Monday, May 9, 2011

Thor Thoughts: Movie Mjolnir Musings

I was very spoiled by my introduction to Thor.  It happened back when comics could still be purchased on spinner racks in stationary stores (back when there still were stationary stores). I decided to start following comics monthly because I was running the TSR Marvel game and wanted to get more familiar with the universe. (Especially after the fiasco when I tried to run a James Bond game before seeing any of those films, and received an urgent phone call one evening, “Jeff, there’s a James Bond movie on tonight…you REALLY need to watch it.” This was the origin of another pop culture addiction to be analyzed at a later date.) Most of my players started, or already were, reading the characters they wanted to use.  Since he was too powerful for anyone to be, I decided on Thor as one of my titles.  Unsuspectingly, I stumbled into the middle of Walt Simonson’s run.
Repackaged greatness.  Go buy one now!
Universally acclaimed to be one of the top two (if not the top) runs on the comic, and destined to become one of the top two (if not the top) of the list of my favorite runs on ANY comic, looking for similar quality lead me into a lifelong addiction more relevant to the topic at hand.  Being able to tell Mr. Simonson this on a message board and having him reply with a “mia culpa” and thanks was a high point of my comic geekly existence.

I’ve had trouble getting into any Thor run since then.  (Except Dan Jurgens’ King Thor arc, which my brain decided was an extended “What if” of Simonson’s.) As much as I like Tom Defalco’s writing other places, his being forced to follow the 90’s editorial replacement mandate, (that also gave us US Agent, and War Machine) producing a Thor who horrifyingly said, “It’s hammer time!” is one of the main factors that pushed me over to DC.

With this overly prejudiced starting point, let’s take a look at this new Thor movie.
Spoilers on kiddies:

I originally planned to see this film at a more sane time.  Unfortunately, they always showed the scariest monsters in the trailer, which meant my daughter changed her mind and refused to see it. Luckily, my sister is equally crazy, and I didn’t have to make the midnight preview trip alone.

The parts of the film where Thor actually was THOR were amazing (or Mighty to be more accurate).  Also, contrary to my usual stickleryness for accurate costumes, I’m glad he kept the winged helm off most of the time. Oddly, while flying through the air with a billowing cape, spinning mallet and shiny armor looked impressive, the helmet made him look kind of goofy.

One of the things about Walt Simonson’s run that I liked more than any other was that Thor was always an Asgardian deity, but still maintained a strong connection to both Earth and his father’s realm. The transformations into Don Blake were removed and there was no Eric Masterson or Jake Olson yet. Yes, Thor did transform into a frog for a while, but he still acted with much Thoritude and, impressively, could still lift Mjolnir. (There’s a major endorsement: the main character turned into a frog for a pile of months and it’s still my favorite run.)  I have very little interest in the adventures of Regular Guy trying to retrieve his (should be much harder to steal for a unique divinely enchanted) weapon so he can become a Virile Viking Varrior again.  If I want to see transformations with searching, I’ll read Hulk.  If I want to see transformations with lightning, I’ll read Captain Marvel. If I want to see emotional transformations based on relationships, I’ll sleep through the next midnight superhero premier and watch a movie on Lifetime the following morning.  I hear the current comic run has no alter ego, but I haven’t checked it out because: A) Oeming’s Ragnarok story was such an excellent ending, any restart would cheapen it. And B) with the string of Green Lantern mega crossovers going on I have no room on my pull list.  (I’ll be yammering on more about them when the G.L. film comes out.)

I understand that Marvel Thor’s origin relies on him being banished to Midgard to learn humility. However, when the comics began, the storyline picked up at the END of that period, allowing for more quality Thorish time. The movie used a large part of its center on a depowered deity. Also, I guess to speed things up, instead of learning humility over the course of attending medical school, in the film Thor learns humiliation.  Being repeatedly hit by cars, tazered and injected with sedatives are good beats for a fish out of water romantic comedy, but weren’t really worthy of an Asgardian thunder god. Luckily, that romantic comedy stuck in the middle of my superhero picture was broken up with Sif and the Warriors Three: Tales from Asgard scenes (Featuring Volstagg the Not Really All That Enormous, but since the Frost Giants were more like Frost Guys Who Are Above Average in Size, I’ll let Volstagg slide), and SHIELD scenes to provide pleasant reminders about the Avengers film (featuring Clark Gregg, who should star in an excellent film with Samuel L Jackson solely about the agency). 

There was also Heimdall, whose character, devotion to duty, and loyalty were performed perfectly.  All those complaining about the actor’s race, just cut it out now.  Comic fans are already seen as insane (see the rest of this post, and most of my others, for ample justification), there’s no reason to make us look closed minded too.  Everyone knows that Vikings were all Scandinavian, but since Stan and Jack started Marvel’s Thor, there’s been Hogun the Mongolian Asgardian as a precedent for diversity in the pantheon.

Funny, he doesn't look Norseish. 
The film made “mortal Thor” important to tell the tale of his somehow learning the value of friendship and nobility from the three people he spends a week with on Earth (as opposed to his Asgardian friends he’s known for centuries whom he would die for and would die for him, for some reason.)  Now I will contradict myself more, just to be annoying, and say one of the Thorliest moments was his rage and desperation learning he was unworthy of Mjolnir.  That scene coupled with his increasing Thorishness in matters of class and honor as time passed, plus a display of the abilities learned through centuries of battle experience saved that middle of the film. Because all the scenes of a Thor humorously puzzling over Earth customs, lacking super level powers, and imbibing in a Midgard bar were dancing dangerously close to making me expect next summer’s Avengers film to look like this:

This was all we had, and we were happy to have rotten kids.
Now it’s time for a cranky side letter:

Dear Hollywood.  I would like some purely evil villains please: not victims of circumstance, not smarter but less popular individuals being driven to acts based on unfair treatment, not unfavorite children crying that they didn’t know they were adopted. Sibling rivalry is an important aspect to the background story in the comics, but Loki brought everything on himself for more reasons than, “Dad always liked you best.”.  He’s the god of evil not Tommy Smothers.  Please spend increased time in the future (more expensive though it may be) on Thor flinging his Uru mallet through legions within a raging storm, and less on Loki’s blue period.

As I said, the opening where he was mostly Thorly, minus some class and honor, and closing, where he was at full Thorocitude were excellent. They impressively showed the earthshaking power levels for this type of character. (Warner Brother’s, take some notes for your in process Superman film.)  The early battle with the giants was stunning. At least what I could see of it was stunning. Hey movie guys, here’s another tip. If you have a red caped Viking god with a giant magic hammer that creates lightning and storms along side his armored and beweaponed allies fighting a vast sea of varied ice monsters…TURN SOME LIGHTS ON NEXT TIME!!!!  Use fluorescents if the Fresnel spots will melt the Jotunheim, anything. The glimpses looked good, but after seeing Goldilocks really shine in the Destroyer fight; I’d like to see a battle between Thor and an army that I could…I don’t know…SEE!

To contradict myself, yet again: Mjolnir returning itself and transforming Thor may be my favorite “hero suits up” scene from any of the swath of comic book films that have come out, transformation or no.  Thor’s interaction with the mortals, Asgardians and foes after that point was spot on and gives me a great deal of hope for the Avengers and Thor 2: Bifrost Boogaloo.  My only complaint centers once again on Loki.  Loki the deceiver, Loki the trickster, Loki the god of lies… I don’t care what magical maguffin or kingly cutter he’s holding, a direct physical attack on his universally known to be mightier, but less intelligent brother is NEVER going to be both his initial and main plan.  One final contradiction:  Seeing Thor and Loki face off in homage to myriad comic covers set my comic geek sense a tingling.

End thoughts:

Was it good?

Should it be seen on a big screen?
Oh Yes!

Was it lacking anything?
One would expect more Thorness in a Thor movie.
(My sister’s answer to this question was, “More shirtless Thor,” which is why she was not asked to contribute further to this review.)

Have I matured?
Looks like it. I only yelled “NO!” out loud once.  

Am I going to tell you why?
Yes, because if I didn’t end with a final rant, it wouldn’t be me:

Odin is missing an eye in both Norse and Marvel mythology NOT because he lost it in an ultraviolent battle, but because he traded it at Mimir’s well to augment his already prodigious wisdom. 

Y’know, wisdom.

That thing Odin chastises his reckless son for lacking because Thor copied THE SAME battle plan against ridiculous odds that Odin used in the movie when he LOST HIS EYE!!

Happy thoughts happy thoughts, Hawkeye cameo, happy thoughts, Unfettered might to the face of the Destroyer, happy thoughts, Sleipnir! Happy thoughts, Loki pinned by his own unworthiness!



Kim Luer said...

"Have I matured?
Looks like it. I only yelled “NO!” out loud once."

...and amazingly enough the "NO!" was yelled without leaving the comfyness of the chair. It was nice to watch a movie with a scene that wrong and not have to physically restrain you! and more amazinly "that romantic comedy stuck in the middle of my superhero picture" was met with only a slight bit of huffing.

I stand by my review, I loved it but "More shirtless Thor" would have made it even better.

Jeff McGinley said...

Part maturity, but more likely too old and tired to stand and shout at a midnight movie. (Although I think I did leave the seat for the Destroyer inner 14 year old has more energy than my inner grouchy geek)

Anabelle said...

The movie Thor was AWSOME!

Jeff McGinley said...

So the secret to getting my daughter to watch and enjoy an adventure film I know she'll like is to see it ahead of time, and talk her through any dramatic tension scenes so she know's they'll come out ok. If I must see superhero films twice for my child to enjoy them, then it is a burden I will bear. My wife liked it too, but wanted to know why there were all these viking battles in her romantic comedy.

Extra thoughts on Loki being surprised by his heritage. Considering he's the father of a half corpse woman, a giant wolf and a world circling serpent, plus the mother of Odin's horse, you'd thing any genetic information he'd get about himself shouldn't be a shock anymore.

longbow said...

Branaugh doesn't know how to handle women. This is the first movie with Natalie Portman where I thought she sucked. Usually I get that instant report with her character and want he to do well. Here, I loved the hammer flying to Thor so much but I thought the only thing that would have made it better would be if it conked Natalie on the way in.

I noticed J. Michael Stracynski has a story by credit. I think they should have let him contribute some dialog as well.

longbow said...

Also, during the post-end-credit clip in the SHIELD basement, I couldn't have been the only person to think that the briefcase contained Marcellus Wallace's soul.

Jeff McGinley said...

Portman played a very important role...she made Hemsworth looks appropriately HUGEMOUNGUS.

I thought the women were more varied in this film than most of the recent superhero flicks.
Sif, Jane and Darcy were certainly a variety.

JMS headed up the most recent Thor relaunch...I dont really care who did or does the dialogue, but we darn well better get an "I SAY THEE NAY!" in the sequel.

longbow said...

Last thing, the product placement in this movie was over-the-top distracting. I don't care if someone drinks a soda on a hot day and we clearly see that it's a Coke. But it felt like the bit about diverting the Southwest flight from over the top of the landing site was put in just to say and see "Southwest". The boom shot of the SHIELD Acuras was like something from a Toyotathon commercial. They were all parked juuuusssst so.
Towards the end the destroyer blew up the 7-11 gas station but then from an aerial shot we can still clearly see the 7-11 sign.
These glaring moments re-suspend my disbelief.

Jeff McGinley said...

Got it, so indestructible signs as co workers who park identical vehicles as if on display suspend your disbelief...Magic hammers that summon lightning and allow flight and empty suits of armor that are alive and shoot energy out of their face do not. Just want to be sure I understand the ground rules. ;-P

longbow said...

"My rules, I make'm up"