O Say Can You See: The Greatest Patriotic Super Heroes of All-Time
Okay, we’re going to try a little something different today. When I left the house to go to the midnight showing of Thor Thursday night, I could barely believe I was really going to a movie theater that was going to show me a million dollar movie by Kenneth Branaugh about a guy who hits things with a hammer. Thor isn’t a character so well known to the public, and I have heard from a few people that not only did they not know who he was, but disliked him as part of the Avengers when they were younger, or had read comics in some mysterious era where Thor was not awesome. Still, despite mild obscurity as a comic character, here was his feature film. Imagine what you felt like the night before you saw Iron Man back in 2008 and you get an idea of the butterflies in my stomach: the very thought that someone aside from the Big Names of comic book culture could get a full feature film with quality actors and effects…. well, it was something to marvel over.
And despite knowing this day was coming — seeing screen shots, clips, trailers, merchandise for days, an interactive SHIELD website that told me about Acuras — some part of me still stood in awe of a real live Thor movie. I knew that, barring tremendous incident, I was going to like this movie. That I would leave the theater in that “It’s 2am and I have seen the best movie ever!” afterglow and I would also sit down and write the most unobjective review of my lifetime. So I sat right down and wrote myself some questions, things that I wondered about before going to see the movie that I would later be able to answer in that post-Thorgasmic haze of midnight showings, fan audiences and Shakespearean delivery.
Below are my past self’s questions to my future self written for The Fifth Color in the present. I wasn’t worried about whether the movie was going to be “good” (it is) or if I would like it (I did) or if it would change my life forever (probably need to see it in 3D). I didn’t want spoilers, so I didn’t ask about the particulars of the movie’s plot. I just wanted to know what the future was going to look like.
SPOILERS for the Thor movie after the jump!
Getting to the most basic question anyone is ever going to ask me, please understand that I am no taste-maker. However, I am honest, so please believe me when I say that Thor is one of the most awesome movies I have ever seen on the big screen. And I’m not talking about “awesome” colloquially, I’m talking about being in awe of what Marvel Studios attempted and surpassed. From design to pacing to execution, this movie succeeds at being both a “comic book movie” and a just plain brilliant movie regardless of source material. It won’t win an Academy Award, it won’t catapult anyone into gold-plated fame, but I think future generations will remember this film the same way people my age remember Labyrinth or Willow. Something full of imagination, adventure and heart, not to mention really attractive actors (thanks, young David Bowie and Val Kilmer!)
Before I saw the movie, I was curious about the lead’s performance. Was Chris Hemsworth a great actor or the greatest actor? My favorite George Kirk will not only have to lead this movie, but join the Avengers and still hold his own as the God of Thunder next to Captain America and Iron Man. Chris Evans and Mark Ruffalo will have their own moments of truth when we later see Captain America: the First Avenger in July and … well, the Hulk in Avengers in 2012. For now, this is Chris Hemsworth’s audition for the fans, showing us what he can do in a very larger-than-life role.
The good news is that I can’t wait to see how Earth’s Mightiest Heroes stand next to Thor. Hemsworth is charming and noble, as a god-like being should be. He is righteously arrogant at first and humbled and heroic at last, and there is not a dull moment in between. He is greatly assisted by the actors surrounding him, who help bolster the image of Thor to gargantuan heights. Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster is giddy to be near him, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki makes him an older brother to be jealous of and Anthony Hopkins’s Odin makes him a treasured son. Hemsworth works well with his ensemble, giving me a great reference as to how he’ll interact with the Avengers cast.
Another potential sticking point that got to me before the midnight screening was how continuity heavy would this movie be. Not just comic continuity, but movie continuity as well; one complaint I heard about Iron Man 2 was that it seemed like a prologue for the Avengers movie more so than a stand-alone story. With Captain America: the First Avenger coming out hot on its heels, would they take the time to fully flesh out Thor, or wait until the Avengers were together or, worse, wait for a cameo in Captain America to add to the movie we’re already watching? It’s a strange fear, mostly because movie sequels don’t really work continuity heavy (Star Trek IV holds up well on its own, but is tied to the previous II and III), but a reasonable one to have in the wake of this new Marvel age of film. They want to gear you up for the next blockbuster, so they leave Easter eggs and hints to prequels and sequels everywhere. Was Thor just a feather in the Avengers cap? Or the Avengers and Cap?
Again, more good news: I think Thor is short and sweet in its encapsulated joy. Yes, Hawkeye is in the movie (far more than you expected him to be, past self). Yes, they do use the end credits clip at the end of Iron Man 2 and place it into the pacing of Thor. Yes, the end of the credits of Thor very clearly state that ‘THOR WILL RETURN IN THE AVENGERS’ (I know, I was just as shocked as you). But none of these elements take up any time in telling the essential Thor origin. This isn’t the Ultimate universe, something I’m incredibly grateful for; there are no motorcycle armor uniforms or gritty reboot-ness. This is just a God who is humbled by man and chooses to act honorably for his time amongst them. That’s not the only theme, as family drama and science vs. fiction also have their part to play in his story, but this remains the essential truth of the character. If anything, Thor is an entirely different genre than Iron Man or even the Incredible Hulk, as man aspires and achieves greatness in those films, but Thor is uniquely the opposite. No time is given to what will become of him; Thor simply concentrates on the story at hand.
What else was there to worry about before the movie? Well, as a Branaugh fan, I know full well how bad a movie of his could be. After all, no one talks about his adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for a reason; that movie was a clear example of all the money and A-List casting in the world falling flat with audiences. While I may personally enjoy the size and scope of Branaugh’s four-hour long Hamlet, that kind of epic pageantry may put audiences to sleep. So, how Branaugh was this movie?
Oh, very. But in the best of ways, because the scenes in one world balance out the other realms as we travel across the Bifrost Bridge. For every large throne room sequence, there is a small vignette in a rural diner. For every near-operatic moment between father and son, there is a moment of wisecrack humor and a moment of adventure. The Walter Simonson of it all gives the audience the finest in visual framework, and there are moments that seem like fantastic comic panels come to life, full of detail and snapshot strength of story. At the same time, there’s a very human scene with Jane Foster and Thor sitting on a rooftop, talking in a very quiet and simple moment. To compare it to Branaugh’s Hamlet isn’t that far off; the personal troubles of the characters on screen are set upon a luscious background that has been elegantly designed to tell this particular story.
On the whole, I wasn’t really worried if the movie was going to stink. Marvel Studios has yet to let us down with an in-house project (knock on wood!) and I have a strong suspicion the Daredevils and Fantastic Fours are behind us. What’s most important to keep in mind when one sits down to a heaping helping of comic book-styled movie is what this means for everything else. Will this movie lead to seeing more like it on the big screen? Will comics bend or twist to adapt a more popular movie version for their books? Is this the new popular culture of comics and what are we leaving behind to get so popular?
Thor proves that all of these questions can be answered calmly and hopefully with a little less cynicism. Nothing is taken away from the comics we’ve known and loved about the God of Thunder, our past comfortable and safe from any movie-style rewrites. I only wish the future me could write me some questions back about the Avengers movie and all the story that’s ahead for us on the silver screen.