Let’s spend this last remaining week of Thor Month at BLASTOFF looking back at a couple of THOR pieces from our sister site COMICS 101. First, the review of the original film, as originally published May 11, 2011:
Somewhere in Hollywood, director Joe Johnston has got to be feeling the pressure.
With his CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER only two months away from release, the weight of the Mighty Marvel Machine is on his back now not to deliver a turkey and interrupt Marvel Studios’ momentum toward 2012’s el franchise grande, THE AVENGERS. Because the current release, Kenneth Branagh’s THOR, is a winner from top to bottom.
Of all the Marvel Studios films, THOR was the one about which I had the most trepidation. There’s a lot to explain to moviegoers who have never seen a comic book in their lives, and with Thor having even less mainstream recognition than Iron Man, if this movie stumbled, the whole operation was in jeopardy. Luckily, Marvel put Thor in very good hands with Shakespearean Kenneth Branagh, who seemed to understand exactly the right tone to take with the film, deftly crossing a LORD OF THE RINGS-esque fantasy action piece with a more familiar superhero style, and mixing it up with just enough comedy and romance to keep everyone engaged.
Chris Hemsworth pretty much owns the screen as Thor, capturing not only the character’s power and confidence, but also conveying a real likeability that really lets you buy in to the notion of him as a real-life Norse god. Seeing Hemsworth twirl the hammer, and send it flying into the face of a frost giant, and sail through the air behind it in flight? All stuff I’ve been reading for years in the comics, and never thought I’d see portrayed so perfectly. And Hemsworth is just ridiculously good-looking. A friend of mine who saw an advance screening reported that he heard an audible gasp from the female audience members when Thor appears on screen without his shirt, a report I scoffed at until I heard the same damn thing in the theatre myself. The filmmakers smartly play into Hemsworth’s appeal, with a running joke about his new female friends finding themselves giddy in his presence despite themselves.
The rest of the cast is equally strong, especially Natalie Portman as astrophysicist Jane Foster, Thor’s love interest, and Tom Huddleston as Loki, Thor’s scheming brother. Hemsworth and Portman have real on-screen chemistry, leaving me hoping for at least a cameo by Portman in next summer’s AVENGERS.
Anthony Hopkins as Odin the Allfather gives the whole production a nice dose of gravitas, and it’s pleasant to see Rene Russo back on the big screen after an absence of a few years. Kat Dennings also shines in her limited role as the Natalie Portman’s comic relief, making the most of every line she’s given, and getting most of the film’s big laughs. We’re also treated to a tantalizing glance at Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye in another sneak peek toward THE AVENGERS, and even in what we see here, I have to admit he looks to fit the bill nicely.
I was pleasantly surprised to see how much of the film involves itself with Asgard and the Asgardian mythology, with a lot of screen time given to Thor’s friends Sif and the Warriors Three, who also feel lifted right from the pages of Lee and Kirby’s THOR comics (with Jaimie Alexander in particular shining in her role as Asgard’s top female ass-kicker). As for the film’s conception of Asgard, it feels like a mixture of Kirbyesque grandeur and Peter Jackson’s Rivendell, but, in the famous words of Spinal Tap, “cranked up to eleven.”
For me, the best way to judge these comic-book movies isn’t necessarily how faithful they are to any one specific comic-book story, but whether they measure up to the best idea of what the comic-book should be. I think when I reviewed IRON MAN a few years ago, I said that IRON MAN was the best IRON MAN comic that had never been published. There are still a few THOR comics that I like better than the film, but it’s pretty damned good, very much in IRON MAN’s league, and does more to set the stage and prime the audience for THE AVENGERS than anything yet.
Your move, Captain America.
Scott Tipton was hoping to see a Recorder appearance in THOR. Maybe next time.
And now, a follow-up column answering some Frequently Asked Questions about the film, as originally published May 18, 2011:
As an introduction to the general public of a lesser known Marvel superhero, I thought Kenneth Branagh’s THOR worked very well, and the box-office numbers tend to agree. But I have been getting some THOR questions from moviegoers who aren’t quite up on their Marvel-Asgardian history, so let’s sit down and take a few questions from the gallery. And since I have to assume that anyone who’s dying to see the movie must have done so by now, let’s dispense with the spoiler alerts. Consider yourself warned.
So is Thor an alien or what?
Kind of. Stan Lee always described Thor and his Asgardian brethren as “immensely powerful beings worshipped as gods,” and since they come from a different dimensional realm, then yes, I suppose technically they’re aliens.
Why were some people in the audience laughing at the name “Don Blake?”
An in-joke for the comics folk. For many years, “Don Blake” was Thor’s “secret identity,” when he would live on Earth as a crippled doctor (sentenced to live as a mortal by Odin in an attempt to gain Thor some humility — sound familiar?). Even after Odin deems the lesson learned, for years, Thor continued his human charade, before finally giving it up in the ’80s, though it’s returned sporadically in the years since.
Was I supposed to know who that guy in the pickup truck was?
Sharp-eyed viewers will have recognized THOR creator Stan Lee in his customary Marvel-movie cameo; also taking turns before the camera were recent THOR scribe J. Michael Straczynski as the first New Mexico local to try and pick up the hammer, and ’80s THOR legend Walt Simonson dining at the Asgardian banquet table at film’s end.
I don’t remember that much about Loki from my Norse mythology. Is that business with the frost giants in the comic?
Indeed it is. In Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s “Tales of Asgard” backup series, they show Odin discovering the undersized Loki as an infant after vanquishing the Frost Giants, and Odin takes the baby as his own and raises him as a brother to his natural-born son Thor. In the comics, the frost giants weren’t blue, and Loki’s parentage was no secret, fomenting his long-simmering resentment toward Asgard as a whole and Thor in particular.
That bit at the end with Thor pinning Loki under his hammer was really clever. That must be right out of the comics, right?
You know, I’ve been wracking my brain and I honestly can’t remember that ever being done in the books. If it’s their innovation, it’s a pretty damned good one.
Who’s this Jane Foster? I remember reading a THOR comic as a kid and Sif was the love interest.
True enough. Jane Foster is also straight out of the original Lee/Kirby Thor books, though back in the day she was just Don Blake’s nurse and would make googly eyes at him and simper about wanting to “take care of him, ” while still mooning over Thor. Bleah. I much prefer the more go-getting astrophysicist Jane Foster. As for Sif, yes, she is traditionally romantically linked with Thor in the comics, but it looks like they decided to shelve that so as not to interfere with the limited time they had to build a Thor/Jane Foster relationship in the film, which seems to me like a wise decision.
Was I supposed to know who that guy with the bow was? The audience reacted when he picked it up, but I didn’t get it.
Again, another nod to the comics and a teaser for film to come. That was Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton, who we’ll see much more of as a team member in next summer’s AVENGERS film. Here we see him apparently before taking on the “Hawkeye” identity as a SHIELD agent with a fondness for the longbow.
Was that Luke Cage Thor fought when he was trying to get to his hammer?
So I stuck around till after the credits and I don’t get it. What was that box, and why should I care?
All signs point to that box being the Cosmic Cube, a famed Marvel-Universe relic that gives whoever holds it complete control over reality. Think of it as a “wishing box,” for lack of a better name. (Although really, what name is better than “Cosmic Cube”?) In the comics, the Cube tends to be found in the mitt of the Red Skull more than anyplace else, and considering that the Red Skull action figure I saw at the toy store last week came with a Cosmic Cube accessory, I’d say the odds of seeing the Cosmic Cube in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER are pretty good…