Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Some thoughts on Thor (the movie), in which spoilers will likely be mentioned

1.) I read and loved the first half of Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee’s recent, all-ages Thor: The Mighty Avenger series. In 2004 I read that Garth Ennis Max miniseries Thor: Vikings. And, of course, I came across the characters in The Ultimates, DC Vs. Marvel and various crossover stories, but that’s about it for my Thor comics experience.

Unlike most superheroes or comics characters to make it to the big screen, I don’t really have a favorite version or take, nor do I have any strong feelings regarding the character. Hell, I barely have any feelings about him.

2.) My expectations were set very, very low. There’s a…pointlessness to a Thor movie in 2011 that made me somewhat apathetic about the whole thing. From where I sit (in front of a computer, reading and writing about comics all goddam day), it really only seemed like they were making a Thor movie so people would know who the character was when he showed up in the Avengers movie.

3.) I liked the movie. It’s not a great one, and no, it’s probably not even a very good one, but I can really only point to one major problem with it, and nearly everything else I was dissatisfied with seemed to fall into a “I would have done it differently” or “I think it might have been cooler if they did it this way” sort of category of criticism.

Unlike a lot of superhero movies, it is neither terrible nor a mixed-bag. I think Spider-Man, X-Men and Iron Man were all superior films, but Thor was certainly closer to those three than the rest of the movies based on Marvel comics.

I’d recommend it to anyone who asked me if they should see it.

4.) That major problem? It was structural. The movie felt too short to me. Maybe it was short, maybe it just felt that way, but the conflicts that didn’t involve hitting seemed to resolve themselves far too quickly, and while I could suspend my disbelief for all the magic, mythology and super-science, I didn’t really believe that Thor and Natalie Portman had time to get to know each other, let alone love one another. I didn’t believe that Thor had time to actually learn his lesson. The entire time spent on earth seemed relatively too short, if that is supposed to be the emotional crux of the thing. (And it is).

I’m not entirely sure how to resolve this, without adding plenty of running time. Less time could have been spent in Asgard and the space-Norse realms in general, which might have made for better drama and a better film, but that would have meant fewer fight scenes, and, I imagine, a cut the studio would not quite care for.

Thor really only does one heroic thing on planet Earth; there’s only one real fight there, and it’s not really much of one.

5.) I thought Chris Hemsworth did a really good job as Thor. I wonder how much it helped that he was an unknown actor (to me). Often times when the guy playing the lead hero is a well-known quantity, it can be hard to separate the character from the actor. For example, I keep forgetting the name of Natalie Portman’s character (It’s Jane Foster), because whenever I see her I just think of her as Natalie Portman (this doesn’t at all hurt the movie, mind you; I imagine bleeding-edge astrophysics and cosmic storm-chasing are the sorts of things Natalie Portman really does all the time, when she’s not showing Jason Schwartzman her bum, overthrowing fascist Britain or putting up with that Anakin douchebag).

Hemsworth is a handsome man, and I think they should have had him in states of undress a little more often, in order to increase the film’s appeal to the ladies.

6.) I thought Portman was okay too, but man, she didn’t really have much to do.

There’s one neat scene between the two where she’s in her living place and he comes to visit unexpectedly and she gets totally flustered that’s really charming (It’s also the sort of thing you usually see in movies with the roles reversed; that is, a supernaturally hot lady makes our plucky male hero act like a crazy person in her presence). As I said before, the two don’t really spend much time together.

7.) Hemsworth and Portman make a great couple, visually. Like, just the way they look together, physically, accentuates the whole “from two different worlds” thing. I would have loved to see them banter and flirt in more will they or won’t they scenes of the sort that made The Mighty Avenger comics so fun.

8.) Kat Dennings is in Thor! Why didn't anyone tell me Kat Dennings was going to be in this movie? Surely with all these comics-related blogs covering every tiny bit of news regarding every superhero movie, I should have read about her being in the movie at some point before I saw her in it. Or did I already read that Dennings was going to be in Thor, and it just didn't register with me because at that point I hadn't yet seen Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (which is really great) and Defendor (which is also pretty great)?

Yes, it turns out that that is indeed the case.

I like Dennings.

This role's no great shakes or anything, but I thought it rather interesting that she played it, as the funny, geeky sidekick character she plays here seems like the sort that would typically be played by a male actor.

9.) I thought it interesting that the filmmakers plucked Thor’s visual appearance and the way he’s perceived from Mark Millar, Bryan Hitch and Paul Neary’s The Ultimates—long hair, scruffy little beard, folks think he’s
probably crazy–and that’s about it. One of the genuinely suspenseful and dramatic elements of The Ultimates, perhaps Millar’s last good comic, was the ongoing subplot of whether Thor was really the Norse god of Thunder, or just an insane superhero who thought he was. That, and the way a religious cult sprang up around him, and he used his political influence to try and effect changes he believed in.

10.) I’m sorely disappointed that a live-action film based on Marvel’s Thor was made, and at no point did he say “I say thee nay.” Also, I don’t recall hearing “verily” at all. (The screenwriters did, as the Thor action figure in the little video “JustSomeRandomGuy” explained, “toneth things down substantially for thine MTV generation” in terms of the fake Shakespearean dialog (Fakespearean?). Mostly, the gods just have English accents.

11.) I was also a little sad not to see Thor’s goats. Sleipinir did make an appearance, for which I was grateful—and a little surprised, given that the gods mostly just teleport from place to place.

This is off-topic, but I’ve actually spent a long time thinking about what the eight-legged horse should look like, design-wise. They put an extra set of legs between each of the normal set of legs.

12.) This film marked the first time I had ever heard the word “mjolnir” pronounced out loud. I always pronounced it “muh-jolnir” in my head, because
that’s what it looked like, even though I suspected either the m or the j was silent.

When Dennings first said it, it sounded like “Mew-mew” to me, and I thought she said it like that because here character was purposefully mispronouncing it for comedic effect. But no, I guess that’s how they pronounce it.

13.) I saw it in 3D, because the only theater in my hometown was only showing it in 3D. That hampered my enjoyment a bit, as I had to pay more, wear a pair
of glasses over my glasses and the film didn’t really seem intended to be seen in 3D. The effects didn’t really add anything, and actually just subtracted from the coherence of some of the action scenes, making them look even faker and sillier.

14.) This was the first time I had ever seen a Kashi brand cereal receive product placement. There’s a shot in Foster’s trailer that seems set-up
specifically to reveal the Kashi logo on a box of cereal in the foreground, and it looks extra-obvious in 3D. That was actually the only 3D component that really struck me—the product being product-placed seemed to be closer to me than usual.

15.) Let’s talk about design for a bit.

It’s really a damn shame that for all the superhero movies of the past decade, none has really been devoted to trying to translate Jack Kirby’s particular, peculiar, powerful aesthetic to the medium. I think Thor would have been the perfect film to do so, as I’ve always had the sense that it was one of the nearest and dearest characters/properties he worked on, especially given the way he would return to the gods as superheroes theme over and over during his career.

Therefore, it would have been nice to see Kirby’s Asgard, Kirby’s bifrost, Kirby’s Asgardians—funny hats, brilliant colors, nonsensically filigreed technology and all.

We don’t get that here (Maybe a Fourth World movie will give it to us, if the superhero film boom doesn’t bust before Warner Brothers works their way down the superhero hierarchy to reach Mister Miracle or Orion).

I also wouldn’t have minded a more straight-outta mythology take on Asgard and the Asgardians, in large part because while I’ve seen Greek myth adapted to the screen over and over and over, Norse myth is still mainly missing from the big screen—at least, it’s never had its Clash of the Titans-style showcase in pop Western cinema.

Unfortunately, because Thor is set in the same “universe” as the two Iron Man movies and The Incredible Hulk, it has to adhere to the aesthetic of those films. That is, Thor’s costume has to look like it belongs in the same movie as Iron Man’s.

That’s part and parcel to a shared universe, or, at least, it is in a purposefully created to be a shared universe shared universe, but it erects a lot of barriers and puts plenty of constrictions on the imagination.

The two biggest and longest-lived pop culture shared universes, the Marvel and DC universes, emerged slowly over time and often at random, which gives them their peculiar charm. Making such a universe on purpose can prove troubling(look no further than Marvel’s problems maintaining the once well-managed and constantly manicured Ultimate Universe).

While I would have loved to see Thor go Full Kirby, or even for the producers to do their own Norse Myth-as-21st Century Superhero Saga from scratch, they do achieve a decent enough balance of comics adherence, faithfulness to the look established in Iron Man and passable movie costuming.

16.) Asgard is a pretty underwhelming place. It’s strangely underpopulated—Thor, Sif, The Warriors Three, Loki, Odin, Heimdal, Odin’s wife, two guards…I think that’s everyone there—and when crowds or random people appear, it is only in all-CGI longshot. The scenes in Asgard proper mostly look like scenes from the second Star Wars trilogy, only without all of the movement and people/aliens/wildlife sucked out. It looks…cheap, I guess the word is.

17.) The Warriors Three are pretty awesome. Fandral especially looks true to his original design, and I really wanted to see more of him and the others as Thor’s running crew. Hogun was missing his hat, but otherwise looked good; Volstagg was pretty off-model, unless “big guy with a beard” is enough.

I did hear reference to "Fandral The Dashing" and "Hogun The Grim", but I don’t recall hearing “Volstagg The Voluminous” at all.

I would rather see a Warriors Three or Thor and The Warriors Three than a Thor 2 at this point, to be honest.

18.) Loki seems more like The God of Passive-Aggressiveness than The God of Mischief.

19.) I didn’t care for the look of the Frost Giants. They basically look like Lord of the Rings orcs, with Iceman powers they use to create ice swords and maces on their fists. On first appearance, they don’t look very big either.

Their world is pretty drab and uninspired too. It’s very dark and murky looking, and all gray rock and ice. The biggest action scene of the film is set there, and the darkness coupled with the 3D and all the CGI made it about as easy to scan as a Transformers action scene.

It’s too bad, because it’s the main showcase for the Warriors Three, and the scene in which Thor does most of his hammer-swinging.

20.) The Avengers/Marvel movie universe tie-ins were fairly well handled, I thought, and didn't really derail the proceedings to the extent that they messed with Iron Man 2. There's another Avenger in here, but he has little more than a cameo, and only gets a few lines, so it's not like Sam Jackson and Scarlett Johansson commandeering scenes for themselves (Please note, I have never not been happy to see either Jackson or Johansson show up on a movie screen for any reason, but I think their characters' inclusion in Iron Man 2 hurt the overall narrative).

By the way, I can't wait to see what they do with Hawkeye. Will he just be some dude standing around with a bow for some reason? Will he have the lame Ultimates "costume" of, um, sunglasses? Will he be in purple, with a loincloth and a big stupid H on his hat/mask/hood? There are so many poor choices to choose from, I can't wait to see which they go with!

21.) I stayed all the way through the credits to see the Avengers tease.

As they scrolled by, I saw a line that said “Thor will return in The Avengers.” The credits for 1983 Dan Aykroyd vehicle Doctor Detroit promised that Doctor Detroit would return in a sequel, and he never did.

22.) So, about that ending—what the fuck was that supposed to be, anyway? The Cosmic Cube? It was a pretty lame tease.


David said...

If they were gonna go with "sci-fi mythic" as Asgard's look, they should have made it look like Eternia in He-man. Instead we get sterile Australian art deco architecture covered in celtic knots.

The women in my family didn't find Chris Hemworth attractive, since he has close-set eyes. To them beady eyes mean a guy is probably an asshole.

The Pretentious Fool said...

The cosmic cube thing is a tie-in to Captain America. Early in production, there was a scene showing Red Skull finding the cosmic cube in what looked like a viking burial site in South America. Just like all of the previous Marvel movies in the Avengers franchise, this is teasing the next movie to come along.

Hdefined said...

"Hemsworth is a handsome man, and I think they should have had him in states of undress a little more often."

Caleb, you animal.

Matt D said...


Are you reading Gillen's Journey into Mystery, because not only is it awesome, and it is, but there's a TON of stuff about the goats in the issue that came out yesterday.

No lie.

Check it out.

Nicholas Yankovec said...

Dennings did say mew mew for comic effect, her pronunciation was fairly different from the others I thought; some of the books I read on Norse myths when I was younger sometimes replaced the J with an I, giving me a fair indication of how it should be said.

Funnily enough, knowing the J's are normally silent, I was still surprised how they pronounced Jotunheim...

Nicholas Yankovec said...

I didn't mean silent, I meant pronounced like a Y - d'uh

Idaho said...

Pretty solid review and I agree on most the points. Definitely have recommended to comic and non-comic friends.
I believe Dennings was saying "mew-mew" for comedic effect. Mjolnir is pronounced more closely to "mull-near."
And yes that is the cosmic cube at the end. *Spoiler Alert* It will be expanded on in Captain America next month.