Thursday, May 19, 2011

"Thor"



I saw the new "Thor" movie with my daughter Emily this past Friday, and I have to say, it was pretty good. Not great… but definitely pretty good. Okay, maybe more than pretty good.

But not a LOT more.

As someone whose interest in comics seriously blossomed with his exposure as a teenager to the "Silver Age" of Marvel Comics, of which "The Mighty Thor" (by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee) was a large part, I was looking forward to seeing this big-screen adaptation of one of my favorite Marvel characters. I'd seen the trailers and thought it looked pretty impressive, though I was a bit concerned about some of the details of the adaptation which I'd read about online.

One significant one was the dance that the writers of the movie apparently felt they needed to do to fit the "gods" mythology into the more science-oriented new Marvel movie universe, exemplified by their most successful comic adaptation of recent years, "Iron Man". So instead of being actual mythological/supernatural beings, the gods of Asgard are… uh, aliens, I guess. Or some kind of humanoids with super-scientific weaponry and enhanced abilities… or something. They never get terribly specific.

For me, this was all too reminiscent of the tragic waste of time that was the second "Highlander" movie, which basically ruined the mythology and mystery of the Immortals from the first "Highlander" by revealing that they were all just aliens from the planet Zeist.

Groan.

I really don't see why the gods could not have just been left as gods. Does it REALLY take that much more of a suspension of disbelief to accept actual gods in a universe in which cosmic rays can transform a quartet of explorers into superheroes, and a radioactive spider bite can turn a teenager into a human with spider powers? I think it would have been better left as a mystery -- are these guys real gods, or do they just look and act like gods? What ARE gods, anyway? I think the writers wimped out on this one, which is too bad, as it might have made for some interesting plot bits in later Thor movies as well as the upcoming "Avengers". Can't you just see Tony Stark/Iron Man trying to puzzle out the science/technology/magic behind Mjolnir, Thor's mystic urn metal hammer?

(I shudder to think what they might do to the supernatural adventures of "Dr. Strange", if that character ever gets out of "development hell".)

Anyway, on to "Thor", the movie. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and look forward to seeing it again. The acting was excellent, and the special effects worthy of the concept. I was hoping that the scenes in Asgard would capture some of the delirious splendor of Jack Kirby's vision of that home of the Norse gods, and I was not disappointed. The bed in which Thor's father, Odin, sleeps the fabled "Odinsleep" seems to be directly lifted from the pages of the comics.

I absolutely LOVED the fact that Thor's boon companions from the comics, the "Warriors Three" -- Fandral the Dashing, Hogun the Grim, and Volstagg the Voluminous -- and Thor's future girlfriend, (at least in the comics), the goddess Sif, were included in the movie, and not just as background characters. Although I missed Hogun's trademark horned and furred helmet, those characters were very well-rendered.

Another character I always liked in the comics was Heimdall, the guardian of the fabled Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge between Asgard and the other realms… and he was well-realized in the movie, with some really neat costuming.

Sadly, I cannot give as high marks to the way Bifrost was depicted, which sort of ended up being something you might describe as "Star Trek's" transporter room if it had been built by a "steampunk" designer. This is another place where allowing the mystical, magical, supernatural nature of Asgard to be just that would have been preferable. It wasn't horrible, mind you -- just kind of pedestrian.

The Destroyer was also realized very well, though it might have helped to know more about what it was and what it could do. Actually, the more I think on it, the more it seems to me that they made the form of the Destroyer too tall and slim -- I prefer the more squat and brutal looking version that Kirby originally drew. But it was still pretty cool to see it in a movie.

One small thing that I got a huge kick out of was that several times, Thor spun his hammer really fast and the filmmakers gave it that "spinning propeller" look that Kirby originated in the comics, a nicely-observed detail. And I was very glad that they allowed Thor to fly as he does in the comics (pulled along by the force of his hammer after it has been spun with great force). It may not make a lot of sense in terms of physics, but it worked in the comics and it works in the movie.

So the movie looked really good. What about the story? Well, that was… okay. It hit a lot of the requisite beats needed to establish Thor and his supporting cast, but it was nothing terribly unique. Perhaps a more interesting tale will come in the sequel.

Actually, there is a message at the end of the movie, a "screen card", which I believe said something like "Thor will return in "The Avengers"", and THAT is something that I am really looking forward to. I hope that they can pull it off, but even if it is a disappointing failure, it will still be amazing to see Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, Captain America, and Hawkeye sharing big screen time. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Oh, I just remembered two nitpicks I have to mention.

One, Thor's beard. I know that he has been depicted with a beard in many of his comic book adventures in recent years, but I have to say that compared to Kirby's clean-shaven Thor, the bearded Thor always struck me as thuggish. Kirby's version had a more noble, almost innocent, look.

And two, Thor's helmet -- you know, the one with the wings on it? I loved the fact that they showed him with it in one of the first scenes, but then it goes away and I don't think it ever shows up again in the movie. That's unfortunate, in my opinion. The helmet is an important part of Thor's "look".

But I won't say its absence ruined the movie. -- PL

17 comments:

Miserable Dreamer said...

I was not a THOR fan before seeing the movie, though my dad grew up with the character. We both agreed that they did a good job of *not* making it cheesy, which was certainly my fear.

I missed the hemlet, too, but I didn't mind the beard - it kind of echoed Odin's beard, which I thought was a neat touch.

Chris Hemsworth did an absolutely fantastic job as Thor, and I have to say it's one of those rare superhero movies that my wife and I both really enjoyed.

mikeandraph87 said...

Thor is one comic character I know absolutely nothing about. Would this be a movie that one that doesn't know the character can appreciate and enjoy?

I am looking forward to your thoughts on Green Lantern. That should be fun.

PL said...

"mikeandraph87 said...
Thor is one comic character I know absolutely nothing about. Would this be a movie that one that doesn't know the character can appreciate and enjoy?"

I would say yes. -- PL

mikeandraph87 said...

Thor is one character I know absolutely nothing about. Would a comic fan that doesn't follow the character appreciate it?

PL said...

"mikeandraph87 said...
Thor is one character I know absolutely nothing about. Would a comic fan that doesn't follow the character appreciate it?"

In my opinion, yes. -- PL

From Mary's Pen said...

Hi Mr. Laird-

Thanks for a very insightful review. I haven't seen the movie yet, for fear of being disappointed by Hollywood's usual canned-spam, cookie-cutter approach to action/adventure.

Actually after reading your comments, I think I'm going to search out more of Mr. Kirby's work instead. I'm a little too young to remember most of his work, (I won't be 40 until next year) though of course I'm familiar with his characters, mostly through the cartoons I grew up watching in the 70's and 80's.

Rejoicing in the day,
-Mary

Sarah The Anime Librarian said...

This is on my to see list. While I wasn't heavily into thor (My marvel book of choice was always the x-men) I liked him a lot in the Avengers books I've read.

Tom Scioli said...

I always got the impression from Kirby's comics that the Aesir were sci-fi gods. Asgard has all kinds of hi-tech devices that they give archaic names to. That was a large part of the appeal of Kirby's Thor for me.
The movie could've used a clearer agenda for Loki and the Destroyer. I always liked the stories, like the Mangog one, where there's a giant unstoppable creature slowly making his way towards the Odinsword and the heroes have to do everything they can to stop it. The Destroyer slapped Thor in the face and walked away? Never would've happened in the comics.

PL said...

"Tom Scioli‬ said...
I always got the impression from Kirby's comics that the Aesir were sci-fi gods. Asgard has all kinds of hi-tech devices that they give archaic names to. That was a large part of the appeal of Kirby's Thor for me.
The movie could've used a clearer agenda for Loki and the Destroyer. I always liked the stories, like the Mangog one, where there's a giant unstoppable creature slowly making his way towards the Odinsword and the heroes have to do everything they can to stop it. The Destroyer slapped Thor in the face and walked away? Never would've happened in the comics."

Tom, you make a good point, and it could be argued that the gods of Asgard as Kirby (and Lee) portrayed them WERE, in fact, no more truly "gods" than Kirby's later "Eternals" were. (Those guys were clearly spacemen who left the impression of being gods on early human cultures.)
I would argue, though, that even though the gods of Asgard in Kirby's "Thor" had some "high-tech" gizmos, they never (at least as far as I can remember) referred to themselves as anything other than "gods" of the mystical, mythological sort. And it never seemed to me to negatively affect how Thor fit into the overall Marvel universe. -- PL

Tom Scioli said...

Stan and Jack very smartly left a lot for the fans to debate in the letter columns. Look how many years it finally took them to explain what the deal was between Don Blake and Thor. Jack left before he was able to give any kind of answer as to what he thought the Aesir were. Who knows if he ever planned to. It was left to the subsequent generation of fan writers to spell it out. It seems like the explanation changes every couple of years for what they are. The two main answers seem to be either the Alan Moore answer: in the imagination all gods are real, the world is created by the imagination, thus all gods are real
or the Arthur Clarke answer: gods are advanced aliens.
Kirby was really good at not spelling out every point of his universes, allowing a great deal of reader participation. It's more fun to speculate and debate what this stuff means then to be flatly told. Looking at how Kirby handled the gods in all his post-Thor comics I'd have to guess he viewed them as aliens. They were the progenitors of the New Gods, after all. Looking at his drawings of God and the angels, it seems like, at least in his artwork, he viewed the Judeo-Christian god through a sci-fi lens, too.

B.Thomas said...

Awesome review Peter! I was never a big fan of Thor, but I think the film did him justice. The visuals of Asgard were amazing! Are you going to see X-Men: First Class next? I can't wait to see that! The early reviews have been good so far.

PL said...

"B.Thomas said...
Awesome review Peter! I was never a big fan of Thor, but I think the film did him justice. The visuals of Asgard were amazing! Are you going to see X-Men: First Class next? I can't wait to see that! The early reviews have been good so far."

I will be seeing the new X-Men movie -- the trailers are encouraging. -- PL

PL said...

Tom Scioli‬ said...
Stan and Jack very smartly left a lot for the fans to debate in the letter columns. Look how many years it finally took them to explain what the deal was between Don Blake and Thor. Jack left before he was able to give any kind of answer as to what he thought the Aesir were. Who knows if he ever planned to. It was left to the subsequent generation of fan writers to spell it out. It seems like the explanation changes every couple of years for what they are. The two main answers seem to be either the Alan Moore answer: in the imagination all gods are real, the world is created by the imagination, thus all gods are real
or the Arthur Clarke answer: gods are advanced aliens."

The Moore take on gods seems a bit too flakey for my tastes, while the Clark one seems a tad prosaic. For my money, if you are going to have Gods, why not let them be Gods? Why explain them at all except to say that they are deities? Perhaps in this secular age, it's difficult to write about such things.

"Kirby was really good at not spelling out every point of his universes, allowing a great deal of reader participation. It's more fun to speculate and debate what this stuff means then to be flatly told. Looking at how Kirby handled the gods in all his post-Thor comics I'd have to guess he viewed them as aliens. They were the progenitors of the New Gods, after all. Looking at his drawings of God and the angels, it seems like, at least in his artwork, he viewed the Judeo-Christian god through a sci-fi lens, too."

I wonder if Kirby ever talked about this in any interviews? I can't recall, even though I have read quite a few. I'm not sure I would agree with your take on the "New Gods" -- while it is true that they appeared to have quite a few technological gizmos, I don't see why gods can't (or shouldn't) use technology, and not have to be aliens to do so. Perhaps this "godtech" is simply their way of expressing their godpower in the most efficient, or most pleasing, way.
In any event, however Kirby viewed gods, I have to say that I have enjoyed all of his efforts at telling their stories. -- PL

M.M. Montelione said...

Hey Peter! I went into THOR having read virtually nothing of his comic-book counterpart, and I thoroughly enjoyed the film. My favorite addition and in my opinion the best written character was LOKI. The actor seemed perfectly suited. I usually don't care for the baddies, but he's one I have a soft spot for. I did some research after I saw the film and from what I can tell, the movie did pretty decent justice to Loki's back story.

Your thoughts on how they portrayed Loki?

cloud said...

I have to be honest Peter, I was never interested in Marvel's Thor character and he's still the least favorite character in Marvel. I guess the god part really kept me away from connecting to this character. Still, I've only heard good words of the movie besides the first review I've read. I still haven't decided if I should go and watch it or not. I'll probably wait for the Blu-Ray release. I was more excited of another comic book adaptation called Dylan Dog starring Brandon Routh but it seems like it won't be making it to Canada. This sad news took away my mood to walk in the theatres until Green Lantern and X-men.
Like Martian Manhunter or Wonder Woman, Thor's a great character to have in a group of heroes but as a stand alone character I don't feel the urge to see more of him or know more about him.
The idea of a team Superhero movie seems to interest a lot of people, even non-comic book fans. I wish Marvel best of luck but so far the Avengers movie does generate a lot of hype and ruined a potentially good movie called Ironman2. The next Marvel studios movie is Captain America, I hope it will be another good movie this summer.

margui118 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
margui118 said...

Hi Mr. Laird: (May I call you Peter? Well, I'm asking for your permission)

I didn't see "Thor" yet, so that's way and not posting a comment yet.

In 2003 TMNT there is an episode call "The King" and it was about a guy named Kirby who draw characters using a magic pen and suddenly the characters came alive. Donatello met this guy and then they enter into a portal that lead them into a world full of this characters. I remember a Japanese anime with a girl using a magic sketch book or pen like Kirby. Is Kirby was a real person? I'm curious.

Another episode of the series is the Ancient One and I notice clearly the influence of "Star Wars" in there. Leo remain me a lot of Luke Skywalker and the Ancient One of Yoda, there. Did the producers ask permission to George Lucas to do this? Also, I notice this series made a lot of reference to the original TMNT series like the Krang reference in one episode or to shout "Cowabunga" trademark phrase of Michelangelo and even Donatello start to say that :)

Finally, I heard that Nickelodeon will do a new TMNT series and when I see the trailer, I notice Donatello and Michelangelo's weapons have blades and also I heard that Donatello will use a different weapon instead of his bo. Honestly, I didn't like what I see. What do you think?