Once ethereal powerful beings walked amongst mankind and battled forces of darkness with the fate of humanity hanging in the balance. After several battles, Odin the All Father defeated Laufey and his forces into submission, earning an uneasy truce with the Frost Giants of Jotunheim that has held for generations. Thor, an overzealous young god seized by hubris and tricked by his half-brother Loki strikes out at the Frost Giants and re-ignites an ancient war, putting into motion a dangerous series of events that could shatter the delicate balance of power that holds the nine realms in check. Exiled to Earth, Thor must learn humility to be worthy of the power he so brazenly wielded in battle. But while Thor is exploring the realm of earthly realm of Midgard Loki schemes to control all.
The fourth feature film of Marvel Studios, Thor- The Mighty Avenger had the biggest challenge. Whereas both Iron Man and the Hulk were based in reality, Thor is an entirely fantastical character steeped in mythology. An ambitious film to say the least, it fell to Shakespearean director Kenneth Brannagh to shape the comic book into the blockbuster Summer film that the studio needed without losing any of the soul that was inherent in the source material and the many comics based on the Marvel hero.
This was the movie I was most worried about.
Initially, the word on the street was that the entire movie would be set in Asgard and be like a Lord of the Rings epic with superheroes, ending on Earth (presumably in the streets of New York City where all of Marvel’s superheroes dwell). I thought this was a wise maneuver and played to the strengths of the comic book as his adventures always worked best for me when Thor was fighting fantastical foes on other realms of reality.
When the decision came to ground a portion of the movie on Earth as Thor learns the lesson of humility through Jane Foster I was worried… very worried. The trailers showing the thunder god getting tazed and discovering coffee smacked of Crocodile Dundee mixed with Masters of the Universe. The absurdity of a mythological hero in the ‘pedestrian world of mankind’ is a very tired and campy concept that would only harm the integrity of the character that desperately needed to be taken seriously.
The opening sequence depicts Jane Foster chasing an anomaly in the deserts of New Mexico that she theorizes is an Eisenberg Bridge to other worlds. Along for the ride is physicist Erik Selvig and wise cracking intern Darcy. Apparently the anomaly has been recurring and Foster has built up a study that revealed a pattern. What she hopes to encounter is unclear but when a whirlwind splits the heavens apart, she drives her SUV straight into it… for some unclear reason… and strikes Thor just as he is reaching Earth.
Let me state right here that in the comic book Jane Foster was a lovelorn nurse who doted on Doctor Donald Blake, a lame physician who found a gnarled walking stick in a cave that, when struck to the ground, transformed him into the Mighty Thor. Many of the ideas behind the comic changed over time so it comes as no big surprise that Jane Foster’s character would change as well but changing her from a nurse to a physicist seems like a massive leap from the idea behind the character in the first place. It’s one of the two problems that I have with the movie… the other being Darcy played by the deadpan comic ‘actress’ Kat Dennings.
Every comic line spoken by Dennings falls like a lead weight, driving the movie to a dead halt. Her hipster speak is painfully topical as she mourns the loss of her iPod amongst items seized by SHIELD and posts pictures of Thor to her facebook account (why?? Thor is just smiling in the image). These are ideas that instantly date the movie and, mark my words, will not age well.
Thankfully, before the New Mexico portion of the story can get into full swing we are treated to the grandeur that is Asgard. During a coronation ceremony, the weapons vault of Asgard is broken into by Frost Giants who seek to seize an artifact of supreme power. Thor is anxious to meet the affront by taking an armed force to Jotunheim and striking back at Laufey. Odin understands that this is a foolhardy path that would undo the long hard work that has led to peace. In the end, Thor’s brash pride, tempered by Loki’s sweet words of influence, drive him to the Bifrost bridge.
Accompanied by the amazonian weapons master Lady Sif (acted by Jaimie Alexander) and the Warriors Three (Hogun- played by Tadanobu Asano, Volstagg- embodied by former Rome and Punisher War Zone star Ray Stevenson and Fandral -a kind of Douglas Fairbanks-type played by Joshua Dallas), Thor and Loki traverse the mind-blowing rainbow bridge to Jotunheim and carnage ensues.
The level of cosmic violence (depicted successfully by so very artists on the page) was a key component to the success of the Thor film. Thor is immensely powerful… Superman-level powerful (if not moreso). The digital effects exist to portray this level of power, but as we have seen countless times and in recent comic book -inspired films, it can be overdone. In the case of Thor, it was done just right.
A cursory glance at the Thor comic book pages drawn by Kirby, Buscema, or Simonson (to name just a few) reveal that the action sequences demanded of the hammer god are big and epic… but in a very specific way. There is a visual language to comic book action. It is a difficult matter to translate such material to the big screen and while corners can be cut for some superheroes, the style of the visuals is a very essential component to any Marvel comic book.
As the battle heats up, it becomes clear that Thor cannot hope to destroy all of the Frost Giants (though a death in such an attempt would be a worthy end for such a lusty warrior as he). His friends slowly realize the trouble that they are in and that Thor is hardly afraid, daring oblivion with a hearty sneer. It is only the intercession of the All Father Odin that saves their lives and transports the Asgardians back home where Thor makes a magnificent mistake. Calling his father an old fool, he shows the severity of his impetuousness, causing Odin to strip him of his power and earning him a harsh exile to Midgard, the realm known as Earth.
In the comic book, Thor is predominantly a rather stoic character, given to long silences and even longer declarations of strength and valor. The film version is of course quite different. The movie Thor is an impudent child, living a life of privilege with no understanding of the consequences of his actions or the responsibility that his position holds as a son of Odin. The path that he must follow leading to wisdom is a long and arduous one fret with supporting characters, a back-story involving SHIELD, the aforementioned ‘stranger in a strange land’ comedic scenes and the inevitable love story with Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster.
Somehow… it all works and it is due to a sharp script, keen direction and the inspired casting of relatively unknown Chris Hemsworth as Thor. He embodies a vast pallet of characteristics and emotions ranging from obnoxious loutishness to serene nobility. It perfectly portrays a rich character that is very new to moviegoers who are no doubt sick of the tragic hero or feckless geniuses that they have seen. This is a very different Thor than fans are used to, but he measures up to the task and conquers the audience with his charm and sheer power.
Additionally, it must be said that Shakespearean actor Tom Hiddleston is absolutely lovely as the malicious Loki. His performance captures the malevolence but also the painful emotional scars that drive him to causing mischief. I look forward to seeing more of him in the Avengers film released in the jam-packed summer of 2012. While I was dismayed to learn that Flash Gordon alum Brian Blessed was dropped from the cast as Odin and replaced by Sir Anthony Hopkins, I can now say that I understand the recasting. Hopkins possesses a bravado and gigantic presence that is matched by his tender moments of sincerity and kindness. Hopkins’ moments in the film are reserved and used wisely.
As a fan of comic book and science fiction films, I am more than familiar with big explosions, slow motion reactions and shock waves of power that rock across the screen. However, the Thor movie actually places the characters within these moments rather than making them subject to the effects. When Thor swings his hammer, drawing up a whirlwind to tackle the Destroyer, it is an epic event. Likewise when he battles Loki in mortal combat, it is balletic in form and execution. The action scenes seem new and engaging and also convey that viewers are witnessing a fantastical display of wrath unlike anything they have ever witnessed. This is also supported in the story of brother against brother and son against father, etc. All of the many pieces are arranged wonderfully to build a complete picture.
Thor battles Loki in this feature film concept image
Thor The Mighty Avenger isn’t without its flaws. As many have already pointed out, the movie is very long. Also, there’s the Kat Dennings moments that draw the viewer directly out of the fantasy that Brannagh is attempting to create and the Jane Foster storyline that never really comes together. Luckily the romance is very believable as Thor is a passionate being and becoming aware of the wondrous universe he is a part of. The scenes in which Thor explains the structure of Yggdrasil, the Ash Tree are touching as is Thor’s noble manner of kissing Jane’s hand rather than presuming to kiss her on the lips. It’s little things like this that allow Thor as a character and a film to stand out in the superhero movie genre that many have found to be predictable and tired. There’s actually a lot that is new here and it is very welcome indeed.
The script by Mark Protosevich was punched up by fan favorite author J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5 and the recent Thor comic book). Much like the early Lee/Kirby comics it portrays a magical realm of monsters and mystics, populating cities that defy the imagination. It’s an inspired script that is influenced by the comic book universe while building its own mythology at the same time.
Actor Jeremy Renner and Hawkeye drawn by Oliver Copiel
The slick inclusion of Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye the archer was very well executed, but the post-credit appearance of Sam Jackson as Nick Fury was hardly exciting. To be honest, I’m already bored with this Shaft-take on the character. For anyone that stays for the duration and is perplexed by the post-credit sequence, rest assured that it will make sense when Captain America is released and another piece in the multi-movie puzzle is added.
A magical and epic movie that has equal elements of humanity and fantasy along with otherworldly visuals that will stand out against what has come before, Thor The Mighty Avenger is a vastly enjoyable movie that comes highly recommended.
If you enjoyed the film and are looking for some comic book suggestions, please consider the following…
The Mighty Thor, Vol. 1
Thor: Tales of Asgard
Avengers Disassembled: Thor
Thor: Ages of Thunder
Thor: Tales of Asgard
Thor by Walter Simonson Omnibus