale.  The fight scenes are gorgeous and brutal in a way that has only recently become fashionable.  They make every single hit hard work for both Lorraine (Theron) and her opponents.  These fights are first and foremost about endurance.  Who can get up again the quickest.

The story itself, the narrative that strings all of these fight sequences together is incomplete, but not for the reasons you might thing.  This film was written and filmed for us “Cold War kids”.  This means there is a lot of “generational canon” here that, unless your own memories of the cold war get brought to the fore by the sound and imagery, you’re going to miss.  If anything, the filmmakers are guilty of going too far into “show, don’t tell” land. The current crop of 20-something moviegoers simply aren’t going to have all the references to hand.  (I’m reminded of when The Two Jakes, the 1990 sequel to the 1974 Chinatown was released.  After 16 years, the experience base of the moviegoers had changed and the new generation just didn’t respond quite as strongly as their parents).

Atomic Blonde reads very much like the plot of so many post WW2 and early cold war spy films, gems like Enigma where the feeling of an operative working in informational darkness is only enhanced by the viewer being kept in the darkness alongside them.  This was standard fare in many stories of the time. If you are a fan of the genre, Atomic Blonde will fit right in there alongside the original Bourne Identity or Flight of the Condor.