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The Establishing Shot: Thor Review & maybe I’m getting to old for this

Wednesday, April 27, 2011 Craig Grobler 0 Comments

ThorThere was a point about 3 minutes into Thor where I had sudden realisation, it’s the same realisation that I had recently when watching Iron Man 2 and Tron: Legacy. Here I was sitting in a cinema, watching a big screen filled with imagery and characters that I had imagined in my mind many times over.

If you read my blog you know that I read a lot of comics and yes I used to read a lot Marvel’s The Mighty Thor. Growing up I had allegiance to DC Comics and but the few Marvel characters that I did read I had a real attachment to. I think DC’s simplistic world view of evil & good was easier to digest as a kid than Marvel’s more complex views.

In the past
Traditionally DC seemed to have led the way when it comes to comics, initially with the success of it’s solitary heroes (Batman, Superman) then hero teams (Justice League of America), then in the 80s dipping their toes in more mature waters (Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, Killing Joke and a final stab in the late 90s with The Authority outside their current universe) somewhere between the late 90s and present day Marvel took the lead reinventing their universe for a maturing audience and becoming relevant to a younger audience that had grown up at a time when we are bombarded with over stimulus from every angle.

Marvel’s reinvention was led by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s 2002 The Ultimates a super hero tale using traditional Marvel characters addressing more mature themes for a savy fan base. Marvel’s film works have moved in the same direction albeit a more bumpy path;

Marvel Comics film infographic
Marvel Comics film infographic

Although Thor was not one of my favourite comics growing up I did read a lot of them and have an attachment to his universe. However there were some aspects of Thor I could never reconcile:

The whole Norse God/Odin/Asgard/Rainbow bridge/magic/realms aspects of Thor carried little weight with me and if anything just interrupted the flow of his earthly adventures and I just ignored those bits of the comics.

I totally bought into an arrogant son being harshly punished by his father and having to live his life as a cripple mortal to learn humility. However there is a caveat to this – my entire childhood I only ever knew Thor as either a warrior hero or as his alter ego Donald Blake a selfless doctor and never as anything less than mighty.

So I could only surmise that his banishment was some sort of misunderstanding or jealousy. Also Thor seemed to be so mighty to me that if he really wanted to I was sure he could make his way back to Asgard or wherever he wanted to go any time.

I also could also not understand why Loki kept on getting away with so much stuff without being destroyed once and for all. As I grew up I understood more about the Comics Code Authority and how there will always be a need to balance out the good and evil in the comic universe. It’s worth noting that Marvel in 2001, the year before The Ultimates hit news stands Marvel withdrew from the Comics Code Authority.

Last year
Also after seeing some very Iron Man’esk footage of Thor at Empire’s Movie-Con III I asked Kevin Feige, Kenneth Branagh & Tom Hiddleston:

With Iron Man being such a success would that become a template for the further Marvel films or would your [Branagh’s] vision be slightly different, darker, a little less fun with more pathos?”

You can hear the answer for yourself in the video below from 02:15 or read Empire’s take on it further below, stolen from their website here!

Craig Grobler: With Iron Man being such a success, is that going to be a template for further Marvel films, or will this be darker?

Kevin Feige: The larger Marvel thing is that we're not going to put every one in a mould. That's a classic Hollywood mistake, where you hit something and try to make everything else like that. But Thor's a very different character.

Kenneth Branagh: We tried to make it bespoke to the particular demands of the story. Once you get actors involved, you get stuff you didn't plan for.

Tom Hiddleston: Also, doesn't Tony Stark live in Malibu? Thor lives in ASGARD!

In essence I was trying to feel out if we can expect the upcoming Marvel slate to be of a similar not "taking itself too seriously" tone of Iron-Man or would there be a variation per character? Say for instance a more serious take on their characters?

The Present
In the run up to Thor’s release I cleansed my palate and avoided any and all marketing, trailers etc. I wanted to give it the best chance possible for enjoyment without any surprises being ruined. I even skipped Kapow! Comic Con Day 1’s Marvel Movies: The Mighty Thor Panel with Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston.

So last Thursday I was one of the lucky few who got to see Thor in the UK first. We were treated to a big screen preview of the Captain America: The First Avenger trailer, it’s available online but it was the first time I was seeing it and holding out for it on big screen was definitely worth it. It looks good and certainly feels true to the original Captain America mythology.

Captain America Trailer

In case you don't know the guy in the Captain America trailer in the super soldier transformation room wearing the futuristic sun blockers is Dominic Cooper playing Howard Stark, Tony Stark's father. Yes Tony Stark is Iron-Man.

Thor starts the Marvel Logo is there, up on the big screen in glorious 3D and I’m loving it. The intro and 3D titling represented everything I love about films and the reason I cram myself into dark cinemas for a piece of that magic.

Kenneth Branagh’s Thor takes us to ancient earth where a giant evil, threatens to destroy our world and all life on it. Fortunately the almighty Odin and the armies of Asgard step in and drive the evil back to their home world. A mighty battle ensues leaving the enemy, broken and seething. Thus Marvel introduces us to the world of Thor.

Loosely based on Norse mythology Thor is the god of thunder his father Odin the almighty ruler of Asgard one of the Nine Worlds that make up the Asgardian Dimension. By now you know that Thor proves to be arrogant and a final foolhardy act that reignites an old enemy and as in the original comics causes his father Odin almighty ruler of Asgard to strip him of his powers and banish him to earth where most of the story takes place.

Thor has to learn humility before he can wield his mighty hammer Mjolnir symbol of his might again and take his rightful place as god of thunder. Of course there is a lot more to the story such as brotherly rivalry, as only one of Odin’s sons can rule one day and Loki, Thor’s brother feels he could do the job just as well, queue Shakespearean level political machinations and power climbing.

Meanwhile back on earth Thor is dealing with the loss of his powers, interacting with mortals, fending off the local authorities like Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D) as well as having to deal with threats from his own world that could mean the end of Earth.

Whilst DC are putting their money into trying to bring realism to their films Marvel are heading in the opposite direction. By bringing more fantasy into the known Marvel film universe. It is a bold and risky move. Large magic based comic adaptations have not succeeded as yet

Many of the Marvel comic titles draw heavily on magic and inter dimensional story lines and it seems that their film universes are moving to align with this. And it seems that the magic of Thor will be central to at least The Avengers universe (4 May 2012) which means that this will have an effect on the separate characters that make up The Avengers; Captain America: The First Avenger (29 July 2011), Hulk, Iron-Man, Black Widow and a rumoured Nick Fury film (2012).

I enjoyed Thor. It is very well made film with some great performances and visually Kenneth Branagh creates a fantasy world that is mostly engaging and wants to be explored. The 3D is brilliant. Particularly the 3D cityscapes and towers of Asgard. This was the first time I say near the top back right of a cinema for 3D - I usually try sit in the middle to get the best out of the 3D, but sitting in a different part of the cinema allowed me to experience the 3D from a different viewpoint and I really enjoyed it. At Movie-Con Branagh had told us that the 2D bits were converted to 3D in post, but all the CG was native 3D. I couldn’t tell the difference and thought the 3D was top notch throughout with Branagh’s clear attention to detail.

There was always a chance that I wouldn’t enjoy the magical aspects of Thor and although I did struggle a little bit with it, by and large Kenneth Branagh anchors the fantasy with all the tools a master filmmaker has at his disposal. Thor does all the things that he does in the comics but the deal maker for me was seeing him fly. There is no lingering “we need to make you believe a man can fly” Superman shenanigans or girl’s gym class like neo loops – Thor flies like he is on a mission and has some ass kicking to do. Branagh is beholding to no-on in this respect and he stamps his authority on the film in this respect.

However Thor was flawed for me. What I couldn’t get into was; and although I was seeing a reasonable facsimile of the Thor of my youth on the screen - with Iron–Man I had completely bought into Favreau’s interpretation he played it in away that felt like he completely owned the few bits that weren’t part of the original Iron-Man mythology or the new Ultimates Iron-Man, and he did it with a smile. I really wanted Thor to be a serious film it has all the hallmarks of a tragic epic, a fallen god rising and fire & brimstone. Unfortunately it is played in the same light hearted manner as Tony Stark’s drunken playboy millionaire Iron-Man (which worked very well for that character). Hence my question to the Thor team at Movie-Con. Now I’m not saying that there is no sense of danger. For most of the film a sense of dread pervades the ambience. Particularly with the other worldly bits of the film, but during the earth bits that goes right out the window and it falls into the same humorous vein and buildup to the climax as Iron-Man. The up side to this is that the Avengers individual characters universes are seamless and are going to fit together perfectly.

Another issue that weakened the story for me is the timeframe of events - like Iron-Man perfecting his suit, it seems Thor’s journey to find himself happens over a weekend. In the comics this took years as Doctor Donald Blake was first a student, then a hospital resident and finally a specialist Doctor, more in line with a warrior’s journey. The film Thor is banished to earth and like a week later he has had a complete change of personality. I understand that his appearance on earth has to historically make sense with the rest of the Avengers timelines, but this is done to the detriment of building a sense of loss, and sympathy as Thor grows as a “person”.

This was a bit of a let down as Thor’s modern reintroduction in The Ultimates is handled so well and he is left being an unknown quantity which was really cool. It did feel like the film took was a step backwards. Although I nitpick the 2 points above it, Thor is cleverly thought out and references many elements of it’s comic origins and bringing them up to date.

Overall I enjoyed Kenneth Branagh’s Thor. But I am beginning to realise that maybe these heroes are no longer part of my world and are now the domain of a younger audience. I think that due to its fantastical nature and grand 3D Thor may struggle to find traction with a mainstream audiences, who may lump it with Avatar, Clash of The Titans or Tron.

Branagh creates a great film merging the fantastic with a contemporary adventure, sprinkled with humour built around a handful of characters. To make a fantastical story like Thor work characters have to be believable and Branagh draws great performances from his stellar cast giving the story gravitas and appropriate airiness where necessary. Stand out performances from; Anthony Hopkins, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgård, Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings, but Idris Elba steals the show in a relatively small part as Asgards gatekeeper.

Here be spoilers - drag your mouse over the space below to reveal references I noticed in Thor.

Right after Thor is banished to earth the story picks up from the end of titles scene end of Iron-Man 2. Where Thor’s hammer (Mjolnir) is discovered in the desert.

Both Hawkeye and Nick Fury cameo in Thor

At one point we are shown the interior of Asgard’s weapon vault. It’s very similar to the warehouse in Raiders of the Lost Ark (in concept) and houses various weapons.

In the early Captain America footage. Pre Red Skull Johann Schmidt is looking for the Cosmic Cube and refers to it as “the jewel of Odin's treasure room”. We see the Cosmic Cube in Nick Fury’s possession post credits in Thor.

One of the other items in the vault could have been in the vault was The Eye of Agamotto, Doctor Strange’s magic amulet as well as Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet was also briefly featured in Thor.

The following title appears on the screen at the end of Thor: Thor will return in The Avengers

Thor film poster
Thor will be in cinemas from today Wednesday, 27 April, 2011


Wanna fight?
Craig's is a retired superhero, an obsessive hobbyist, comics fan, gadget lover & flâneur who knows an unhealthy amount about Ian Fleming's James Bond.

When not watching or making films he takes pictures, eats, drinks, dives, tries to connect to nature whilst mentally storyboarding the greatest film ever made. He also  & sometimes utilises owl-themed gadgets to fight crime. 

A list of his 132 favourite films can be found hereIf you would still like to contact Craig please use any of the buttons below: 

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