Journey into Mystery with Dr. Donald Blake

So it officially starts; the summer movie season is now upon us (albeit not quite summer yet), bringing with it a barrage of blockbusters (and in my case wallet busters…).   I’m gonna try to see as many as I can, but being without a real job and not living anywhere near a decent theater (45 minutes plus, not counting the horrible local theater of course), it’s gonna be a bit tough.

That said, this year is all about the comic book movie.  Marvel’s got Thor and Captain America leading the way to the Avengers movie next year, as well as the prequel X-Men: First Class (unfortunately brought to us by FOX, so it’s not part of the same universe…).  And on top of that DC is bringing us Green Lantern, a summer blockbuster that’s surprisingly not either Superman or Batman.

And so it begins.  First up…

Released roughly two weeks ago, Thor is the first comic book movie of the summer, and kinda the first real blockbuster of the summer as well (Seeing as it was released in the spring, it sort of had an unfair advantage).

Loosely inspired by Norse mythology, Thor tells the story of a race of ‘people’ from another realm who have protected our world and many others from destruction by the Frost Giants (and came to be worshiped as gods by the Norse).  The king of these people, Odin, is growing old and must choose between his sons Thor and Loki to succeed him should he die.  While it seems clear that Thor will be chosen, Odin becomes upset with Thor’s ego and arrogance, and decides to strip him of his powers and send him to Earth.  The movie then follows Thor’s time on Earth (attempting to get back) as well as Loki’s attempt to replace Thor as heir to the throne.

This is the story in a nutshell.   There is of course much more going on, in and around that synopsis, but to say any more might spoil the movie.  Going in to this movie, I only knew the very basics about Thor, and was only semi-convinced that this movie would be any good, even after watching the trailers.  While it did take me a little bit of time to get sucked in to the story, I left more than happy having gone to see it.

There are two very distinct worlds in this film, Thor’s home world of Asgard, and Earth, or more specifically New Mexico.  (There is a third world as well, that of the Frost Giants, but it’s only a small part of the film.)  And these two worlds are uniquely distinct, both visually and stylistically.  Asgard is a beautiful, very regal city world that kind of reminds me of The Emerald City or possibly Kandor or some other Kryptonian city.  It has a sort of futuristic meets ancient world, palatial, highrise feel to it (if that makes any sense at all), and it’s beautiful.  Also, the movie has a very Shakespearean feel to it when in Asgard (not surprising with Kenneth Branagh directing).  That’s not to say the speech is old English or that the writing is necessarily as good as Shakespeare, but just that it’s very theatrical and classically styled.  In fact, when in Asgard it feels very much like a play, with sets, rather than a movie, with a world.  This could be due to exteriors of Asgard being computer generated, but even so, I think it gives Asgard a unique feel (though it is strange that the city feels largely unpopulated outside of the main characters).  Asgard is also what made it a little tough for me to get into the movie at first, due to its style, though not because it’s bad, but instead because I was looking for a comic book movie that fit into the same universe as Iron Man and Hulk, and at first it didn’t feel that way to me.

Now, the ‘world’ of New Mexico is an entirely different story.  This really does feel quite a bit like it fits into the already established Marvel movie universe, and it was here that I was immediately pulled in, even enjoying further Asgard scenes more after seeing the two worlds tied together.  The two worlds really were the perfect contrast to each other.  First, visually, Asgard was a cramped, overfilled metropolis, while New Mexico was very empty, with lots of wide open spaces and small buildings.  Thematically, they were in contrast as well.  While the scenes in Asgard were very restrained and theatrical, the stuff in New Mexico felt like a blockbuster movie, complete with big, explosive action sequences.  In this case, the third world I briefly mentioned before feels like a mix between the two, feeling thematically linked to Asgard, but with big action pieces like the New Mexico stuff.

The characters in this were also perfectly cast.  Anthony Hopkins shined as Odin, playing the perfect, strong yet aging warrior.  Thor’s band of soldiers were nicely cast as a ragtag bunch of ne’er-do-wells (with a nice unexpected cameo by Asano Tadanobu) and Heimdall, the guard on the rainbow bridge, was very believable as the unmovable gatekeeper of Asgard. (I did find it the slightest bit odd to cast a black guy as a Norse god, but that didn’t detract from anything at all.)  The scientist group on Earth, featuring Natalie Portman and Stellan Skarsgård, were a lovable bunch of well written characters.

Now, the two most important characters in this movie are Loki and, of course, Thor.  Long story short, they’re both great.  I’ve heard some complaints about Loki being two small, whiny, and underpowered, but that’s how I’ve always pictured Loki, especially at the start of his story.  I felt Tom Hiddleston not only looked the part perfectly, but played the young, second child, Loki spot on.  The only thing I missed was a little of the over-the-top craziness that I was expecting, like something had really broken in his mind, though it started showing up towards the end, and I have a feeling we’ll be seeing that version in the next movie (whether that’s Avengers or Thor).

As for Chris Helmsworth, what can I say?  Damn near perfect.  Have to admit I was a little unconvinced going in, but I think he nailed it.  He’s huge, looks the part (especially when wearing the helmet) and was completely believable, both as the strong, arrogant ‘god’ and as the confused powerless man lost in a foreign world.  The character himself was also really well done.  The writers included some of the Thor character from the Ultimate universe, in that the people of Earth thought that Thor was just an insane person with some kind of god complex.  This interaction of Thor, as Thor, in a world that didn’t believe him, made for some great moments.

So in the end, I was very satisfied.  Thor told a great origin story, introducing us to the world of Asgard as well as to a variety of characters, and the action pieces in the film were also really well done.  Now that it’s set, I’m excited for a sequel and also to see how the characters interact with previous Marvel movie characters in the upcoming Avengers movie.  Speaking of the Avengers movie, stay tuned after the credits for an extra scene bridging the movies (and featuring yet another of the Marvel Sam Jackson cameos).

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