Norse Camp or Can We Just Move Onto The Avengers Now?
So I went to see Thor this afternoon. For the most part I enjoyed it. I was entertained by it. I even put aside my usual Comic Book Fan Skepticism to ignore some the things that they got wrong. Still, I walked out of the theater and something was bugging me. After mulling it over in my head I came up with this as my final assessment. Thor is, quite possibly, the most enjoyable yet schizophrenic Comic Book to Film translation that Marvel has put out yet. Thus with that statement, if I had to grade it, Thor would come in at about a C+/B-. Like I said, I was entertained. Chris Hemsworth made a fun Thor, not necessarily the Marvel version of Thor but at least he was likable. The character came across more akin to a crossbreed of Marvel’s Hercules with the Ultimate Universe version of Thor. Not a bad combo at all. Everyone else was pretty good in it, but the movie, as a whole, gave off a “This is the prologue to The Avengers” feel.
Let’s address the sense of schizophrenia though that isn’t the right term to use (and for that let me apologize now). What we have is a movie set in 2 different locations, Earth and Asgard (and to a lesser Jotunhiemr). The segments on earth have all the good action scenes and all the great humor you want this movie to have. The problem is Asgard. Yes, it is the Marvel Universe version of Asgard, not the true Norse version, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that all the segments in Asgard look incredibly campy. Seriously, The Warriors 3, lounging around talking about Thor, looked more like Adam West Batman villains in their secret lair. It seems that the production was trying to make this look as true to Kirby as possible. The problem is Jack Kirby as an artist is joyful eye candy but when you try to take Jack Kirby and make it live action, i.e. actually using Kirby’s drawings as production design, it comes out not looking so great. .So what ends up on-screen is 2 entirely different feels for one film. The problem is, when you have half of the film looking awesome and the other half looking like 1960’s era camp, then the overall movie suffers. It also doesn’t help that the final fight on the Rainbow Bridge looks just God Awful. Seriously, it makes the computer effects from the first Tron movie look like… well the special effects from Tron Legacy. I should have been swept away with awe during the Battle of Bifrost, instead I was trying hard not to laugh at how awful it looked. It so weird when the battle in Jotunhiemr was so badass.
Usually when it comes to comic book movies, my feelings tend to go the other way, as in I want the movie to strongly adhere to the comic as much as it can. For once I’m not making that complaint. If the story had started with a crippled Doctor accidentally stumbling into a cave while hiking and then finds a walking stick that magically turns him into Thor, well that would be pretty dull. Showing Thor being cast out of Asgard in the first 30 minutes wasn’t too bad. The fight in Jotunhiemr was pretty boss and there is a great “Odin shows up to save the day” scene which is pretty epic and makes you understand what a big deal it is that Old One-Eye has appeared. Anthony Hopkins is great as Odin, being all wise and all knowing but still knowing when to let out with the anger and fury. I have no beef with making Jane Foster a more developed character at all. Making her an astrophysicist was a good move because the original version of the character was so damn dull as a Doctor’s Nurse/Secretary. I mean really, of all the 60’s era Marvel Super-Hero love interests she was so uninteresting compared to the chicks Captain America, Spider-Man and Namor were trying to score with. Of course Natalie Portman is a pretty darn good actress and that doesn’t hurt at all.
Let me expand on how much I liked Chris Hemsworth in this. The writers could have made Thor a real dope in this. Instead they opted to play him as being humbled and alone on Earth thus allowing a somewhat of a sly sense of humor to emerge when he interacts with mortals. They don’t play Thor as stupid but they don’t play him as a brain surgeon. The best example of this is when he explains the Asgardian view of the Universe and how it breaks down to the 9 realms. This is how Thor sees things and him breaking it down to Jane Foster and company as “science and magic are one and the same” pretty much sums up the Marvel Universe version of Asgard, though the writers were wise and didn’t have anyone mention the Celestials, because then that would be a whole other headache to dance around. The best thing about Hemsworth in that scene where he breaks it all down and explains the concept of Yggdrasil, at no point does he say what Jane Foster and her friends believe or are trying to uncover is wrong, he is never condescending. He just is telling them “Look, this is how I understand it, this is what makes sense to me and it works”. Hemsworth is pretty great in laying out the explanation and really kind of shines through with Thor in it. Again, the character isn’t stupid, he’s more impulsive and just because you are the former doesn’t mean you are necessarily the latter. That’s kind of the point of the character in both the movie and the comic.
Hey now that Thor is finally out can we just get to the Avengers already?
The writers peppered this movie with a enough lip-service to the other Marvel/Avengers related movies that it is obvious from this point on any remote name dropping is just an attempt to make comic book geeks the world over breathing heavy and slobber on themselves with glee. I mean we get teased with Hawkeye, a Tony Stark reference and an allusion to The Hulk all in the same movie. We already knew from the post credits scene of Iron Man 2 that Clark Gregg was appearing in this as Agent Phil Coulson and hopefully he’ll be showing up in The Avengers. Then there is the ultimate Marvel Universe reference, your mandatory Stan Lee appearance. Yes, Stan is in it and there is no way you can miss him. When Stan appeared on-screen I threw my fist in the air and shouted “Fuck yeah Stan Lee!”. Seriously, I’m pretty sure if Stan Lee dies, which will NEVER happen because he is Stan Lee and fucking IMMORTAL, that Marvel will just digitally add Stan into whatever movie they need him for. The other option is to re-animate Stan Lee as a zombie and feed him the brains of Brian Michael Bendis and Joe Quesada. Either way, Stan gets to keep showing up in movies so I’m happy.
I think the most fascinating thing about the Thor movie isn’t necessarily the movie itself. It is the fact that it is a movie that tells its tale in a microcosm of another microcosm which is the other Avengers related movies. Hell, you can take Thor and lay it out to the Classic Literary Plot Diagram. It follows that flow of Exposition that flows into Rising Action that flows in to Conflict into Climax then into Falling action and then finally a neat Resolution. But since it is operating in the microcosm of the Avengers Film Universe, Thor now has its own place in that Classic Literary Plot Diagram. I’m pretty sure that Captain America: The First Avenger is going to be the Introduction/Exposition Phase and then you can lump both Iron Man movies, Thor and The Incredible Hulk into the Rising Action phase with The Avengers movie itself filling out the rest of the diagram. Of course that is just my theory. Would it surprise anyone if they fuck up my diagram and put certain movies out of the flow of what has already been established?
So the final verdict on Thor is this: Go see it! It is a perfectly fine little popcorn movie to shut your brain off to. The good parts (the majority of the fights, the dialog, the acting, the amazingly cute and funny Kat Dennings) outweigh the bad (Everything in Asgard looking horrible, a thin Volstagg). Really, it isn’t supposed to be Citizen Kane and that’s a good thing because it most certainly isn’t Citizen Kane. What it ends up being is close to 2 hours of your time that you’re probably going to be entertained. Where it rates as far as Marvel movies is about the same as the Edward Norton version of The Incredible Hulk, thus making it infinitely better than any version of Daredevil (that being regular or Director’s Cut), Ghost Rider, The Punisher or Spider-Man 3. It sure beats the previous Marvel version of Thor from the TV Movie The Return of The Incredible Hulk. But let’s be honest, Thor is just the appetizer for next Summer when Joss Whedon unleashes The Avengers on us. Expectations for that movie are so high that if it isn’t incredible then a giant wave of nerd rage is just going wash over the country from coast to coast! Well maybe not, but you’ll at least get comic book nerds complaining about it in their local comic shops. Still would it have killed the movie to have Thor scream “I SAY THEE NAY!” just once? I think that is the only part of this movie I feel cheated about. I’m a comic book geek after all so I like my Norse Gods speaking Shakespearean English for no good reason.