Norse mythology is in some ways predictable. Of course they imagined Frost gods. When you live in a region regularly prone to weather like the inside of a freezer locker, you imagine really cool deities– literally (cue now Foreigner singing ‘You’re cold as ice…’)! These guys give Jack Frost a bad name.
And of course the weapon of choice in a frozen solid world has got to be a massive hammer— nothing else could smash through all that ice. Throw in some giant fiords, some Viking like heroes, gigantic halls that look like the mines of Moria in the Lord of the Rings, and you are in business. The alert viewer will readily notice various similarities between this latest in the Marvel franchise of movies and the Lord of the Rings—- both draw heavily on Norse mythology. There are then both visual overlaps, and overlaps in concept and content as well. But alas, this movie, does not have the epic scope or grandeur of LOTR. But as the first real summer popcorn movie— it’s not bad.
In the first place, it has an excellent cast—- Anthony Hopkins as Odin All Father, Rene Russo as Frigga his Queen (who has too small a part and too few lines), Chris Hemsworth as the uber-buff Thor, Natalie Portman as the nerdy scientist Jane Foster hanging out in New Mexico looking for a bridge to eternity, Tom Hiddleston as Loki, the erstwhile brother of Thor, and in a nod to true Norseness— Stellan Skarsgard playing English speaking Professor Andrews— too bad he couldn’t have given us some good gruff Norwegian at least. The movie also sports an all star actor cum director— Kenneth Branaugh (which explains the sometimes Shakespearean flavor and ethos of the film— think King Lear with a leer :). For two hours and a bit we flip back and forth between Asgard and earth and earth and Asgard and Asgard and earth, which can give you a bit of motion sickness after a while. Sometimes I felt like they should have had a music theme to announce the transfers to Asgard— say King Crimson’s The Halls of the Crimson King. Those halls sure are massive– and almost entirely a figment of the CG imagination.
And what of the plot. Well…. sometimes the plot thickens and sometimes the plot sickens. But again, its not all bad. The humorous scenes on earth serve as comic relief for the overly serious business that always seems to be going on in the realm and neighborhood of Odin. But then when you live in a region prone to galactic frigidity it’s understandable you are often glum or blue– literally. Which also explains the lack of romance in Asgard (‘not tonight honey, my toes are frozen….’). But I digress.
The basic story is that Thor is cast out of Asgard for being arrogant and ignorant and not ready for prime time royal weddings or the throne, and he lands on earth with a thud, as does his mighty hammer. It’s not quite Superman coming in a spaceship from the planet Krypton, but close. Marvel comics always were the edgier alter ego of the squeaky clean DC comic franchises like Superman and Batman, and more interesting as well.
Meanwhile in a coup d’etat or at least coup d’jour in Asgard Odin succumbs to a long winter’s nap and bad brother Loki suddenly becomes King. Thor’s misadventures on earth do not accomplish much, that is until the final battle with Loki’s Metal Head flame-throwing zeitgeist, except that he and Jane Foster seem to have a certain, shall we say, chemistry (although she seems to be a physicist), though it lacks the magnetic attraction Thor has to his hammer.
Along the way we have side trips to Frostbite Falls ( the realm of the Frost gods), lots of CG battles and muscle flexing, a poor little New Mexico town turned into a barbecue pit, and of course the inevitable infernal governmental interference of SHIELD, last seen in the last scene in Iron Man II. For those who did not read the Marvel Comics as I did, some of this is bound to be a bit bewildering, but hey, those 3D effects (of which there is not much real compelling evidence in this film) can divert one from recognizing that a real plot is not in progress.
The great problem with filming long running comic books is which story lines do you pick, and if you make a gumbo or smorgasbord ( a more nearly Norse word) will the pieces actually fit together? The answer in this movie is— sometimes yes, and sometimes no. But the characters are like-able enough to carry you along to the credits. And if you get bored you can always try to pick out the Hitchcockian scene where Stan Lee makes his cameo, as he does in the other Marvel movies. In this case— look out for a pick-up truck that is clearly not Ram tough, as it can’t even haul a hammer out of the ground! (Cue the ‘Like a rock….’ commercial music). This movie clearly does not ascend to the heights of say the first Iron Man movie or for that matter a Spiderman movie or two. But it is not bad. And it’s not like they didn’t have script writers capable of one liners and sight gags, but the larger plot leaves much to be desired.
Let’s hope that the next installment doesn’t turn Thor into a crashing bore. For now he is just crashing— into everything, including into the life of UFO chasing Jane (perhaps they could have used the line– ‘Me Thor, you Jane’). Stay tuned. Marvel is not done for the summer. We will be bequeathed another uber-buff dude— Captain America, in July— ‘the First Avenger’. Odds are, he and Thor can have a buff-off when the Avengers are finally assembled.