The "Avengers" film franchise may not really be the equivalent of a Ponzi scheme, as A.O. Scott considers it, because the primary audience for "Thor" is also the primary audience for "Captain America" and "The Avengers" and so on anyway. They don't need the chain-linking of plot through each installment as reason to see the next. If anything many fans are more annoyed with the overlaying schematics of these movies, and it would even be a deterrent if this audience wasn't so completist in their consumption of comic and blockbuster culture.
As the most recent and most co-dependently dissatisfying of "Avengers" episodes yet, "Thor" should be the greatest harbinger of doom for next summer's culminating tentpole. The main offense is the film's ending. Not just its frustrating (and figuratively "ugly," according The Playlist's Kevin Jagernauth) post-credits sequence, but the climax of the film itself. Devin Faraci of Badass Digest points out how the story concludes incorrectly:
Leaving Thor in Asgard at the end of the movie represents a return to the status quo from the beginning of the movie, which is always the worst place for a story to go. While Thor has seemingly learned humility (or so we’re told – there’s very little action in the film to truly show this), he’s back at his father’s side, the heir to the throne again. Returning Thor to Asgard is only a satisfying ending if he ascends to the throne, but the mythology of the character won’t allow that. So Thor’s back to being a prince, just one with a better attitude. Loki being exposed and exiled isn’t that big of a change, especially as this film isn’t called Loki; everybody walking into the film knew he would go bad since the character is historically a foe of Thor.
I agree "Thor" would have made more sense with the title character returning to or, as Faraci would prefer, stranded on Earth. Not just for how it would work narratively as an independent entity. But because it completely feels like an ending serviced to the scheme of the franchise rather than a logical direction for the story. Faraci acknowledges that "'Thor' exists only as an introduction to the character for "Marvel's The Avengers," but he misses the likely reason for it to end as it does for the purposes of the series. My guess is that Thor only finds a way back to Earth and joins the Avengers team because S.H.I.E.L.D. (and Captain America and Iron Man) requires his help in defeating Loki, who we know -- confirmed by the post-credits teaser -- is the big baddie of the later movie.
To respond to Faraci's statement that "If even a minute of screen time is wasted on getting Thor from Asgard to Earth in "Marvel’s The Avengers" it’s a minute too much," I expect that much of the first act of "The Avengers" will indeed be
wasted on devoted to such. I only agree that it's annoying because of "Thor"'s forced conformity to this course.
While I'm on the subject of both the "Thor" ending and my frustration with the whole "Avengers" enterprise, I'd like to branch out to one of the reasons I hate the long process of film production news (and rumor), as well. When i Googled the terms "Thor ending" many results that came up had a variation of the headline "Thor Ending Changed For Avengers," none of which turn out to involve anything relative to what "Thor" actually contains. All based on a story originally posted to IESB.net, which no longer exists, these posts claimed that the film was initially intended to be entirely set on Asgard but that Thor comes to Earth and becomes his alter-ego Donald Blake in the end in order to fit a set up for "The Avengers." They also reported that director Kenneth Branagh had an acting role in the movie.
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