Thor—- 'It's Hammer Time'

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.

  • http://aerycksmusic.wordpress.com Eric Sawyer

    Recently my son said, “Have you seen Thor?” I grunted, “No” thinking he might be referring to another animated knock-off.
    Anthony Hopkins? Okay? Norse Mythology? Asgard? Okay? UFOs???
    You’re kidding “Captain America” – not my favorite! I was kinda hoping they’d launch the Wasp, or even consider other characters like DC Comics ‘Atom’ or ‘Wonder Woman’.
    Now you’ve done gone peaked my interest. :)

  • http://baptismandthebigpicture.blogspot.com/ Matt Viney

    I saw it in 3D. It was my first 3D movie ever! I thought it was great fun. You’re right, the humor certainly helps. Compared to other comic book/movie crossovers, it actually does quite well.

  • Thorn

    Thor is my favorite character from both realms, comicbook and mythological. I thought Branaugh did a great job massaging the Thor-verse into a comprehensible 2 hours.

  • Tony Springer

    Thanks for the review, but Frostbite Falls is also the home of Rocket J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle the Moose. Were they in the movie too? :)

  • http://www.oscarsflickpicks.com Oscar

    You were right Ben, the 3D effects were a total waste of time, and MY money! It’s a good thing that I qualify for the Senior discount.

    Chris Hemsworth was a great addition, even if we really didn’t know him before this, but I felt that Hopkins, although good, just didn’t fit in as a warrior god as much as Liam Neeson did as Zeus in Clash Of The Titans

    Best 3D to date? My vote is for the Sci-Fi movie Avatar.

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben witherington

    Oscar I agree that the 3D in Avatar was amazing. Everything else has seemed pretty flat thereafter. Clash of the Titans was one of the worst movies I have seen in recent year.

    BW3

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben witherington

    Yes Tony, didn’t you see them in the scene where Thor visited the Frorst gods… Bullwinkle was saying “nuthin up my sleeve Rocky….. Presto……” And Boris and Natasha were in the background.

    BW3

  • George in AZ

    Rene Russo does not need many lines, as long as she appears.

  • Marc Leger

    Isn’t Geezus mythical too?

  • Marc Leger

    The thing that bugs me the most about Christians is, they have a way of dismissing anything and everything before Jesus.

    http://www.godchecker.com/

    The “sun” has been worshipped since the dawn of time. All you have is a virgin birth and a resurrection not one person took a photo of.

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben witherington

    Marc have you been drinking the Zeitgeist Koolaide? I suggest you read proper scholarly sources on World Religions and their history. No serious scholar thinks Jesus is either a myth or did not exist. There are simply too many sources, including non-Christian ones attesting his existence from the 1rst-2nd century A.D.

    As for the worship of the sun, we don’t know how long ago sun worship began. For example, the temple at Gobeckli Tepe in eastern Turkey can now be dated to 10,000 B.C. and there is no sign of any kind of sun god worship there at all. It is interesting that in Egyptian history when Akenaten suggested worship of the sun disk instead of the earlier Egyptian gods, he was either marginalized or murdered. In the Roman period the worship of Sol Invictus was a minor phenomena, compared to worship of gods like Mars and Jupiter, and came much later than the worship of those gods.. In any case none of that has anything to do with worshipping Jesus as God’s Son who was raised from the dead after crucifixion. Mythology is one thing, and has no basis in history. A historical religion like Judaism or Christianity is another matter entirely. The two things should not be confused.

    BW3

  • http://aerycksmusic.wordpress.com Eric Sawyer

    BW3:

    ‘There are simply too many sources, including non-Christian ones attesting his existence from the 1rst-2nd century A.D.’

    Care to mention a short list of the best one’s?

  • Marc Leger
  • http://aerycksmusic.wordpress.com Eric J. Sawyer

    Marc,
    Do you know if Prof. Seinchewicz has ever made a study of the ‘many sources, including non-Christian ones attesting his existence from the 1rst-2nd century A.D’ ?

    http://personal.monm.edu/sienkewicz_tom/VITA/default.htm

  • Marc Leger

    http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=208286

    The universe is 13.7 billion years old. If you are a creationist, I would go so far as to say you are as illiterate as the so-called authors of the bible.

  • http://leftcheek.blogspot.com Jason Dye

    Authors are illiterate?

  • Marc Leger
  • http://www.reelparables.com Simon L Smith

    I loved it. My wife loved it. My older kids loved it (19 & 17) and my younger kids loved it (10 & 8).

    I hope Christians give it a fair shake and don’t pre-judge it since it plays with mythology (false gods).

    With all the similarities to the Christ story we used it in our family to remind our kids of what Jesus did for us.

    We used it as an opportunity to share God’s story with Thor.

    http://www.reelparables.com

  • Marc Leger
  • http://aerycksmusic.wordpress.com Eric J. Sawyer

    Marc Leger:
    ‘The universe is 13.7 billion years old. If you are a creationist, I would go so far as to say you are as illiterate as the so-called authors of the bible.’

    Marc,
    As your comments so far have been flaming and anti-Christians, I suspect you are attacking a particular brand of fundy-Christian.
    One thing I learned as a young man was that ‘assumptions make and ass out of you and me’.
    I think if you post again, please show respect for the human race and put the name of the person you are talking to in you message instead of just trying to start a flame war.

    Goodbye.

  • James Mace

    Thanks, Ben, for the humourous review (which apparently mirrors the humour of the film). I have long been a fan of Norse, epic, saga and romance and anticipate enjoying the film after reading your enticing review. Thanks! :-)

  • Graham Irvine

    Hi Ben

    In line with some of the comments about a belief in the historical Jesus I was wondering if you might comment on the following quote sent to me during a discussion;

    quote John Hicks, Fellow of the Institute of Advanced Research in the Humanities, Birmingham University, and Professor Emeritus at Claremont Graduate School;
    “For fundamentalists, the Incarnation issue can be settled by such texts as ‘I and the Father are one’ [John 10:30] and ‘He who has seen me has seen the Father’ [John 14:9]; and the pluralism issue by such texts as ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.’ [John 14:6]. But among mainline New Testament scholars, both conservative and liberal, Catholic and Protestant, there is today a general consensus that these are not pronunciations of the historical Jesus but words put into his mouth some sixty or seventy years later by a Christian writer expressing the theology that had developed in his part of the expanding church.”

    Thanks

  • Leo

    It’s been a while since I read “Thor” in comics…but didn’t he “come to earth” through a nerdy, professor-type who found his hammer, and struck the ground with it? That became his “secret identity” – by day, professor complete with hammer-disguised-as-cane, by night THOR!!!

    We saw it this weekend, enjoyed it, liked the humor – come on – hit by a car…TWICE!!! It was fun…and not the basis of a theological discussion…just fun.

    (note the lack of engagement with “theological” sounding inputs from others)

    I, personally, am looking forward to Captain America…just to see what they do with and how they treat that story line.


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