Marvel Meets Mythology: Revisiting Thor

Ed swings the mighty Mjölnir to revisit Asgard.

I’m going to level with you.

I don’t know a lot about the Thor from Norse mythology, but I’ve been a fanboy ever since I got my mitts on J. Micheal Straczynski’s comic book run. I hadn’t read any Thor before then, but as soon as I began, he became my favourite character. The feature film was either going to confirm for me Thor’s dominance as the best superhero, or make me wish that he hadn’t undone Ragnarok…

The first Thor movie is directed by actor Kenneth Branagh, a name that might not seem suited to a Marvel movie until you look through his filmography. He is mostly known as a filmmaker for his Shakespeare adaptations, and his theatrical tone was the right one for Thor. He grounds a story of gods and mystical realms and makes it credible (or as credible as films like this can get).

When you get to Asgard early in the film, you immediately notice how beautiful it is. This fantasy world is amazingly well-crafted by the computer boffins, and is given life by the actors. Chris Hemsworth gets Thor’s bravado down perfectly, exuding confidence, as if he knows that there is no one greater than him. While Anthony Hopkins always puts in a wonderful performance, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki knows exactly what he’s doing; his silent trickster appears innocent, when in reality he does nothing but plot his brother’s downfall. His deceit is the perfect balance to Thor’s imposing arrogance.

The effects are superbly done, too, whether on the scenery or on the Frost Giants, nothing disappoints. Before The Avengers, it might have been the CGI jewel in Marvel Studio’s crown. Asgard and the frosty wastelands of Jotunheim look incredible. When the action reaches Earth, however, the effects go downhill, apart from the whirlwind which brings Thor hurtling down from the heavens without his signature costume. From this point, he is either bare-chested or wearing shirts belonging to one Donald Blake. A nice touch, as Thor’s comic book alter-ego has been dispensed with for the film, which appears to have been the right choice, especially with the Avengers. You don’t want to waste time explaining phone box costume changes with a large cast of characters.

Natalie Portman portrays Jane Foster as an astrophysicist, a fair change from a nurse since Marvel has finally heard about equal opportunities for women. However, Foster, while being quite determined and concerned for her work, going so far as to help in an assault on a SHIELD compound, doesn’t appear to do a lot. While she convinces her two colleagues, Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) and Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), to find out as much as they can about this Thor, she just lets him basically do as he pleases, sheltering him, feeding him, giving him lifts… Is that the sort of female role model Marvel really wants to portray? Admittedly, she hits him with her car twice, and Darcy shoots him with a taser, so it may just be because she feels repentant.

The Warriors Three and Sif, Thor’s Asgardian allies, are adequately cast. Sif (Jaimie Alexander) is a brilliant fighter and potential match for Thor, Fandral (Joshua Dallas) is a marvellous swashbuckling Robin Hood-type, Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) is a grumpy brawler, and Volstag (former Punisher Ray Stevenson) is a happy-go-lucky fat boy. However, you don’t find yourself truly caring for them, as apart from a scene in which the Destroyer tries to do as its name suggests, and being fobbed off by Loki, they don’t really do a lot apart from stand there.

Heimdall (Idris Elba), however, is more like it. The “gatekeeper” to the nine worlds, he goes against Odin’s orders after the infiltration of Asgard and is generally a bit of a bad-ass. Frozen in a block of ice? Nah, he just shakes it off. Know why? He’s goddamn Heimdall!

So, the effects are amazing, the casting is not bad, and the film itself? It’s brilliant. The plot’s simple without being boring, heroic without being cheesy, and despite the obligatory romance, the ending pulls at the heartstrings. It’s one of my favourite films of 2011.

Useless Trivia

(Via IMDb)
  • Kenneth Branagh conceptualised this film as a Norse/comic-book twist on William Shakespeare’s Henry V, which was about a young king who underwent trials and tribulations: fighting a war, courting a girl from another land, trying to live up to the example set by his father (a beloved king), and basic character development. When Marvel Studios selected Branagh as the director, they sent him the complete collection of the Marvel Thor comics series as reference material for the character.
  • Thor’s armor is an amalgamation of the current Thor costume in mainstream Marvel continuity and the “Ultimate Marvel” comics universe.
  • An entire town was constructed in Galisteo, New Mexico, to serve as a fictional location for the Destroyer to trample.
  • When Chris Hemsworth and Anthony Hopkins saw each other in full armors for the first time, Hopkins said “God, there’s no acting required here, is there?”
  • Stan Lee claims he’d always wanted to play Odin, but was happy with Hopkins’s casting and performance in the role.
  • There is a billboard in the town advertising for New Mexico tourism with the slogan “Land of Enchantment – Journey into Mystery.” “Land of Enchantment” is the nickname of New Mexico, “Journey into Mystery” is the title of the Marvel comic book where Thor made his debut (Journey Into Mystery #83).
  • The post-credits scene was directed by The Avengers director Joss Whedon to connect his film with this one.

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