With malice a Thor fought

Aussie soaps were not originally a well-rubbed waypoint on the cobbled road to celebrity. Nobody from The Sullivans ever wore spandex over dubiously inflated muscles in a Marvel franchise, not even 1977’s The Amazing Spider-Man. All that has changed. Chris Hemsworth can, curiously, trace his casting as Norse totty Thor back to cigar’n’braces soap-enabler Michael Grade or his eighties vicinity, and the unexpectedly world-changing decision to buy Neighbours for BBC Daytime. For Neighbours begat Kylie, Jason, Guy, Alan and a few others, and let loose Home and Away on the UK, which spawned Hemsworth.

From Summer Bay and World of Cliché to Kirk’s dad and now Asgard, in but a few short tumultuous years. It’s like casting Adam ‘Ian Beale’ Woodyatt as one of the X-Men. Iceman, Phoenix, Wolverine, Black Pudding.

Thor has a tricky path to take: part action-adventure, part Norse Mythology 101, it needs to introduce a non-comic-gobbling crowd to a pantheon of “actual” gods it might remember only vaguely from school discussions about days of the week, and also deliver a coherent plot that isn’t something cheesily related like an apocalyptic Battle For Thursday.

The story is by Mark Protosevich and Babylon 5 overlord J. Michael Straczynski, with a three-author screenplay that suggests development Helheim. The film takes place bang in the middle of the Marvel universe (movie franchise edition), with noob-tolerant, fanboy-wetting references to S.H.I.E.L.D. and Tony Stark. But fanboys beware: movie Thor’s not comics Thor. Of course you know that already, you’re a fanboy; you probably already wrote a capped green exclamated thesis on the matter. Less foamy Thor-comic fans will be happy that certain aspects of the comics are preserved (though not all).

Some of the early scenes in Asgard feel draggy at the time: I thought they were trying and failing to be quick expositional backgrounders, but they turned out to be plot. Asgard itself is beautifully realised by director Kenneth Branagh (I know, right?). Kirby loved a wide galactic smear and that’s what we see, with a world full of godly fixtures and fittings and implausible furniture. No pixel is left unbuffed. The Midgard Earth scenes are a great counterpoint, a dreary dustbowl of diners and utterly ungodlike fatsos.

The main human characters are nothing to Bifröst home about. Natalie Portman plays the standard scientist/love interest role; no Oscar noms here. She has a sassy wisecracking girly sidekick and a weathered, Viking-like colleague with whom to enter and exit sundry scrapes. All very comic-like, in fact.

Aside from eight-packing Thor and his massive weapon Mjolnir, gods include but are not limited to dad Odin, portrayed by barely not-Welsh Anthony Hopkins, and brother Loki, played by Michael Sheen Loki-likey Tom Hiddleston. Other deities are available.

Hemsworth scrubs up well. Seekers of flesh will perk up for one brief scene and instantly divide into mary and contrary camps. I’m on the mary side: he’s overly muscled for my tastes. But I still wød.

As you might expect, there’s nothing to stop further films with at least some of the same cast. Indeed I see The Avengers (no, not Steed et al) is in production for 2012 – presumably drawing together the various strands from several Marvel movies. I confess a low-grade squee at this: different movies, different characters, one consistent(ish) universe. It all makes the constantly rebooting Batman and Superman franchises look like dinothors.

Yeah, sorry about that one.

Avaragado’s rating: one tub of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey

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