A Review of the movie Thor…because sometimes we just need a break.

So, I’m trying to branch out and do various kinds of writing and see if that leads anywhere.  Last week I saw the movie Thor, and I saw it a week before it will be released in America. I figured writing up a review of it, to whet the whistle of impatient American nerds such as myself, might be something that a movie geek site like Ain’t It Cool News would be interested in posting.  It was not.  So I said, “Hey, I’m on the internet, so I guess I’ll just post it myself.”  Which is fun because it gives me a chance to critique my own writing AND simultaneously explore internet movie nerd culture at the same time.

What was interesting about writing this was, I ended up writing it in the voice of a  movie geek/chat room nerd.  I couldn’t NOT do it.  It’s fascinating how websites like this have cultivated their own style that is based almost entirely on poor grammar and extreme, magnificent hyperbole.  Every time I felt myself straying from “fan boy” lingo or style, I purposefully went back to either dumb down my language or make over-exaggerated, slightly untrue statements.  It’s like my standards were always demanding to be lowered.  It was way fun, but that might be the reason why AICN didn’t want to post my review.  Maybe they could feel the forced pandering.  Or maybe they just couldn’t handle all the correct uses of “its” and “it’s.” Either way, I found myself getting a lot of joy out of writing this and then dissecting and analyzing my writing.  Also…big exciting part of the German experience, seeing new movies before America!  Way exciting!  And given everything that happened over the weekend…maybe other people need laughs and fluff as much as I do.  So here is my Thor review, complete with my own snarky “talkback” on my own work.  This post is either incredibly meta or incredibly self-obsessed.  Possibly both.  At least I’m not re-posting the “Brian and Prince William Epic Battle Through Life Score Card.”  For that you have to go to Facebook.

(Quick Side Note: If you read the post I did a few months ago about movie culture in Germany, you’ll recall that I talked about a weekly event called “Real Guys,” where they show a movie just for men that manly men will enjoy watching.  Well, Inka agreed to go see Thor with me, and we bought the tickets online…not realizing that it was a Real Guys viewing!  Inka solidified her standing as best lady EVER by braving the manly rapids and going with me to see the movie anyway, instead of throwing up and leaving me at the theater.  Turns out women go to these things all the time.  There were many ladies in the audience.  But Inka was the best one. 🙂

Thor—viewed on April 27, 2011 in Hamm, Germany

Hey, AICN:  Long time reader, first time reviewer…I’m living in Germany right now and among the many benefits of German cinema-going are beer at the concession stand and early releases!  That doesn’t happen often (the early releases…the beer happens all the time!), but every once in awhile there’s a flick that’s released here a week or two before it goes to the US.  Last year, Marvel released Iron Man 2 all around the world before it was in America, and a good friend of mine in Korea saw it before the rest of us.  This year, I have the great privilege of getting in on the Thor action a week early.  Which is great, not just because that makes me feel special, but also because it gives me an extra week to take in the mighty nerdy majesty that is The Mighty Thor.

So, I enjoy how right away the reader gets a sense of what they are in for with this piece.  You’re basically hanging out with a guy who talks the way he writes, who is, apparently, obsessed with finding synonyms for the word “movie” and implying that this movie has a certain “action” all its own.  It’s also interesting to me how quickly the insider language emerges.  There’s no real introduction to this, you just have to dive right in, and if you don’t know the meaning behind the acronyms or comic book lingo, there will be no attempt to explain them to you.  And that’s not even a choice on my part…Nerd-dom is all inside baseball and they are proud of it.

So, first of all, my credentials:  I was raised on movies…somewhat literally.  Parents couldn’t afford a babysitter, but we had a VCR, so I was raised on Jimmy Stewart, The Terminator, Pete’s Dragon, and John Hughes in equal measure.  My uncle got me into comics early on…six or seven…I was strictly Marvel for the first decade or so, branching out into DC, Vertigo and all over the place later on.  I never got into the more powerful characters (Thor, Superman, etc.) because nobody really gave me a reason to care about them.  Straczynzki’s resurrection of Thor a couple years ago was the first time I was remotely interested in what was happening with the character, but…anyway, I’ve always loved the X-Men and Batman, people who are really struggling with their place in the world…I have not cared very much about the Thunder God.  I was a theater major in college, so I’m big on classics, big on Shakespeare, which means that I’m big on the director of Thor (and his essential 90’s film adaptations of several classic Shakespeare works) Kenneth Branagh.  So, that’s where I come from and you can take the rest of what I have to say with that in mind.

Geekery has its own strange hierarchy.  The nerds are concerned with authority just like any other community, but they grant authority in very non-linear ways.  No one will ever officially be “King Nerd” (though, that was someone’s name in college), there is no thrown…just an endless series of chambers with larger or lesser gatekeepers at each entry way.  It’s interesting because in this system, expertise means almost nothing.  Take the Ain’t It Cool News community for example: the opinion of a famous, weathered, credentialed film critic like Roger Ebert means next to nothing to these people, but the head of AICN, Harry Knowles, is lauded and adored for his opinions on everything in pop culture despite the fact that his reviews seem to relate to nothing other than what he felt moment to moment while watching the movie.  Ebert will call back to other times and places, using a specific film as a lens through which to question the art form that is “cinema” and comparing it to literature, sculpture, poetry.  Meanwhile, Knowles might like or despise a movie based on the quality of the popcorn he ate while watching it.  

So it was very important for me to establish myself as an “insider” at the top of the piece, and that required me to say things that were A) Not true (I did grow up on movies, but that was hardly due to my family’s financial status…sorry for putting that out there, Mom), B) Embellished (I did watch the Terminator when I was 8, but it wasn’t really an influence on me…I promise), or C) Both (I watched John Hughes movies a couple times in college.  I really only put that name in there because I couldn’t think of anyone else).  And all of that convoluted information was just a shot in the dark anyway; maybe I would have been taken more seriously if I had just talked about comic books or simply stated, “Watched Chitty Chitty Bang Bang every day for four years!”  There’s no way of knowing what would or wouldn’t grant me access to the Halls of Nerd, but since I wasn’t a Thor fan, I felt like I had to find some way of convincing them to listen to me.  It is a sticky, thick web of convoluted alliances and raw emotions…Geeks are not to be trifled with.

Thor is brilliant.  I gotta say, of all the Marvel flicks coming out, Thor and Captain America excited me the least.  Then that latest trailer for Captain America came out and it seemed so much more interesting that I didn’t plan on seeing Thor at all.  But, the allure of seeing it a week before the rest of America was too tempting to pass up.  My problem with Thor is the same problem I have with Superman…if you have the powers of a god, then why should I care about seeing you fight anything?  Especially since the previews made it seem like Thor was going to be almost entirely set on Earth…why should I care?  Thor’s going to win, we know this…why should I waste my time watching him stomp on puny humans?  I thought to myself, “This movie better look pretty because I’m sure not going to be emotionally moved.”  That was my attitude going in.

Just…useless drivel.  And yet, the state of anticipation–how emotionally revved up you were/weren’t–when going into see something…again, very important information for the gatekeepers.  They want to know if you can identify with their emotional state, which is not something an ordinary movie goer would ask of you.  It’s not often that a consumer of anything demand that a product elicit an emotional response from you that is IDENTICAL to their own.  This is why we geeks are a precious, interesting bunch.  We don’t just watch movies…we look at images that somehow make us process our childhood wounds and lay them bare ‘for a dark room filled with strangers.  

Well, first of all, Thor is strikingly beautiful.  I don’t enjoy seeing movies in 3D, but Germany doesn’t have the 3D or no 3D option for movie goers,  they only release one or the other.  Thor has been released exclusively in 3D, and for the first time since all this 3D madness started, I felt like it actually served the story well.  From almost the very beginning, you are taken to Asgard…you are not shown Asgard, you are not sitting back and viewing Asgard on a movie screen…you are TAKEN TO ASGARD!   I cared so little about this movie that I never realized…when I think Asgard, I think of fairly cheesy and simple drawings from the comics that have a rainbow wrapped around a castle.  Not impressive, you just know it isn’t earth.  This movie makes Asgard a place where gods live.  It is astoundingly beautiful and the 3D effect actually makes you appreciate how lofty and other-worldly and majestic a place it is.  It’s beautiful.   So, Asgard plays into the movie a lot more than the previews would have you believe, and the 3D really does make it an “experience” worth having.

OK…some actual information there.  Go on…

Beyond that, I’m not going to tell you anything specific about what happens in the movie because…I was just shocked at how much I liked it and how cool all the twists and turns and surprises and nods to nerd lore that they packed into this flick.  I hate spoilers anyway, but for this one…I think the blank slate I had going into it was especially part of the fun.   For the first time in recent memory, the trailers for this movie did not do anything to spoil the experience of seeing the movie.  Whoever cut together that trailer showed incredible restraint in what they chose to hold back.  This movie is so much more fun and special and gorgeous than the trailers would have you believe…and I’m not going to tell you anything specific that takes that away from you.

And we’re back to nonsense.  You could have taken out this whole paragraph and just replaced it with a picture of a drooling wolf or a dog lifting his leg on the neighbor’s favorite plants.  And yet…this is the exact reason why I thought it would be a good idea to write a review of this movie.  It’s not about reflecting the content or the merits of the film as a “film,” it’s about “will this movie make me feel the way I want to feel?”  And this was my best attempt at conveying that information.  

I will tell you this though:  There’s something very special about this movie that we will never get again, and it has to do with how brilliantly Branagh helps establish the Asgard characters within the universe of Marvel Movies.  And it didn’t occur to me until I was watching it…this is the first movie that really gets to do that.  We all loved seeing Nick Fury show up in the Iron Man movies, and for me the best part of the Incredible Hulk was when Stark shows up to talk to General Ross in the closing scene…but this was the first Marvel Movie that was given the green light with the express understanding that Captain America and The Avengers were coming up after it.  It’s the first comic book movie we’ve been given that gets to use characters we’ve met from other stories…not just hinting at future “crossover events,” but actually making use of the fact that this is a unified world of many different characters…it just feels more like an awesome comic book universe in a way that the previous comic book movies have not…and this is the first time you get to feel that.  And that alone is amazing.  And in terms of being true to Thor mythology…it’s really interesting because Thor has been rebooted so many times that it’s like, “Well, which version would they possibly pick?!”  But the writers of this movie do a brilliant job of taking bits and pieces of every possible Thor you can think of and presenting that new combination as its own story…and it sets up any number of possibilities for future Thor movies, Avengers, etc.  In terms of “adapting” source material, Thor might win as one of the best adaptations of anything.  Ever.  Branagh was a perfect director for this movie because he saw Thor and the Asgardians for what they are: They are the royal family of the Marvel Universe.  Branagh treats this story the way it should be…not ordinary people discovering super powers…but as the super powerful discovering their humanity.  It’s such a different experience than anything that’s come before…and it’s so special because Branagh hit the exact right tone.  This movie makes you believe that gods walk among us.

I actually wished I had talked more about this.  The writing is clunky, but the fact is that this is extremely interesting for people who are interested in it.  The closest thing I can compare it to is the Harry Potter movies.  I hated the first couple Harry Potter movies when they first came out.  But now I like them for the simple reason that it’s fun to look at the same actors playing the same characters over the span of several years.  I forget how simple and boring the story is and I just enjoy seeing all the kids BEING kids, I like that there’s a lot of the same extras in the first and sixth movies.  The movies themselves were not good adaptations of the books, but taken as a whole series that spans a decade, you see that as a whole, the experience of the Harry Potter books were adapted into a really wonderful Harry Potter movie experience too.  That’s what we’re starting to see with movies that are trying to be like comic books.  The most exciting part of a comic book is the sense that ANYONE can show up at any time, you get a sense of an interconnected universe of powerful people doing awesome things.  Thor is the first movie that gets to take advantage of that.  And even if you don’t care at all about what I’m saying right now, I promise you it is something entirely new in movies.  We’re not seeing adaptations of individual stories into film…we are now witnessing the adaptation of an entire medium of storytelling into a different medium.  Thor–and the Marvel movies that come up after it–is not a “comic book movie,” but rather a live-action comic book.  And it’s not often that you see something like that being done for the first time.

The action sequences were genuinely exciting and fun…way more so than I thought they would be.  I especially love how they deal with Thor’s powers.  Again, no spoilers, so it’s hard to say specifically what I liked but…I think it has to do with what I said before: There’s no “Spider-man shoots his first web,” or “Wolverine pops his claws for the first time,” or “Tony Stark builds his first suit.”  Thor has always been Thor, so he’s not discovering any new powers or doing any fighting for the first time in this movie…and that’s the way the action is dealt with.  Thor is the first hero we’re meeting in a comic book movie who is a seasoned warrior, and I think THAT is what makes the action so exciting.  There’s no big “Look at what I can do,” kind of moments…there’s only a constant barrage of “holy $#!,  Thor is awesome,” moments.  He truly is the MIGHTY Thor, and every scene just makes you appreciate what that means.  You feel every hit.  It’s awesome.

Heh, heh…giggle, giggle…squeel, pee.  I do enjoy using symbols to stand in for naughty words.  That’s funny.

The performances are truly incredible.  I mean…I kind of hate it when people point to genre movies and say, “these performances make this so much more than JUST a genre movie.”  Because, really, that’s what genre is supposed to do, it’s supposed to make the specific universal.  The performances in Thor do that in a way that we haven’t yet seen in other comic book films.  It’s such a great combination of touching and funny and moving…without ever being hammy or overdone.  It really is more than a comic book movie…and yet it is possibly the BEST attempt we’ve yet had at a comic book movie.

Again with the hyperbole!  It’s unavoidable and I don’t understand why.  I didn’t even mean most of what I wrote here.  It is a thoroughly enjoyable movie, and everyone is really great to watch.  I stand by that.  Solid performances throughout this movie.  But why did I feel the need to overstate so much?  It’s this Nerd Fugue…I don’t even remember writing it, I just woke up at my desk and I was all sweaty.  And a quick addendum to that last sentence:  I kind of stand by that.  X-Men 2 or Thor…they might be the best comic book movies yet.  The Dark Knight doesn’t count because what made that movie amazing is that they transcended comic books.  They used the premise of a comic, the familiar characters of a comic, but they created a completely original morality play for the post modern world.  It’s something more special and extraordinary than just a super hero adaptation.  I could go on and on…The Dark Knight was on tv in Germany again last Sunday.

Now,  I watched the movie dubbed in German, so…who knows how much that changes my experience from the one Americans will have next week.  I hope Chris Hemsworth’s accent isn’t as weird and distracting as it seems like from the trailers…because in German everybody’s perfect.  I will say that I missed getting to hear Anthony Hopkins’ voice, but….he’s incredible and he’s Anthony Hopkins in any language.  Him as Odin is just extraordinary, especially when you think about…the guy is in his 80’s, right? Or at least getting there.  So he looks as old as you would want Odin to look, but somehow…you forget that he’s a normal 80 year old human.  He seemed as powerful as the All Father Himself in every scene of this movie.  It makes me think that Hopkins secretly is from Asgard, or he regularly drinks dragon’s blood or something.  Chris Hemsworth totally delivers on everything you could possibly want from Thor, the energy, the strength, the arrogance, but as opposed to other people who have recently played young god-like characters (Sam Worthington in Clash of the Titans comes to mind), Hemsworth is able to make Thor relatable and lovable in a way that is usually missing from those kind of rolls.  He brings such depth and humor and energy to the roll that…hell, I’m a Thor fan now.  It’s on the same line as Hugh Jackman as Wolverine or Christopher Reeves as Superman (yeah, I don’t like the character, but I’m not made of stone)…his performance actually augments the character in a way that you don’t appreciate from just reading the books.  Thor is far more fascinating and complicated and exciting to me now because of what Hemsworth does in the film.  Kat Dennings plays Jane Foster’s sidekick, and she needs to be in as many of these movies as humanly possible from now on (even though, I’m not sure her character is from actual continuity).  Natalie Portman as Jane Foster is the most adorable Portman you ever did see.  It’s hard for me to say anything beyond that about her performance because I’ve never read the books in which Jane is a regular character.  But I will say this…she is not a damsel in distress like Lois Lane.  She’s not a My Girl Friday type like we saw in Iron Man with Gwyneth’s Pepper Potts.  She is active and engaged in the story in a way that…ugh, I don’t want to give anything away, but considering that comics in general are always given shit for being degrading to women, Jane Foster, Lady Sif, and Thor’s mom are all amazing women characters (and they are powerful and extraordinary BECAUSE they are women characters, not in spite of it).  In a male-dominated genre, Jane Foster emerges as one of the biggest heroes of the piece, and it’s really special.  And that’s all I’ll say about that.  .  Idris Elba as Heimdall and Tom Hiddelston as Loki…they were the surprise breakout performances for me.  I had never seen Hiddelston before, but he does some incredible things with Loki.  Again, just like Hemsworth does with Thor, I get Loki now…I sort of care about Loki in a way that I never bothered thinking about before.  Even if you think you understand Loki, Hiddelston does stuff with that character that make you stop and pause.  My girlfriend saw the movie with me and she doesn’t know anything about the Thor story, so she went on a genuine emotional rollercoaster with Loki…and I did too, even though I knew where it would end up.  It was that good.  Elba I knew before, but…he’s just exceptional in this roll.  All the Asgardians are fantastic, but Elba really makes Heimdall something special, and he requires very little screen time to do it.  It’s awesome.

Yeah, that’s all true.  It’s not especially interesting to read, but I stand by this paragraph.  The Natalie Portman character is not necessarily interesting, but I do enjoy the roll she ends up playing in the story.  That really is something you don’t see a female character getting to do in these kind of movies very often, and that should be recognized.  BTW, if you’re keeping count, this was only the second time I used the word “awesome” in this entire thing.  I am so proud of this…and it may also be another reason why they didn’t use this review on AICN.  I think their quota is like 1/8 of all words need to be “awesome.”

So…that is my spoiler free-ish review of Thor.  Go see it.  It’ll rev your nerd juices in ways that you didn’t expect it to.  And, of course, there’s a closing scene after the credits which, for me, was far more satisfactory than in the previous movies.  It doesn’t just tease you…I think it’s actually a very specific look into what we can expect in the upcoming stories.  The Marvel Universe is now officially available in movie form!  Assemble!

That’s a solid closing paragraph and a superior closing line.  I make no apologies there.  That’s a home run as far as I’m concerned.  That’s going to encourage me to do one of these again.  Beware.

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