Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Rousing Thunder: A Spoilerific review of the new Thor Movie

I went to the new Thor movie with some friends yesterday. Thoughts on that--and on adaptation, father issues, and gender stuff, after the break.

Nobody cares about your comics, poindexter.
One of the frustrating things for the comic book industry is that sales in other media don't seem to translate into comic book sales. The exception seems to be The Walking Dead--maybe it's different for television than for film. Or it's because Image has gone to great lengths to make the Walking Dead comics very, very visible in bookstores, giving it a mainstream appeal outside of the comic book shop. Personally, I always prefer to start with the original medium for a work, then branch out if it appeals to me. So it baffles me that people really, really don't care what happens in the comic book series of their favorite comic book movie characters. (It doesn't baffle me that people really don't care about something I'm talking about--that's pretty normal.) As long as the adaptation is interesting, I'll follow a good story wherever it goes. Is there still a stigma on comic books? I guess there must be. Ah, the snobbery of the general public. (Nothing endears yourself to a demographic like calling them snobs.)

So here's an update on the Thor characters comic book-wise, whether you care or not: Odin died a while back, and was replaced by a trio of All-Mothers: Freyja, Gaia, and Idunn (I thought one of them was Frigga, but I guess not). Sif had her own series for a bit, which was pretty great, but it was recently cancelled. Jane Forster has been MIA for a while; she decided the whole "constant life threatening peril" wasn't really for her. And in the comics, she's a nurse rather than a physicist, because that's what they did when they created female characters in the early 60s for comics. Thor is busy fighting Malekith, largely because of course the comic book series has to have a plot that resembles the film. And Loki, deciding that you can't really be a god of chaos and do the unexpected if everyone always expects you to betray them, went through a long process of unshackling himself from the cycle of fate, negotiating his soul from Hela, and bargaining with Mephisto all in order to get himself reborn as a twelve year old with no memory of his past. The twelve year old has recently been upgraded into a teenager, because magic.  All the other hanger-ons are hanging on, and do about as much as they do in the movie. AND NOW YOU KNOW, so there.

It's a good movie, except for that blond guy. Don't get me wrong, Chris Hemworth's perfectly decent in his role. It's just that I went into the film not really liking Thor as a character, and I still don't. The whole upstanding strong guy persona is fine, but a little bland. I vastly prefer his supporting cast, who never fully get a spotlight away from Thor because, well, that's how you define "supporting cast." But they're all just more... interesting. Sif has a brooding intensity (at least, of late). Hogun's... basically the foil to the other two warrior three, but he's important for the dynamic. Fandral (played by Zachary Levi, replacing Josh Dallas) has a sort of Hawkeye-arrogance mixed with his heroics, without quite being hero enough to pull it off. And Volstagg is hilarious. Some of the best Thor-related comics of the last few years are of Volstagg interacting with his very large family.
Super hero comics don't do families very often. Honestly, I think the refusal to do so is one of the things that renders the genre juvenile. Idris Elba does a great job playing Heimdall, the eternal guardian of Asgard--in the comics, it's kind of a sucker's job, as it only focuses on Heimdall when he utterly fails to prevent something or other that Thor then has to deal with. But Elba really sells the character as someone whose knowledge and experience is vast, but instead of exploring the universe, he's chosen to stay home.
Yeah, so I like this bunch. That's why I found it annoying that they're all dumped partway through the film in a plan that really doesn't require them to be. I mean, what's the point of having an ensemble cast made of warriors if you're going to dump them all before the big fight?

The core of the movie, though, is a family conflict, the one between Odin and his two sons. (And despite what Loki says, he's clearly truly his father's son in a way Thor isn't. And that's not a compliment for Odin or Loki.) Thor and Jane are fairly static--she wants to be with him, and he wants to be with her. Yes, the aether is in the way, but the Malekith plot is going full-tilt before that's an issue. So the only real thing keeping them apart is Odin, who wants Thor to focus on the future of Asgard. And Loki, who feels that Asgard is owed to him. Tom Hiddleston does a great job as Loki--good enough that I want to watch Avengers again, and maybe even Thor. You almost forgot the fact that he led a terrorist alien invasion of New York City. And the dynamic between them all works really well. Like I said, it's the emotional core of the film. Too bad that couldn't come from the Thor-Jane relation (which is really lacking a strong conflict) or the actual villain of the film. Christopher Eccleston does what he can, but he's not given much.

So yeah. Good cast, underused. I suppose there's the human supporting cast too, but except for the very end, they're pretty much just comic relief--nice, but dispensable. And it's a good thing that family dynamic's there, because it's pretty much all that's driving things along.

To do list: Scream. Cower. Wait for Thor. I've heard the argument that Frigga's death is a bit of a "refrigerated woman" death, since it's basically there to motivate Thor and Loki into working together, and drive a bit more of a wedge between Thor and Loki. But at least she goes out in a fairly kick-ass manner, not only holding her own against Malekith, but winning, until his second-in-command shows up. Jane Foster's character on the other hand, basically does nothing for about 2/3 of the film, finally playing a contributing role at the end--which was a nicely chaotic fight scene. For most of the time, she's relegated to someone who needs rescuing, and needs it frequently. That just feels so... regressive. It's particularly frustrating because it would have been fairly easy to write her as possessing weird magical power thanks to the infection by the Aether. In fact, if you wanted to go that route, you could even have added some pathos to her now being strong enough to fight along Thor and stand on her own in Asgard--the catch being that the power that's elevating her is also killing her, or corrupting her, or... well, you get the idea. It would have been more interesting than making her a victim, at any rate.

Final thoughts: having not seen the first film, I was kind of surprised to see all the fantasy creatures sporting sci-fi weaponry. Kind of makes humans look pretty slacker, since all the other races seem to have magic AND more advanced technology.

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