"Thor/Loki: Blood Brothers": What If the Bad Guy Wins and Then Won't Shut Up?
“What if the bad guy won?” is a common “what-if?” scenario played out in superhero comic books. Unfortunately, the answer provided by Marvel’s Thor/Loki: Blood Brothers to that question is that people end up talking. A lot. In simple-minded platitudes repeated over and over and over and over. And then once more for good measure. Add in the herky-jerky animation of a “motion comic” and you get a movie that’s pretty disappointing on nearly every level.
Those looking for rock ‘em, sock ‘em superheroics are advised to steer well clear of this DVD. Blood Brothers, based on the graphic novel by Robert Rodi and Esad Ribic, begins after the trickster god Loki has managed to depose Odin from the throne of Asgard and defeated his half-brother Thor in battle. There are occasional flashbacks to the battle that led to Thor’s defeat, but this story’s starting point is what Loki does after he finally gets what he’s been striving for throughout his entire Marvel Comics career. Those who aided him directly start coming out of the woodwork to demand their just recompense, while others who can capitalize on Loki’s new stature begin popping up to exploit him as well. Meanwhile, there’s the usual thousand-and-one headaches that come with being a monarch, and before long Loki discovers the truth in the adage to be careful what you wish for.
I am not against the idea of an animated superhero project that’s mostly talking, especially if that talking leads to deeper examinations of the principles that underlie superhero archetypes or reveals previously unperceived depths and nuances of the characters. Unfortunately, Blood Brothers does not manage to do either. There are reams of text (given a professional delivery by the cast of voice actors, it must be said), but they all boil down to Loki ranting about either his pesky new responsibilities or how mean all his enemies were to him before he finally seized power. After the first or second repetition of the same points, Loki comes off as a shallow, spoiled whiner with a one-track mind. The movie clearly intends for us to feel sympathy for the devil (especially when writer Robert Rodi says so explicitly in his interview on this disc), but any sense of pity or understanding we might have is quickly quashed by his repetitive, banal griping. There’s one interesting idea buried in episode 3 about Odin’s true motivations for bringing Loki’s to Asgard, but it takes a herculean effort to pay attention that long, and then it’s just dropped on the floor as just something else Loki can complain about. That same episode raises the story’s one other interesting idea that uses concepts of comic book alternate realities to explain away both the differences between the Marvel Norse Gods and the real ones, as well as the many variations in the original myths themselves. However, like the previous good idea, this idea is only exploited so Loki has something else to be indignant about in his endless interior monologues. Blood Brothers wants to be deep, so it’s a major letdown that it can only offer trite platitudes on the nature of good vs. evil and fate vs. self-determination.
The dialogue-heavy story might also have been better left on the page (although I can’t imagine this material being all that much more interesting or meaningful in the original comic). Lengthy interior monologue is something that print can get away with more easily than film media. Since the entire goal of “motion comics” seems to be an extremely literal-minded and complete translation of a comic book to a video screen, this means that lots of stuff is lifted verbatim from the page just because it was on the page to begin with, whether or not it makes for good film. In most cases, it most decidedly doesn’t, such as when the movie wastes what feels like forever for the Norn Queen Karnilla to recite a gibberish magic spell. Fun visual in a comic book, but boring as hell in a movie. In addition, the goal of manipulating as much of the original art as possible just means that motion comics are extremely limited in the amount of animation they can manage, thus weakening or eliminating animated “acting” as a tool in the animator’s toolbox. Movies that are primarily about talking are only interesting if the dialogue is itself interesting or the acting can make it so. The script fails on the first point, and the motion comic ensures that it fails on the second. Esad Ribic’s artwork is quite striking, even if I’m not as keen on some of his artistic interpretations, but the fully-painted, highly representational style means characters can’t do much more than blink or move their mouths in sync with the dialogue. The few action sequences in this story plod instead of leap because the models can’t really move all that much or all that fast. It’s another anecdotal proof that “motion comics” can’t manage to capitalize on the strengths of comics OR animation. The animation in Blood Brothers is decidedly more advanced than something like the laughably awful Astonishing X-Men, but it’s still a far cry from even the worst fully animated recent product from Marvel.
There are a few minor disappointments in the presentation of Thor/Loki: Blood Brothers on DVD as well. The anamorphic widescreen image is fine, as is the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack that rumbles and shakes when it should and reproduces the dialogue faithfully and clearly. However, the “Play All” option still insists on placing opening and closing credits at the start of all 4 chapters, and since each 15-minute chapter doesn’t have any DVD chapter stops in it, we’re left to fast-forward through credits three times just to see the film. A “marathon play” option would have been welcome, if not a re-cut to just run it that way to begin with. The short running time of the feature is somewhat balanced out by the bonus features on the DVD, one of which speaks with Robert Rodi and Esad Ribic on their original graphic novel story, and the other of which goes behind-the-scenes at the Magnetic Dreams studio to look at the making of this motion comic. This last featurette is a little heart-breaking to watch, because it’s clear that a lot of time, effort, and ingenuity went into the movie with so little to show for it in the end.
It’s a little sad that Thor/Loki: Blood Brothers aims for something deeper and more meaningful than the average punch-em-up superhero comic book, but ends up producing something that I actually wish were shallower and delivered more biff-bam-pow. I know I certainly wanted someone to punch Loki in the face after the fourth or fifth time that he started ranting again about how badly he was mistreated by the Asgardians. I’m also hoping that someone in a position of power realizes that motion comics are not the economical alternative to full animation that they might seem to be. There might be some great art that can come out of it, but it’s time and money that would seem to be better spent almost anywhere else.