Thursday, June 9, 2011

Thor: The Mighty Movie

I saw Thor for the second time last night and I have a few things I'd like to talk about.

First, I rather enjoy the way this origin story plays out. Granted, I still usually enjoy watching a (kid/adult/dog) who (suddenly/gradually/unfortunately) gains super powers and then learns how to use them to (save/destroy/pee on) the world*. That arc is fairly well played out, however, so it is quite refreshing to see Thor take a different, even opposite, approach.

It is the opposite in the sense that much of the major plot points are arranged in reverse order to the norm. Thor doesn't gain powers, he loses them. He doesn't build a team, he is kicked out of one. Hell, he is even the aggressor in an invasion of another world, all of which makes for a more interesting journey than what is usually presented.

Not everything is reversed, of course. The old standards of learning the true meaning of friendship and using one's power to create harmony rather than chaos flows in the usual direction. But it does so almost completely without the messy soul searching and internal conflict that often accompanies a shift in a hero's perspective.

There is internal conflict, certainly, but the second aspect of Thor that I continue to enjoy is that he is a relatively uncomplicated character. He approaches problems with an obvious solution already in mind: Mjolnir or, failing that, his fists. This approach gets him into serious trouble very quickly, but even when he eventually learns that one needs to act with others in mind, he does so in a way that does not invalidate his "smash shit with my hammer" plan.

In my mind, this serves to make Thor a much more fun character than even a delightful douche bag like Tony Stark or a creature of action like Bruce Banner's Hulk. I have nothing bad to say about Stark's sarcasm and bad behavior or the Hulk's smashin', but it is a welcome change to see a guy who is sincere and often polite, and can do so without being a boyscout, which would definitely spoil the fun. This is a guy who drinks and carouses itches for a good fight, after all, but he can drink and fight without being self-destructive like Stark or Banner.

As it happens, those fights do not exactly adhere to the theory I embraced a few years ago that Marvel had found the appropriate number of action set-pieces to include in a single movie and still leave ample time for exposition, character work, and other miscellaneous story requirements. This leads me to the third item I had in mind, which is the apparent negation of what I had pegged as a "three fight rule".

Thor gets into four fights, more or less, two of which are Big Fights, and two of them are minor scrapes (in duration, even if not in importance). All I really want to say about the rule and its fate is that I accept two small fights in place of one big one because it upholds the purpose of the rule: to give fights more weight by contrasting them against periods of inaction and also to keep battles from halting every few moments so that characters can expound on story elements that should have been covered while fists were at rest.

As a final, more personal, note, prior to seeing this movie, I knew that Thor needed to answer a few questions. Not about the Marvel Universe or the Avengers or anything like that, but important questions such as "how is the rainbow bridge not going to look like something on a little girl's Trapper Keeper?" and "will Thor's spinning hammer or Loki's horned hat look anything other than ridiculous?" It was a great relief to see these questions answered and in a satisfactory way.

I give Thor five beards out of a possible Frog of Thunder.

*The third option is describing Underdog, incidentally.


Andrew said...

I read Thor. but for some reason kept thinking of the green lantern. then i got confused. then i realized my foolish error. Now i need to go see the film. I have been working too many 14 hour days this week...
on a related note, in my job teaching art to kids, i have a mythology week planned. Thursday is Thor's Day. :)

_J_ said...

I still have not seen Thor. One reason for that is laziness. But another reason is that I do not “get” Thor.

A while ago, the MA17 showed me a panel of a Thor comic in which Thor yells, "I am confused!" and punches a rock, presumably as a result of his confusion. I can comprehend why someone would think that endearing. Thor, in the vein of Hawk Girl and Gimli, simply hits things to solve problems. That’s fine, and we presumably need heroes like that. But I’m ok if those heroes stand over there and leave me alone.

Maybe I’m missing the nuance of these characters, or some kind of meta-depth that results from their lack of depth. But I’d like a little self-doubt or internal conflict in my superhero. In the same way that Superman sucks because he’s one-dimensional, the Thors and Hawkgirls and Gimlis of fiction just bore me. When conflicts occur, they hit those conflicts with hammers / maces / axes. When hitting does not work, they simply hit harder.

No, thank you.

Also? I cannot be the only person who is irked by the co-opting of Norse mythology into a comic universe. Tony Stark is a dude who builds shit; that’s fine. Captain America is a dude who gets drugged up and shield bashes shit; that’s fine. Hal Jordan is a dude who finds a ring and greens shit; that’s fine. They’re all dudes whose personas are unique to their creation within the comic universe. But Thor is literally a character from Norse mythology. Most characters in comics seem to be unique creations. But Thor is like a bizarre non-sequitor in the whole comic thing, an inside joke between three of four lit majors who happened to stumble into the comic industry.

It’s as if fucking Enkidu got a comic series. Or, no, Enkidu is kinda like Loki. Ok, it’d be like if Gilgamesh got a comic series. Of all the mythological systems to fold into comic canon, why go with Norse shit?

Also, Natalie Portman deserves better than Thor.

Truth be told, though, I am greatly anticipating the Avengers movie. If only because I have very high hopes for the initial meeting between Robert Downey, Jr. and Thor. Because any writer who isn’t fucktardely stupid will do something amazing with that moment.

I’m envisioning a 13 minute long monologue of Robery Downey, Jr. going, “you’re…wait…you’re….what? What? A Norse…ok…wait…odin? Valwhata? So, let me get this straight…wait…ok…so, the Vikings were….the Vikings were right? Really? Wait, a god? You’re really a….(takes a drink)…so you’re a norse…a norse god? The Vikings? Really? So,…a…wait…who?!” at the end of which Roberty Downey, Jr. stares into the camera for three minutes straight, with a very accusatory, non-approving, scowl on his face.

_J_ said...

Actually, thinking about it, I have no idea what Robery Downey, Jr. would say after being introduced to a Norse God.

But I'm pretty sure he says something funny.

MA17 said...

Like most of the characters we're talking about, Thor has been around long enough to have a multitude of personalities, origins, gender identifications, and yeah, even layers of depth and complexity. Different writers try on different character traits about as easily as different artists tweak the visual style.

So the movie has a lot of freedom to choose which Thor they want to canonize for the film. Is he a god? Is he a human? Is he both? Is he something else entirely? I absolutely agree that Thor-the-god would be a silly addition to a team that Marvel has been trying to otherwise depict as realistically as a dude in a flying robot suit and a giant green man will allow. Suffice it to say, the Thor they went with is identifiable from the comics and is not a silly addition to the team.

As for the overall complexity of the character issue, I like Thor for the traits he shares with the likes of Goku or Luffie. They just don't complicate matters with a lot of thinking or discussion or planning because they usually have the power and the elementary grasp of morality to set things right with the immediate application of brute force. When complicated sorts of gray-area problems crop up that no amount of punching will solve, well, that's why they are part of a team.

Roscoe said...

Different Goldilocks for Diff'rent.. ham hocks? I dunno what I was doing there..

but.. Part of the beauty of Thor is so many different portrayals kinda work in the right story. Raging Fist of Righteousness that Smashes Things? Sure! See "Ultron, we would have words with Thee."

Confused outsider to the ways of man and civilized society? Why not? See Landridge's recent Thor The Might Avenger comic.

Sword and Sorcery Fantasy Epic, what ought to belong on the side of a truly wicked van? Bring on the Simonson.

In a similar vein, Comedic Metal Pastiche? Bring on the Super Hero Squaddie.

Thor's great because he's all the same benefits as Spider-Man, but from the exact opposite side of the spectrum. He's not the everyman, but he's the larger than life approximation of the same. He can fit in stories of NEARLY every tone, much like Ol' Petey, and the ones he doesn't fit in make for properly fun story potential in his ill-suitability.

The same beats that get Parker in a Mystic story or a Cosmic one, get Thor in a relationship one, or a Busy trying to do something important, and stuck dealing with scrub villians like the Wrecking Crew.

Roscoe said...

The problem of "Hitting Things" characters is that you stop looking into them AS Characters.

Which.. is kinda funny, because your examples are Tolkien's mindboggling dense Dwarven honor and history and debts and crap.... and Hawkgirl.

Wherein the very line Hit It With A Mace is offered as the solution to defeating... you know.. her Rampaging Cthulu God. The same episode that has her beside Grundy, the Hulk analog in their erstatz Defenders. You know.. one of the more poignant episodes that means something beyond Us Beats Up Thems.

Hulk, too, for that matter.. Sure, he's the guy who beats up ANYTHING else.. but it's also a character study of consuming anger and fear, of isolation, and so on.

Man.. .. the Superman One Dimensional argument? When did you become Mikey? Go read All Star Superman.

Roscoe said...

The myth complaint is weird to me.

We've made a cultural CARREER out of Greek Myth movies, pulling Hercules back out whenever someone wants to make a new sword and sorcery flick or series, be it Steve Reeves or Kevin Sorbo.

No one seem to mind when Bruce Campbell goes up against Guan-Di, or Kurt Russell against Lo-Pan, when Son Goku is used for an absurd western video game or is played by Jet Li's Felix to Jackie Chan's Oscar.

Neil Gaiman gets away with gods in virtually anything he does, so.. why is it so weird that Lee and Kirby went to this well?

kylebrown said...

Man you need to back up off the wrecking crew before Thunderball gives you what for.

Roscoe said...

I? I probably do. But Thor? THOR just needs to get to the damned Rainbow Bridge, man.

Let Fandral and Hogun deal with the 'Crew.

_J_ said...

I'm open to the possibility that I am incorrect with respect to the depth and complexity of the Thor character given that I don't know as much about him as you guys do.

So, wrong about that. Alright.

Not so much wrong about my reaction to Thor's inclusion within the larger comic universe. When he shows up in a cartoon, or a something, my reaction is often, "What is he doing there?" We have all of these previously uninstantiated characters...and Thor. Because, to someone, it makes sense to have the Norse God of Thunder standing next to Wasp Girl.

Am I wrong to maintain that there is a qualitative difference between what happens when a comic writer says "hmm...need a character...ok...a wasp...that is a girl...wasp girl!" and when a comic writer says, "Spinning my Rolodex of mythological characters....THOR, we have a winner!"

One of those seems less lazy than the other. Or, if not lazy, then less "I'm taking a character that was made up 700+ years ago and putting him in my comic, because fuck you, that's why."

Unless I'm wrong, and Krishna showing up in a Batman comic would be wonderful.

Or maybe the Human Torch (blessings and peace be upon him) needs to fight Ganesha while Achilles and Hal Jordon discuss upper body strength workouts with Sisyphus.

On the back of Galactus.

Who is reading a Conan / Rainbow Bright crossover fanfic.

_J_ said...

"when Son Goku is used for an absurd western video game"

That one kind of pissed me off.

As does Dragon Ball.

Cause, you know, Journey to the West, and all that.

Roscoe said...

Wait... you're okay with Galactus.. who.. was the stand in figure for.. God. But not Thor. Giant, unfathomable figure with a pope hat and a massive G on his chest.

If the problem is "Someone Else Wrote It, It's Not Creative, It's a Ripoff", then.. I suggest you've a major, gaping hole in your logic, considering the genealogy of comic characters up through the prior pulps and such.

If the problem is less that and more, they're not simply prior work but actual religious figures, then.. again.. really? What is the original Flash but a Hermes pastiche? How can you be okay with Wonder Woman's myth-influenced origins and Mephistopheles catting around as the Big Bad Devil Figure of Marvel, but not Thor. Or for that matter Aquaman and Namor as Atlanteans... Marvel's buried undersea Deviants, the Lemurians, or Hyborean sorcerers straight out of Conan issues?

Atlantis is myth, right? And all of the Conan stuff was grounded in those myths, "Between the fall of Atlantis and the Rise of the Sons of Aryas" and all that? Do you have a problem with Morgana Le Fay and Nimue floating around comics? What about DC's Uncle Sam, a figure developed directly out of a history of Tall Tales, you know.. more recent mythologizing.

Roscoe said...

I mean, you're passing a double standard that you haven't really tried to justify. It's lazy to have claim that analogues to mythic figure from early history existed, but it's.. what.. inspired and acceptable for a person to gain superpowers from breathing Hard Water fumes or encountering Cosmic Rays?

I understand that the former somehow breaks down your particular ability to accept the narrative, to "suspend disbelief".. but why is that conceit, and that one alone so uniquely jarring to you?

_J_ said...

“Galactus = God. Flash = Hermes. Wonder Woman = bitch from Asia Minor?”

I think the above is what I would prefer. If we need a guy who runs fast, then don't take "Hermes" a slap a red leotard on him. Make a new character, "Flash", who runs fast. Because then we aren't taking the Patron of Boundaries and cutting out his Patronis aspects to serve our need of "guy who runs fast".

There is no reason why the comic character of Thor has to be, nominally, "Thor". They could have made a character who swings a hammer, does lightning shit, and is from some alien planet or alternate plane of reality.

By creating a new character rather than co-opting an old character, they are not doing violence to the historical tradition out of which the original character emerged or the historical character, itself. Leave the character from Norse mythology alone and just make a new character who does similar things.

If we have a character who is self-obsessed to the point of self-destruction, we do not have to call her Narcissus, even though she is doing Narcissan things.

My position is that one ought to leave characters from antiquity alone and simply come up with new characters. Sure, there is a very high finite number of characteristics or abilities that mythical / super characers can have. So I'm happy to accept that many different characters will have the ability of, say, flight.

But if we're creating a comic about a hero who flies around post-apocalyptic New York City, protecting the last basion of humanity, which happens to be called 'The Sun' from mutants by shooting them with a sun-ray laser gun after uttering the catch phrase, "You got too close to The Sun, bitch." We ought not call the asshole Icarus.

Because he's not fucking Icarus. Icarus is a character of Greek Mythology, defined within the context of Greek mythology.

That name is taken; that character is taken. So go find a new fucking name for your character. Like, I don't know, Birdman.

Roscoe said...

"There is no reason why the comic character of Thor has to be, nominally, "Thor". They could have made a character who swings a hammer, does lightning shit, and is from some alien planet or alternate plane of reality."

Technically, isn't that what they HAVE done? How is that NOT Thor? Asgard is not Earth, it's a separate one of the Nine Worlds. I mean..

At what point does it become meaningless to do a pastiche character, by the way? If what you WANT to use is Han Solo, how long do you have to dick around with Dash Rendar? When do you say, man, this flat bread, spaghetti sauce and cheese bake isn't doing it, what's Papa John's number?

If I've got a Strong Man character, running around with shaggy hair, and a weakness for lovers.. Why NOT call that character Sampson or Enkidu? Referencing a name doesn't do violence to a previous tradition any more than Evangelion does damage to Christianity with its Angels and the Lance of Longinus, or Hellsing does to Bram Stoker.

_J_ said...

Names tend to matter. Han Solo and Dash Rendar are two different characters with very similar features. Had Shadows of the Empire contained a character named Han Solo, who was not Han Solo, but was named Han Solo? That would have been retarded.

The reason we do not call your strong character Sampson or Enkidu is because Sampson and Enkidu are already established fictional characters.

The argument comes down to this: I do not think comic writers need to reuse names. Since they do not need to, we have to ask why they would do it.

Either they're too damn lazy to think of a new name or they are trying to somehow leech off the popularity or history of that character.

The latter is what we get into with reimiaginings, whereby we get 37 or so different Batmans. And this leads to those spectacular situations in which you have to explain to dipshits that Batman Forever and Dark Knight are not, in fact, part of the same continuity.

Roscoe said...

Man, Dash Rendar is Han Solo w/ the numbers filed off, because, crap, we can't use Solo here, he's in Carbonite.

Wait.. your problem is.. That it complicates things for idiots? When did you start pandering to idiots?

And why must it be leeching? Why can't it be actively wishing to explore themes of said character within a new enviroment, hrmn?

I mean, what your suggesting is fine when the point of the work is to be entirely seperate. That gets you Watchmen, when Alan Moore is told to strip the names of the Charlton characters out of the pitch.

But you don't ask Mad or Saturday Night Live to do that when they use a character for a sketch. Trying to do something like Thor with names filed off gets you Jack Kirby's Fourth World, over at DC. Which, yes, is kinda great, but by no means is Jack Kirby's Thor.

Sure, it brought us Darkseid... But beyond the Fourth World villians, and Sidey's two sons, MAYBE the one's wife.. can any of us (yeah, me, shush) a fourth world character? There's a whole cast of heroic ones, you know. Or.. hell, even knew the phrase Fourth World? Most folks think Darkseid is a Superman villian first and foremost.

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