It’s another summer of movies based on comic book properties, and we’ve already seen the first big release — Thor!
Like most other comic book fans I know, I’ve been pretty happy with the way the Marvel Comics characters have been treated on the big screen in recent years. There are notable exceptions, but most of the Marvel-based movies have been true to the core of the characters AND fun films to boot. Yet, even with that track record, I’ll admit that I was more than a little nervous about Thor.
All of the previous movies have been about “science” heroes — Spider-Man and his gamma-irradiated spider bite, the Fantastic Four and their accident during space exploration, Iron Man and his workshop full of high-tech snazziness. Thor, on the other hand, is all fantasy and magic — Norse mythology, gods walking the world, enchanted hammers, ice giants. It wasn’t clear to me that you could make a movie where those things felt like part of the same super-heroic world that the previous movies were building … one where you could have Samuel L. Jackson appear as “Nick Fury” after the end credits and feel that S.H.I.E.L.D. was a reasonable part of the action.
Well, I’m HAPPY to say that I my worrying was unfounded. Thor was a terrific little action film and it very much feels like its part of the cinematic Marvel Universe. It ALSO was very true to the source material (mostly comics in the Lee & Kirby and Walt Simonson runs) while still making adaptations so that the material was more accessible to moviegoers who have never even heard of Asgard or the Warriors Three.
SPOILER WARNING: I’m not going to lay bare the plot of the movie here, but I AM going to talk in detail about some of its contents. As such, if you haven’t seen Thor yet and you’re trying to avoid spoilers, stop reading here.
I’ve heard some people complain that they do not like the idea of the Asgardians being portrayed as extra-dimensional aliens rather than as actual deities. And the steampunkification of the Bifrost and Heimdal’s station were tough to swallow at first. But I completely understand the need to make small adjustments like that, and I am even more willing to accept them when they turn out to be merely cosmetic … and the base concepts underneath remain in tact (as is definitely the case here).
One of the big plums, I think, was getting Kenneth Branagh to direct. He brought the right combination of driving action and Shakespearean gravitas. I think he was a big part of making sure the Loki, the trickster god and Thor’s half-brother, more than the cackling caricature of unmotivated evil he often becomes at the hands of lesser writers. Loki is a VERY motivated character (quite probably the most motivated and best written character in the film), and it isn’t until deep in the third act that we really feel for certain that he is a VILLAIN.
Indeed, the interpretations of all the characters–filtered as they were through the man who successfully brought Hamlet, Henry V, As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing, and Love’s Lost Labour to modern movie screens–hit all the right notes. Oddly, enough, the only one I quibble with has a very Shakespearean reason for being the way it is. (I think that Volstagg, the chunky member of the Warriors Three, was not given a sufficiently lighthearted touch … much like Shakespear’s Falstaff, upon whom he is based, he is a character that generally gets BETTER the more broadly he is portrayed, both comedically and physically.)
If Thor suffers anywhere, it is from trying to cram SO much into this movie — so many new concepts, characters, and settings — that none of them feel like they were given full examination. I think they could easily opened up room for deeper explorations if they eliminated the whole take-Thor-to-the-hospital and initial Thunder-God-at-the-diner sequences and let the story go DIRECTLY to the get-the-hammer part. (Of course, some other plot adjustments would have been needed, too … but they could have been easily managed.)
On the whole, though, I am very pleased with the epic proportions of Thor and the way it fits into the growing Marvel Universe of the movies. It makes me even more anxious for this summer’s Captain America and next year’s Avengers movies. And that doesn’t even count X-Men: First Class (which is looking cooler and cooler).