Thoughts on Thor
Paul Kupperberg and I went to see Thor yesterday. We were the perfect audience for this, having grown up on the comic series, and have been waiting most of our lives for movies that adapted the comics with a knowing, serious touch.
To our delight the trailers were for X-Men First Class, Green Lantern, Super 8, and Captain America. They were speaking directly to the 10 year reader still deep within us and we were excited by this outpouring of genre offerings.
When the 2D film began, and we caught our first glimpse of Asgard, I leaned over whispered, “Jack would have loved this.” The cinematic home of the gods was not based on Jack Kirby’s drawings from Journey into Mystery, but it also didn’t look derivative. It had scope and grandeur, the very cosmic aspect that permeated Jack’s work, especially when left entirely to his own devices.
The two hour film is not perfect; the subject matter has much to do with that. But, it is also a strong, entertaining movie that pays homage to the comics and neatly fits into the Marvel Cinemaverse. You can argue if the story of Thor learning his lesson is thin or a note-perfect recreation of his comic book origins. It certainly feels like a myth brought to life, with a life lesson taught in a rousing way.
Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz and Don Payne are credited with the screenplay from storylines penned separately by J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Protosevich. Even with the Marvel creative committee’s help, the story still has some problems, notably in blending the twin stories taking place on Asgard and Midgard (Earth to you). We have Thor banished from Asgard for being too ill-prepared to be heir to Odin’s throne while Loki learns of his true Frost Giant nature and seeks the throne for himself when the All-Father conveniently falls into the much-needed and oft-delayed Odinsleep. Meantime, on Earth, an astrophysics team led by Jane Foster is trying to find a scientific “bridge” through the stars and her brilliant work, using tools we’re told she largely built herself, is nearly lost when Thor crashes to the ground.
As Thor learns his lesson in humility, and falls in love with Jane, Loki’s schemes bring about a potential war with the Frost Giants and only the Warriors Three and Lady Sif stand in his way. They come to Earth, in defiance of Loki’s orders, to rescue Thor and are followed by the Destroyer, ordered to obliterate everyone in its path. And we build to an exciting climax.
But, much as we delight in Thor’s “fish out of water” scenes, when the other Asgardians show up, they look extremely out of place. The Bo Welch designs for Asgard make the gods too shiny, their armor looking too vacuum-formed and perfect. He needed to hew more closely to the notion that these warriors are a gritty bunch and should look a bit scuffed. It’s an odd mix of missed moments when the Asgardians mingle with Jane and company.
Jane, Dr. Selving, and Darcy are all woefully underdeveloped. So are the various Asgardians but those of us who grew up on the comics at least recognize and appreciate their surface characterizations in a sort of short-hand way. In fact, Thor and Odin are also poorly developed as characters so when Thor yells at his father; it feels like it came out nowhere. Poor Frigga, who I don’t think gets named at all and has little to do with her slumbering husband or absent son.
The performances take the thin characters and bring them to life thanks to a superb cast. Natalie Portman infuses Jane with a passionate spark while Stellan Skarsgård does a nice slow reveal in accepting that his childhood mythology was true. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki nearly steals the movie from Chris Hemsworth, who was an ideal Thor, both powerful and human, handling the drama and light comedy with deftness. The Warriors Three and Sif were visually well-cast and Idris Elba’s Heimdall is terrific.
When the movie works, though, it works wonderfully. Thor in action against the Frost Giants, watching his whirl the hammer around to summon lighting or a vortex is Kirby magic at is best. Thor’s outfit and Mjolnir look perfect as does Loki’s emerald and gold outfit. The fights are spectacular and the Destroyer was exactly right; imposing and powerful. These were the Norse Gods at work and doing battle on Jotunehim was dangerous work.
The score was sadly unmemorable without a trace of the 1960s cartoon theme, so there was a missed opportunity. The fleeting cameos from Walter and Louise Simonson were lovely touches. And the little touches to connect this film to the ones that preceded it were all welcome (especially the subtle use of Donald Blake) and subtle so you either got them or didn’t notice them. By now, though, audiences have been trained for the post credits teaser for what comes next, whether they understand what they’re seeing or not. This one didn’t fail to whet our appetites for next summer’s Avengers and once more, Paul and I were kids, excited at seeing another aspect of the Marvel Universe turn up.
All the pieces are in place so it falls to Joss Whedon to assemble them into a winning climax to what is essentially Act One of the Marvel movies. Thankfully, he knows his subject matter and how to handle ensembles and mythology.