Saturday, June 11, 2011

Movie Review: Thor

Paramount Pictures

Sorry for not posting in such a long while, everyone. I've probably said this before but will say it again, I've had several writing projects going on and so haven't had time to post here more frequently. But in those times of waiting please feel free to look at my other stuff at, in which my most recent article was posted there only a few days ago.

But here's film review I wrote especially for all of you who like visiting this site particularly.

Directors Kenneth Branagh and Joss Whedon's Thor is Marvel Comics’ first big screen movie adaptation of a comic book based on a super hero of ancient myth. Yet while the movie sticks to the root elements of the Norse mythic origins, it also portrays the title character (played by Chris Hemsworth) through the science fiction genre of story telling like most super hero comic books have done. So as with the comic book series it is adapted from, Thor uses the elements of both fantasy and science fiction effectively to portray the God of Thunder in a modern day setting.

The film looks at the mythic origin of Thor including his rebellion against his father Odin’s (Anthony Hopkins), the supreme god’s, orders not to provoke a war with the frost giants. As punishment, Odin casts him out of Asgard, the realm of the gods in Norse mythology, to dwell on Earth as a mortal. Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor’s adopted brother, is the trickster god who uses his older brother’s punishment to his self centered advantage by abusing his power of the throne of Asgard, an inheritance originally having been given to Thor until he betrays his father.
Thor’s hammer, named Mjolnir, involves a mythic archetype that it shares with King Arthur’s Sword in the Stone: an enchanted weapon attainable only by a person worthy of it. In Thor’s case, the weapon, Mjolnir, is embedded in stone in the New Mexican desert where Thor lands after being exiled. But, obviously, he is not worthy of Mjolnir at this point. Because this is an artifact of the gods, Earth mortals cannot unbind the hammer. Stranded on Earth with out his powers, Thor is nearly helpless both against the government agency, SHIELD, that attempts to excavate the hammer for research as well as against Loki. In order for him to regain his powers, he must prove himself worthy to his father and the rest of Asgard again.

The fantasy elements of divine powers and a magical hammer have always been with the Thor myth. However, when Thor made his comic book debut with Marvel in the 1960s, science fiction modernized the God of Thunder. This was the era in comic book history known as the Silver Age. As the preceding Golden Age of comics (the era when super hero comics began) came to a close around the mid to late 1950s, experiments with the atom bomb influenced much science fiction literature, film and television. The ideas of science fiction were utilized in super hero comics both old and new. As a result, many of the newer characters in the 1960s were ones whose powers were born from atomic energy, characters such as Spider-Man and the Hulk. But of course, being a god of ancient myth, Thor’s powers were not born from the high tech experiments of such energy. So to fit this Norse deity into a modern day setting dealing with scientific phenomena as the case was with most other super heroes, the comic book creators combined the concepts of advanced science and technology with the concept of divine power. This idea is reflected in the movie when Thor says to Natalie Portman’s character, “Your ancestors called it magic, but you call it science; well I come from a place where they’re one and the same.”

Needless to say, we’ve far advanced technology and science since the 1960s, and so the movie can be no more less science fictional than the comic book it’s adapted from. The gods in this film have power and technology incomprehensible to the humans of earth, yet seen as advanced science by the three scientists--Dr. Eric Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), Dr. Jane Foster (Portman), and her intern Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings)--who befriend Thor. When the scientists observe the vortex in the sky that Thor is cast down to Earth through, the scene has the appearance of an extra terrestrial sighting. When he reveals to the scientists that he is an exiled god from Asgard, they consider the possibilities of an alternative universe--a theory which is a major theme in much of today’s science fiction story telling, including television and literature. As the movie climbs toward the climax in a cosmic battle on Earth another science fiction element, one taken from the comic book, is used: the robot character. Aided by the evil frost giants, Loki sends a gargantuan robotic monster, which looks like a giant suit of armor made of steel bands, to destroy the humans of Earth.

However, the movie isn’t exactly a scientifically watered down interpretation of Norse mythology. Besides the fantastical mythic elements mentioned above, there are also battles against giants and one against a dragon. The gods of Asgard do not only battle the frost giants but Thor’s siblings fight a dragon (one that breathes frost) on the giants’ arctic world. The giants? Well, they don’t look much bigger than the gods or mortals, but in the earth scenes they were not near enough to the humans to show any contrast in size. Whether this was intentional for a realist trend or not, it’s hard to say.

But the realism definitely comes out in the movie’s other visual effects making the viewer experience the story rather than just see it. And it doesn’t even need the 3-D to achieve this as yours truly discovered while watching the 2-D version! Our belief is suspended, especially in the scenes of Asgard which consists of a city made of gold and a rainbow bridge connecting it to the gate to the outer realm. However, unlike in the comic book, the bridge has more of an appearance of a giant compact disk cut to the center from one side and then rolled out into a straight line rather than of an arc of multi-coloured light. You would think the bridge would look more like the latter with CGI ruling cinema’s special effects.

The acting and dialogue is not bad, considering that the movie is based on a traditional super hero comic book. Because of this, the pretentious humor can be argued to go with the movie. For example, when their expedition van accidentally hits Thor one of the female scientists asks, “Am I legally liable for this, or are you?” The relation between Thor and Foster turn to that of romance rather quickly, but what do we expect? It’s a movie based on a form of escape fiction. The costuming of the God of Thunder stays relatively true to the comic book, especially the red cape and the four disc “button” breast shield. However, his winged helmet seems to be limited to ceremonial events such as his inheritance ceremony rather than used in battle.

Putting a hero of ancient myth in a modern setting in comic books and movies and adding modern scientific and technological issues and ideas to these stories relates these heroes to our own times that such issues have effected. Comic books do this best, and a movie that does this best is one that is based on a comic book such as Marvel’s Thor. Can a movie with an original story and original characters do this? Because Thor topped off at the box office during its opening weekend, it may inspire such a new trend for myth-based films.

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