Monday, May 23, 2011

THOR – 2011 – A MIGHTY THUNDEROUS TAKEOFF!


With the plethora of genre films coming to theaters this summer, I decided earlier this year that I would carefully chose six to eight films, which I knew I could make the time to see. Thor didn’t make the “must see” list, not because I didn’t think it would be an entertaining, well-made film, but for the simple fact that it was one of four superhero movies that were coming out in the span of ten weeks and I didn’t want to burn myself out on the sub-genre by seeing too many of them. Of the four – Thor, Green Lantern, X-Men: First Class and Captain America – I chose Captain America; partly because I have more familiarity with the comics than with the others, but mostly because I love the fact that they chose to tell Cap’s complete origin and set it faithfully in its original WWII time period.

How, you ask, did I end up spending my hard earned money and precious free time to seeing the mighty god of thunder at my local theater? I was persuaded by my significant other to see it. Yes, ladies, there is a Bride of Freakenstein and has been for many years now. She likes to keep a low profile and prefers I don’t inform the readers of Guardians of the Genre of her activities – either genre or mundane. I will say The Bride has good judgment when it comes to genre fare, so when she asked me on several occasions prior to Thor’s theatrical debut if we were going to see it; like any intelligent and long-married male, I took the hint and we saw it as soon as our mutual schedule allowed.
I won’t bore you with too much detail of my background knowledge of Marvel’s version of the Norse god, but suffice to say, during the swingin’ seventies, I was a teenage mighty Marvel maniac and true believer! I read all of Marvel’s major (and not so major) superhero titles at this time and that included Thor. I read Thor all through the 70’s during John Buscema’s run as artist on the book and his slightly more super heroic portrayal of Thor is the one that is always the one in my mind’s eye. I was familiar with Jack Kirby’s Thor as well, thanks to Marvel's reprint comics in the 70’s and I really admired the way he drew Asgard as a fantasy setting. I last read Thor during Walt Simonson’s late 70’s/early 80’s run on the comic, but eventually I tired of the title. It has been long enough since I read any Thor comics, that I was fairly certain that it would actually keep me from nit picking the details and help me enjoy the film more. For the most part, I was correct.

Thor tells the story of how the son of Odin came to be banished to Earth and what Thor eventually learns there that helps him save Asgard from destruction by the Frost Giants. The film opens with Jane Foster and Erik Selvig surveying an aurora borealis like phenomena in the New Mexican desert, when a maelstrom funnel opens from the sky. Driving their RV to the site, they hit a man that is at the center of the vortex.
The film flashes back to a battle in 900 AD between the Frost Giants and the Asgards. The Asgardians win the battle and take the Giants’ casket that powers their realm. Centuries later, Odin must choose between his two sons Thor or Loki as the heir apparent. During Thor’s indoctrination as the crown prince, Asgard is attacked by two Frost Giants, who attempt to steal back their power casket, only to be killed by the Destroyer robot. Thor wants to attack the Frost Giants in their own realm for breaching Asgard, but Odin forbids it.  Speciously, Thor convinces Loki and his close friends, Volstagg, Fandral, Hogun and Sif to join him on a mission to the Frost Giant’s realm. They are captured by King Laufrey, but are rescued by Odin, who apologizes for his son’s infraction. Odin punishes Thor, by banishing him to Earth and stripping him of the magical hammer Mjollnir and his godlike powers.
That brings us back to the beginning of the film, where the dazed Thor is taken to the hospital by Jane Foster. Thor escapes the hospital and eventually rejoins the scientists who found him. Thor convinces Jane to return to the desert, where S.H.I.E.L.D. has posted an encampment to study the crater where Thor’s hammer Mjollnir lies buried in rock. Thor attacks the camp, but is unable to remove the hammer from the rock.
In Asgard, Odin has gone into the Odin sleep, and Loki takes the throne as King of Asgard. Thor’s friends go to Earth to tell him of his father’s plight and Loki’s seeming treachery. The film concludes with Thor regaining Mjollnir and battling Loki for Asgard and all the realms!
Thor does an excellent job of relating the complex backstory of Asgard, while developing the relationships between Odon, Thor and Loki. The Earthbound story is not quite as strong and I never really felt any attraction between Thor and Jane Foster. The center of the story is Thor’s growth from brash youth, to responsible man-god and Chris Hemsworth plays the part with charismatic ease. Anthony Hopkins is believable as the god-king Odin, even though he has very little to do in the film overall. Natalie Portman is fine as Jane Foster, but I never understood her affection for Thor, other than her interest in his ability to travel the realms via the Bifrost Bridge portal. Tom Hiddleston portrays Loki as a betrayed son and not as a one-note villain. I would have loved to see more of Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (Josh Dallas), Hogun (T.Asano) and Sif (Jaimie Alexander) who play Thor’s Asgardian warrior friends, but I understand the constraints of the plot that kept their participation in the story to a minimum.
Kenneth Branagh is to be commended for creating a film that makes the fantastic world of Asgard as real as its earthbound companion. Branagh makes a complex story filled with over a dozen characters flow well. In fact, the pace of Thor is so brisk that its conclusion almost comes as a surprise and certainly makes a sequel seem imminent. The few differences between the comic and the film – most notably, the absence of Thor’s human form Doctor Donald Blake – did not bother me. The look of Thor’s costume was altered to look more futuristic, which complimented idea that Thor was not a god, but a being of superior genetics and technology. Having not read the comic for some time, I’m not sure if Marvel has rewritten the Thor comic’s back story in this way, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

Overall, Thor succeeds in providing a vast cosmic fantasy adventure, while still keeping the characters human enough to be appealing and relatable. Thor is not a deep film, but is an entertaining fantasy that leaves you wanting to join Thor in more mighty thunderous thrills!

3 comments:

  1. Just caught this one as part of a triple-feature at the drive-in a few nights ago. I was pretty damned impressed, actually. That fellow was BORN to play Thor, in my opinion, and the blending of the fantasy world and the "real" world was practically seamless. I have enjoyed nearly all of the Marvel films (even the much-maligned Punisher, Daredevil, etc.), but was pleasantly surprised to find that one of my least favorite Marvel characters actually ended up as the star of (one of my) most favorite Marvel movies. Crazy!

    --J/Metro

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  2. Wicked cool, Jonny Met! A triple-feature at the drive-in! You know how to start the summer movie season in style. What few drive-ins that remain here in Massachusetts are over an hour drive from here and I’ll admit that I’m too lazy to make the trip, when my local indoor theater is only a 15 minute drive away.

    I agree that Chris Hemsworth was perfect as Thor. He is yet another Australian actor who seems able to play characters with different accents flawlessly. Chris played Thor initially as a brash and impulsive warrior, then segued nicely into a more compassionate and contented hero. Yes, the transition between the cosmic worlds and the earth was handled well. Both environments seemed to complement one another, rather than detract one from the other. I’d definitely like to spend more time in both.

    My favorite Marvel film is the first Iron Man movie, but Thor is a close runner up. I liked the second Iron Man film as well, but it was not as unpretentious as the first film. I thought the first Spiderman movie was okay, the second Spiderman film terrible and the third Spiderman film abysmal. I didn’t like either Fantastic Four movie much; although the second film was a slight improvement over the first. The Daredevil film wasn’t bad, but I would have liked to have seen the longer director’s cut, because the theatrical cut seemed underdeveloped. I loved the first two Bryan Singer-directed X-Men films and even enjoyed the third X-Men film helmed by Brett Ratner. I didn’t like either Hulk film, but the second film was somewhat better than the first. I hated Ghost Rider, but I was never a fan of the comic to begin with. The same goes for The Punisher, so I didn’t bother to even watch the two more recent films. I did see the Dolph Lundgren staring Punisher on cable back in 1989 and fell asleep watching that. Speaking of falling asleep and cable: I did the same watching X-Men Origins: Wolverine – and he’s my favorite New X-Man from the comics! The Elektra film was too watered down from Miller’s comics version, but still wasn’t too bad. I loved all three Blade films; even the much maligned third entry. The less said about the epically awful Howard the Duck the better!

    I’ll be seeing Captain America: The First Avenger at the theater this July and will be posting my review of it here soon thereafter. Thanks for checking in, Jonny Met!

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