Sunday, May 15, 2011

Thor: Grade "C", but the Destroyer is "A+"

Last weekend, while Mock’ was having a girls’ night, I called up my friend All-But-Dissertation (ABD), and we headed out to the movies to see Thor. Now, I’ve been a Thor fan for many years, particularly of the Walter Simonson years, and may actually have squealed a little back in 2007 when Marvel asked J. Michael Straczynski to head up their Thor reboot. Over the next two years, Straczynski would put the God back in the God of Thunder in a big way and thus make my Geek Guy fan-love for him eternal. (I’m kidding. He had me at “I was there, at the dawn of the Third Age of mankind…”) Furthermore, my interest in the Thor comics grew out of an even earlier interest in Norse mythology, so I walked into the theater last Saturday already primed to dislike the film, as both mythology and the comic’s narrative history would undoubtedly be “Hollywoodized.”

Nor was I wrong. In the end I gave the film a “C.” ABD, on the other hand, who is not familiar with either the comic or Norse mythology, gave it a “B” to “B-.” Judging from the box office numbers, his reaction is closer to the norm, and my letter-grade difference can no doubt be mostly chalked up to everything I brought into the theater with me. Mostly. I was both delighted and a bit appalled to see Straczynski get writing credit on the film. Delighted because it’s always great to see such a good writer getting some big-bucks, big-film exposure, and appalled, because this Thor was so NOT Straczynski’s Thor. Turns out Straczynski was involved in the writing in a very early stage, breaking and outlining the story, and only sought screen credit at the behest of the other writers on the film. This reassures me somewhat, and it was nice to see him get a bit of a cameo in the film too!

However, I have some real problems with Thor. First and foremost, there seemed to be an almost desperate haste to reassure the audience that the Asgardians were most definitely not gods, and never thought of themselves that way, but instead were just some type of humanoid, Viking-esque, technomagically advanced alien race, who had only associated with humanity in order to fight off the evil frost giants who, for reasons left unexplained (lebensraum?) were intent on turning the Earth into Hoth. So don’t worry, Jesus, they’re not Gods, just aliens, and everyone knows those don’t exist. (Please come to see the film! It’s inoffensive! We promise! Please?)

Okay, so Hollywood is running scared of declining box-office numbers and thus becomes a complete wuss when it comes to summer “blockbusters” in order to maximize audience numbers by trying to offend no one. I get that. It’s idiocy, but I get it. What I don’t get is why Natalie Portman has apparently decided to stop playing strong female characters altogether. Portman plays Jane Foster, who in this version has gone from nurse to brilliant theoretical astrophysicist, and who comes completely unglued with one look into Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) blue eyes and proceeds to fulfill every trope and clichéd stereotype of the Hero’s Love Interest and Hapless Female up to and including being a woman who can’t drive well! Seriously, Foster as Woman Driver is a recurring gag throughout the film. Portman’s character is about as two dimensional as you can get, and was obviously written to be that way, with the glaring exception of a pair of false eyelashes that seem to leap off of the screen, even in the 2D version we were watching. Of course, the magically scientific Asgardians are no better. At the end of the film, when Thor has destroyed Bifrost, the magic wormhole generator that connects Asgard with Earth, the Asgardians, Odin included, have apparently thrown away the blueprints and forgotten how they built the damn thing in the first place, so they are left waiting for Foster to figure out how to recreate their connection with Earth, which she is striving to do out of her boundless love of Thor. Apparently, with tall, blonde, and blue-eyed off the planet, Foster is able to revert from dewy-eyed ingénue to dedicated genius physicist. But only to get her sweetie back, and then, I’m sure, he can take charge again.

The Marvel movies have not done well by their women characters thus far, and the trend is continuing. Which is odd since Straczynski did a phenomenal job in making both Spiderman’s Mary Jane (and a kick ass Aunt May) and Thor’s Jane Foster into strong, independent, three-dimensional characters during his run on the comics. I guess comic book readers are better able to handle strong women than move-goers in America.

In spite of all of this, Thor has some good stuff. Asgard is beautifully rendered as the ultimate science-fantasy city, the power of Thor is well done, and the story of a vain, powerful, o’erweeningly prideful prince learning humility and responsibility (Henry IV Parts One and Two and Henry V anyone? Now you know why Branagh.) is well done, if somewhat predictable, and the Destroyer is absolutely perfect. In fact, the Destroyer is the best part of the film, and was the one point that got my heart beating in sheer joy at seeing a piece of my childhood really come to life on the big screen. I mean that thing was AWSOME!!! Even the sound effects of its blasts were exactly right, a sense-blotting KRAK! that obliterated every other sound in the scene. This was by far the best job of bringing a Marvel bad-guy to the screen that I've yet seen.

Perhaps because the Destroyer device/creature steps onto the screen straight off the comic-page without adulteration, updating, or re-imagining. Hummm...

There’s a lesson in that Hollywood. Pay attention.

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