Sunday, May 8, 2011

Hammer Time!

Thor  (Paramount, 2011)

Before the Camera:

Chris Hemsworth  (Star Trek)
Natalie Portman  (Mars Attacks)
Tom Hiddleston  (TV's Wallander)
Anthony Hopkins  (The Road to Wellville)         <-----I worked on that one!
Stellan Skarsgård  (The Hunt for Red October)
Kat Dennings  (The House Bunny)
Clark Gregg  (Iron Man)
Idris Elba  (TV's Luther)
Colm Feore  (Storm of the Century)
Ray Stevenson  (Punisher: War Zone)
Tadanobu Asano  (Walking Home)
Josh Dallas  (The Descent Part 2)
Jaimie Alexander  (Rest Stop)
Rene Russo  (Lethal Weapon 3)
Adriana Barraza  (Drag Me to Hell)
Stan Lee (Thor's comics co-creator)
Stan the Man

and look fast for:

J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5 creator and recent Thor comic writer)

Behind the Camera:

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Produced by Kevin Feige, Victoria Alonso, Mike Bodkin, Louis D'Esposito, Debra James, Craig Kyle, Stan Lee, David Maisel, and Patricia Whitcher

Written by Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz and Don Payne

Story by J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Protosevich

Thor created for Marvel Comics by Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Jack Kirby

Marvel Studios adds another thread to the giant superhero tapestry they started creating with Iron Man in 2008. This time the Asgardian warrior Thor is the focus. In the original Marvel Comics run in the early 1960's, Thor was actually Dr. Donald Blake, a limping physician who discovers a strange walking stick in a cave in Norway. When he strikes the cane on the ground, it transforms into a mighty war hammer and Don Blake becomes Thor, a superhero version of the Norse god of thunder. After running with this premise for a while, Lee decided to bring in the actual Norse mythology to the story to give himself more writing fodder and the story more scope. So, the book's setup was altered - as the story was revised, Donald Blake was not a real human - he was a creation of Thor's father Odin, who had exiled his son from the wondrous land of Asgard to Earth to learn humility. Odin sapped Thor's power and blanked his memory, letting him believe he was a human physician (a practicing one, mind you! Odin doesn't do things in half measures!) Eventually Odin drew Thor-as-Blake to Norway to find his war hammer Mjolnir (Mee-yole'-neer) and allow him to slowly regain his godly power while balancing his heroics with his human life. Of course, nearly fifty years of different writers have added and subtracted from the story and the origin, but that's the basics of the character in comics.
    The movie adheres pretty closely to the second origin, with Donald Blake only getting a little lip service and serving as a plot device briefly. We start out in the Southwest in the modern day, right near the place where the little sequence after the end credits in Iron Man 2 took place. (You did know that all of these Marvel comics movies starting with Iron Man have little teaser scenes after the end credits, right?)

Asgardian antics a go go...
 Thor falls to Earth, but just as he is discovered by Jane Foster (Portman) - Blake's nurse and mostly unfulfilled love interest in the comics - now an astrophysicist (!) - and her pals Dr. Selvig (Skarsgård) and Darcy (Dennings), we suddenly back up to ancient Norse history, to establish the connection between those people and the fabled land of Asgard, realized marvelously on screen, with all of the scope and grandeur Lee and Lieber wrote about and that Kirby drew so magnificently in the comics. We meet Odin (a perfectly cast Hopkins, bringing all his Shakespearean weight to bear on the character), his wife Frigga (Russo - not a lot to do, but nice to see her), and his sons Thor (Hemsworth) and Loki (Hiddleston). Blond Thor is a brash warrior, a chip off the old block, whereas Loki is quieter, more studied. They couldn't be more different, and with good reason as it eventually turns out.
After some Asgardian drama and some gorgeous battle scenes that include the comics' Lady Sif (Alexander) and the Warriors Three - Fandral (Dallas), Hogun (Asano), and Volstagg (Stevenson), Thor commits a grave error that puts Asgard on the brink of war. An incensed Odin casts him out, and we are back to the start of the movie. The next section details Thor's journey of self-discovery as a human on Earth alongside Loki's journey of self-discovery back in Asgard; and it is Loki's findings that prove the most surprising, and leave him poised to serve as the villain of the piece...

The son of Odin approaches the Destroyer, hoping to give him a Thor-ough thrashing.
    I was not a huge fan of Thor as a kid, preferring Spider-Man and the Hulk to the Asgardian warrior. But as I got older the character began to appeal to me more, especially as clever writers like Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, and Walt Simonson built on the framework layed out in the early issues by bringing in more of the mythology and mixing it with the superheroics and even cosmic angst. I found this flick to be a solid addition to the Marvel pantheon of the last couple of years, not as good as the first Iron Man, but on a par with that film's sequel and The Incredible Hulk - very good, not great. Kenneth Branagh may seem a strange choice to handle such an effects and stunts laden mashup, but those things are handled by other department heads anyway, and it's Branagh's flair for the drama of Shakespeare that serves him and the film very well indeed. I think it also helped the movie draw in a stellar cast - and they are all terrific. Hemsworth is well cast as Thor, a character not seen much before in live-action, with only Eric Allan Kramer's pudgy Viking from the TV movie The Incredible Hulk Returns not making this much of a contest. The other actors are all fine, and the ones with comics counterparts mostly all look the part, even if they're a little different (an Asian Hogun?) A special shout out must go to Idris Elba, who is marvellous as Asgard's peerless gatekeeper Heimdall. Heimdall never seems to get to do all that much, but he remains one of my favorite characters from the comics, and Elba infuses him with power and dignity and makes the smallish role crucial to the film. The production design and costumes do a fine job invoking the feel of the comic book without being too cartoony, and the special effects are marvellous throughout.

Turns out Mjolnir can be used to stop fire ants too.
    The story handles the always-difficult origin story with panache, giving us a goodly dose of Asgardian action before stranding Thor on Earth. Even during that middle section, a subplot with Marvel's spy group SHIELD attempting to discover the mysteries of Mjolnir keeps the plot boiling, and covers nicely until Loki's machinations send the Asgardian Destroyer robot to Earth, which then leads to the film's climax.     The film is available in both 3-D and 2-D. I checked out the 3-D, and it was obviously added in post-production, making it fairly skippable in the format, especially if the extra charge "for the glasses" is a hindrance. But I am a sucker for the depth of the format, even when added as an afterthought on the backside, so there you go.
    And of course, there is a stinger scene (with you-know-who once again popping up) after the end credits that sets up some events that will be seen in the next Marvel movie - Captain America: The First Avenger, due out July 22nd, which will then lead us into The Avengers - the supergroup movie which will bring together Iron Man, The Hulk, Thor, and Captain America. Oooo, looking forward to that one!

But in the meantime, Thor is on the Big Screen now, and if you enjoy a rollicking superhero flick now and again, I can heartily recommend this one, so check it out!
Let's Get Out of Here ?
One viewing in the theater has once again left me unsure, but it seems I must have heard it in there somewhere...more research is again necessary...
Eye Candy ?
Natalie Portman just doesn't send me. Sorry, Nat.
Jaimie Alexander, however, rocks some Asgard armor pretty well, so she's in!


But the clear winner here is Kat Dennings, seen below at the premiere and then just generally looking va-va-voom. Welcome to the list Ms Dennings!
Buddha Man's Capsule Review

Buddha Man says "For superhero fans, Thor should not be mythed!"
 Thank you Buddha Man! And that wraps this one up! Til next post, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!


  1. Fantastic as usual my friend! I was doubting the idea of going to see this one, but you have me thinking it might be worth my $10. Thanks!

    "Mythed"?? ugh......

  2. I'm not a fan of obscure superhero films. I suppose I'm a traditionalist. I like Superman, Batman and Spider-Man. But I did enjoy Ironman, thanks to a great script, cool FX and Robert Downey Jr. (Not a fan of the Ironman sequels.) Even so, nice write up, Craig.

    1. Did you ever break down and check this one out?

  3. Great review! The Buddha Man is spot on.

    I enjoyed your little Thor history lesson before you jumped into your analysis of the film. And I completely agree with your take on Idris Alba. His role was limited, but he still infused him with great class and presence.

    Our cyber aisle reviews of Thor garner thumbs up!

    1. Indeed they do, Matty! Indeed they do! Thanks for the kind words!

  4. Awesome review again! Yeah, not the biggest comics Thor fan either, but when he's written well, the stories are really good. I think the film is a good one, but not great as you know. But I think they handled the origin and the stuff with Loki well enough. I loved the fish-out-of-water stuff, due to Hemsworth's comic timing and charm.

    As for the eye candy, all three ladies get my attention. But Kat Dennings is definitely the best of the three. :)

    1. Fred - I appreciate you coming by and checking these reviews out - you're a fine blog colleague! Cheers!