Thor

"Whoever wields this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor."

A comic book movie that twists Norse mythology into science fiction directed by a guy best known for making lots of Shakespeare films? Let's face it, Thor was always going to be a tough sell. But somehow, against all the odds, Kenneth Branagh managed to deliver a film that is exactly what any self-respecting blockbuster should be: fun. Much like Iron Man and Star Trek, this is a blockbuster that can easily appeal to geeks and non-geeks alike. I went to see it with a friend who never read a single comic book in their life, nor the Poetic or Prose Edda, and they enjoyed it just as much as I did.

A long time ago the Frost Giants of Jotunheim tried to conquer the Nine Realms, starting with our particular branch of the world tree. They were ultimately stopped in their frosty tracks by the might of Odin and the other Asgardians. To ensure a lasting peace Odin took the source of the Frost Giant's power, the Casket of Ancient Winter, back home with him. Fast forward about a thousand years and we're introduced to Odin's sons, Thor and Loki. As eldest, Thor is his father's heir but he's arrogant, rash and thinks too much with his hammer instead of his brain (just want to be clear, the hammer is an actual hammer and not his penis). For defying his father by restarting the war with the Frost Giants, Thor is stripped of his power by Odin and banished to Midgard (that's Earth for you puny mortals). Dumped in New Mexico, the now mortal Thor quickly befriends a recent Oscar-winner, a professional scene-stealer and a Swedish character actor, and learns some valuable lessons in humility and the true value of being a hero. Meanwhile, back in Asgard, Loki is now king and getting up to all sorts of mischief.

The one thing that surprised me most about Thor was just how faithful it is to the source material. This is Norse myth as Stan Lee and Jack Kirby re-imagined it in the 1960s. The film's Asgard is a cosmic wonderland of rainbow bridges and shining golden towers that's practically ripped right out of Kirby's brain. Branagh directs the scenes here like this is some cosmic tragedy, giving the confrontations between Odin and his sons real dramatic weight with only the slightest whiff of cheddar.

Despite all the grandeur on display, the film rarely feels pompous or overblown. Once the action moves to Earth the film shifts gears and suddenly becomes a light-hearted fish out of water comedy where Kat Dennings is effortlessly stealing every scene she's in. While Asgard is pure Lee/Kirby, the Earth storyline is right out of J. Michael Straczynski's recent run (which is no surprise since JMS co-wrote the story).

A lot of film's success is due to the performances of Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston as Thor and Loki respectively. Even when he's a bit of an arrogant brat Hemsworth always makes for a likeable and endearing god of thunder, one who's equally adept at wielding the hammer as he is laying on the charm (for a Viking deity he's quite the smoothie). Hiddleston, meanwhile, wisely holds back on the ham and theatrics and makes Loki a complicated and fascinating villain. Not only that, he's the undisputed king of awesome headgear.

The romance between Thor and Jane Foster actually works quite well, with Natalie Portman's natural charm making up for Jane Foster's sketch-thin character. But ultimately it ends up playing second fiddle to the relationship between the brothers and, more importantly, Thor's relationship with his hammer (again, actual hammer, not penis). Never has a man seemed more distraught by rejection than when Thor discovers that he is no longer worthy to wield Mjöllnir.

In many ways Thor is actually a reverse origin story. When we first meet him Thor is already full formed. He's already got his costume, his powers, even his sidekicks (Sif and the Warriors Three). But he's not yet the hero he could be. It's not until he has lost his powers and become mortal that Thor learns what it truly means to be a hero. That all this meaty character development happens in the space of only a couple of days is one of the film's few flaws. The others being an underwhelming final act and Sir Anthony Hopkins phoning it in as the Allfather. Why they didn't hire BRIAN BLESSED!!!! I'll never know.

Notes and Quotes

--Don't ask me what the 3D was like. I saw it in old fashioned 2D.

--Patrick Doyle's score, his umpteenth for Branagh, is very good but not nearly Wagnerian enough for a film that is all about Norse gods.

--Both Stan the Man and Straczynski have cameos in which neither of them proves to be worthy.

--Jane has an ex named Donald Blake. In the comics Donald Blake was Thor's human alter ego.

--If you're willing, stay until after the credits for... well, that would be telling.

Thor: "My mortal form grows weak. I require sustenance!"

Agent Cale: (re: the Destroyer) “Is that one of Stark's?”
Agent Coulson: “I don't know. That guy never tells me anything.”

Agent Coulson: “You made my men - some of the most highly trained professionals in the world - look like a bunch of minimum-wage mall cops.”

Volstagg: “Don't mistake my appetite for apathy.”

Hawkeye: “Do you want me to take him down or would you rather send in more guys for him to beat up?”

SHIELD Agent: “Sir, Xena, Jackie Chan and Robin Hood have arrived.”

Three rainbow bridges out of four.
---
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.

11 comments:

Paul Kelly said...

Yeah, but Mjöllnir's his penis, right?

CrazyCris said...

"Agent Cale: (re: the Destroyer) “Is that one of Stark's?”
Agent Coulson: “I don't know. That guy never tells me anything.”"

My favourite line in the movie! :D

I saw it in 2-D as well, I read somewhere they hadn't done a good enough job with the 3-D to make it worth the extra expense.

I both enjoyed it and was underwhelmed. I expected to be more thrilled like I was with the first Iron Man. But not. I think the whole Midgard section was the disappointing part, too blah, and too quick for his newly acquired humility to be entirely believable...

CrazyCris said...

I've already forgotten the scene at the end of the movie(post-credits)... only a week later! Care to remind me?

Matthew said...

Whoa, I'd forgotten about Jeremy Renner's very short bit as Hawkeye, that must be a setup for another film?

Juliette said...

I liked it, but found it a wee bit on the cheesy side for my taste. And I hadn't thought of it before but yes, the Allfather should definitely have been BLESSED!

Juliette said...

Cris, the final scene was more spoilery than usual - it featured Samual L Jackson, as usual, and also Stellan Skarsgard's character (whose name I can't remember!)

Mark Greig said...

@CrazyCris, Juliette is right, the post-credit scene is very spoilery so if you really want to know what happened best nip over to Wikipedia.

CrazyCris said...

@Mark and Juliette, spoilery indeed! Can't believe I forgot about that... and the whispering... I think we have some big clues for the Avengers movie next year! (speaking of which, it will be nice to see Sam Jackson for a longer stretch than in these easter eggs!)

Katherine said...

Here is me being all au currant and all, not ever, no and no.

I saw Ironman and was, meh,

Saw Captain America and was meh-

Saw Thor and was, wait what? Why doesn’t Loki look like the Frost Giants?

Saw The Avengers and the angels sang and the story was understood and past movies were devoured with new appreciation.

Wait, what? Why doesn’t Loki look like a Frost Giant?

ChrisB said...

This was fun, but not what I was expecting. I was impressed the amount of Norse mythology, but underwhelmed by some of the stuff on earth.

Having said that, the SHIELD agents got all the best lines.

Josie Kafka said...

I've been in a Marvel mood and, so I rewatched this. I liked it more the second time.

But I think the romance angle is the weakest part. The love between Thor and Jane never feels really earned, since they only have about 10 minutes of screen time for flirting. Sure, he's hot and helps out in the kitchen. Sure, she's hot and super smart. But is that enough? Isn't the real love story between Thor and his penis-hammer?

Patrick Doyle's score, his umpteenth for Branagh, is very good but not nearly Wagnerian enough for a film that is all about Norse gods.

I didn't realize this was the same composer who did other Branagh stuff, but by the end credits I said to myself, "Wow, that's some exuberant music a la Much Ado...." And so now I'm impressed with my brain. :-)