A Movie Review
by John David Ebert
The seven superheroes of the film’s pantheon are, of course, drawn from Old World prototypes: Thor, the giant killer, has been lifted out of whole cloth from Scandinavian mythology; Iron Man is a retrieval of the Medieval knight in shining armor capable of great deeds; the Hulk is the ancient Green Man, also a Medieval myth character; Captain America is a transformation of blonde Achilles with his magical shield; the Black Widow, played by Scarlet Johanssen, is the archaic Spider goddess; and Nick Fury, with the patch over one eye, reprises the role of one-eyed Wotan (or Odin) as the head of the Scandinavian pantheon. (Hawkeye is Egil the Archer).
However, these Old World mythic figures have been recoded with another semiotic stratum on top of them which makes their vectors point specifically to the American plane of signification: Thor is simply a modified version of the American jock hero football player; Tony Stark captures the American Howard Hughes / Ted Turner type of tycoon; the Hulk is the Bad Boy whose temper, like Marlon Brando in The Wild One or James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, always gets him into trouble; while Captain America is simply the compliant American Soldier and Black Widow a retrieval of the muscle-flexing Rosie the Riveter.
The film’s characters thus constitute a specifically American pantheon which we can see emerging as a kind of unofficial American polytheism. But it is a polytheism with a purpose, as the mythic structures in the story amply demonstrate.
Continued. . .