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There are two main­stream com­ic book pub­lish­ing houses, DC and Marvel, and choos­ing between them as a kid was a bit like choos­ing between The Beatles and the Stones. They had dif­fer­ent styles and sens­ib­il­it­ies (and philo­sophies) and after a little bit of exper­i­ment­a­tion you could find a fit with one or the other.

DC had Superman and Batman – big, bold and (dare I say it) one-dimensional char­ac­ters with lim­ited or opaque inner lives. When Stan Lee cre­ated Spider-Man, a teen­age pho­to­graph­er with powers he neither asked for nor appre­ci­ated, he cre­ated a soap opera – a soap opera with aspir­a­tions to high art. As you might be able to tell, I was a Marvel kid.

Now the battle between DC and Marvel is tak­ing place in cinemas rather than the high street. Nolan’s Dark Knight re-boot of Batman has been a phe­nomen­on but like the com­ic book the cent­ral char­ac­ter is the least inter­est­ing. Superman is stum­bling with many failed attempts to get off the ground. On the Marvel side Spider-Man is get­ting anoth­er go around with great young English act­or Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) as the web slinger and we are only a few weeks away from anoth­er X‑Men film.

But for a par­tic­u­lar gen­er­a­tion of Marvel fans (i.e. a gen­er­a­tion roughly my height, weight and age) the suc­cess of Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man series has opened up the excit­ing poten­tial for the whole Marvel Universe to be brought to the screen – a grand uni­fied the­ory of Marvel if you like. We’re about to get a film intro­du­cing Captain America and then in 2012 The Avengers bring him, Iron Man, Hulk, etc. togeth­er for the first time. This is also, not coin­cid­ent­ally, a license to print quids in ser­i­ous denominations.

But before we get there we have to get past the tricky Thor prob­lem. The Mighty Thor was a key mem­ber of The Avengers, and a char­ac­ter beloved of many, but frankly he is the sil­li­est of a poten­tially very silly bunch. He isn’t a nor­mal guy who finds a magic ham­mer, he isn’t par­tic­u­larly tor­men­ted and he isn’t very deep. He’s the real God of Thunder, from Asgard the home of the Norse Gods, ban­ished by his fath­er Odin for being a bit of a dick and who makes his way between his world and ours using an enchanted rain­bow bridge. He ain’t cool.

So, in a stroke of geni­us on the part of the pro­du­cers and dir­ect­or Kenneth Branagh, lack of cool becomes his defin­ing char­ac­ter­ist­ic. The Thor fea­ture film that’s in cinemas now is light-hearted, light-footed, fully aware of it’s reli­ance on non­sense and played to the campy hilt by all concerned.

Aussie Chris Hemsworth (best known until now for “Home and Away”) has bulked up to play the muscle-bound hero who learns that smack­ing things with a giant ham­mer isn’t the only way around a prob­lem. He is well-supported by some class acts giv­ing it heaps: Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgård, Idris Elba and Anthony Hopkins. When you think that its reas­on for exist­ence is a long expens­ive trail­er for anoth­er film that hasn’t been made yet, Thor is more enter­tain­ing than it has a right to be.

That’s a judge­ment that could also apply to Fast Five (known in NZ as Fast & Furious 5 because evid­ently audi­ences here need a bit of help mak­ing con­nec­tions). I’d like to say that this instal­ment of the boy racer fran­chise is heaps bet­ter than epis­ode four but I’d be guess­ing as I can’t actu­ally remem­ber any­thing about that one. Actually, you don’t need to know any­thing about Fast & Furious his­tory as this one is enter­tain­ing enough on it’s own terms: Vin Diesel and Paul Walker lead a gang of fun­da­ment­ally decent out­laws who find them­selves in Rio with a chance at one last big score. Yup, it’s a caper movie – but with some panache.

Much quieter – but with an equi­val­ent sense of Latin American place – is the new Merchant-Ivory lit­er­ary adapt­a­tion, The City of Your Final Destination. Timid aca­dem­ic Omar Metwally is per­suaded by his decidedly teuton­ic girl­friend (Alexandra Maria Lara) to go to Uruguay to research a bio­graphy of a recently deceased author. He needs approv­al from the remain­ing fam­ily so arrives unan­nounced at their remote ranch and lands in the middle of a fas­cin­at­ingly uncon­ven­tion­al fam­ily arrangement.

Anthony Hopkins (again) is the broth­er, Laura Linney is the wife, Charlotte Gainsbourg is the mis­tress – all liv­ing togeth­er and unable to agree on what to do with the land, the lit­er­ary leg­acy, any­thing much. This is typ­ic­al Merchant-Ivory – respect­ful, con­sidered, patient – a bit like actu­ally read­ing the book – but far from unenjoyable.

Mozart’s Sister is also for the art­house crowd but is con­sid­er­ably less sat­is­fy­ing. Evidently Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had an older sis­ter who may or may not have been as gif­ted as him but whose tal­ent was neg­lected by their ambi­tious fath­er who recog­nised that the prodi­gious eleven-year-old was the family’s meal ticket.

Tired of being no more than an accom­pan­ist on a never-ending tour of the great houses of Europe, Nannerl Mozart (Marie Féret) has a doomed dal­li­ance with the Dauphin of France (Clovis Fouin) but then the story fizzles out – much as it appears to have done in real life.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 4 May, 2011.