Thor (2011) – The Road to the Avengers
This article is part four of an ongoing feature on my blog, “The Road to the Avengers“, which hopes to convey my thoughts on the current films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, culminating on my thoughts of The Avengers when it is released on Friday, May 4th.
Let me preface this by saying I’ve got no prior attatchment to the character of Thor. I knew he existed before the film, but that’s about the extent of my involvement in the comic book character that is Thor. Thor is a fantastic film, it was a great return to form after Iron Man 2 disappointed fans like myself. After this most recent viewing of Thor, I could not help but feel how I did after seeing it in theaters — it’s a great movie, but it didn’t strike me quite as well as Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk did. I think for this article I will adopt a similar format as I did for Iron Man 2, I believe I was more successful in conveying my thoughts that way:
- What I liked about Thor
- What I liked a bit less about Thor
- The film’s ties to The Avengers
Read more after the jump.
Loki is, without a doubt, the strongest villain that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has seen. I think Marvel realizes that, hence his main villain role in The Avengers, but I digress. Never before have we seen a character arc so strong in a villain. In the beginning, Loki is shown as someone overshadowed by his brother (and his brother’s ego). He spends the first act of the film being a supportive brother (upon first viewing, that is), but the scene he shares with Odin in the vault of artifacts is the best scene in the movie in my opinion (or maybe second best after the hammer compound/sword-in-the-stone scene). I get goosebumps when he yells “TELL ME!“. Loki does not simply want to usurp Thor’s throne, he seeks to gain the affection of his “father” and the people of Asgard. Interestingly enough, the scene in the first act where Thor approaches the throne during the coronation shows Odin’s disdain for his biological son and suggests to me that he most likely favors Loki anyway. Tom Hiddleston’s performance really shines in this movie and the writing for Loki is fantastic as well, with his silver tongue really standing out when you listen for it on your second viewing.
The Cinematography and Direction
There were a fair amount of people that were really bothered by the canted frame (dutch angles) used throughout the film, and while they were noticeable to me upon my first viewing, I was not distracted by them. Upon this most recent viewing I find myself really starting to like them. A friend of mine* brought up the fact that dutch angles are commonplace in comic book panels, and that the film certainly translates the visual style of a comic book most successfully. Just look at this beautiful shot of king Loki with the lady Sif and the Warriors Three:
The film has so many shots that could’ve been lifted right out of a comic book page and I find it really beautiful. This shot of Odin coming down to Jotunheim from the Bifrost has a similar feeling, sans dutch angle, and is with out a doubt my favorite shot in the film:
Everything is beautifully framed, some how dutch angle after dutch angle still seems fresh and interesting, and I really applaud director Kenneth Branagh and director of photography Haris Zambarloukos for doing such a fantastic job. I was really excited when Branagh was picked to direct and it turned out to be a great and interesting choice.
Frequent Branagh collaborator Patrick Doyle really nails the themes of royalty and redemption with his score for the film. The interjecting trumpets really fit the Asgard scenes, sounding like fanfare that one would see in a medieval film about castles and kings which is essentially what one half of Thor is. The percussive drumming is an apt comparison to the beatings Thor delivers with the help of Mjölnir. One of my favorite moments with the score happens after Thor fails to pull Mjölnir from the ground in SHIELD’s makeshift compound. Heimdall watches Thor’s failure (pictured right) and sees the SHIELD agents pull him away while this really touching orchestral theme plays in the background, one of the main motifs of the score that recurs throughout the film. It’s a really beautiful moment that comes together through the cinematography, the score, the performances, and effects of the film.
The Special Effects
Thor has a very distinct look to it, brought upon by some absolutely gorgeous effects work. Asgard is absolutely breathtaking and surprisingly believable, which was without a doubt achieved using both computer generated imagery and some fantastic practical sets. Jotunheim is positively haunting and the fight that ensues there is brilliantly done. Whenever Thor whirls Mjölnir around like a sawblade it looks fantastic. The ice effects from the jotuns and their casket are always a sight to see, particularly when Loki freezes the Bifrost conduit into place in the climactic battle of the film (pictured left), practically looking like Yggdrasil itself. I’m convinced that the destroyer armor is the loudest thing in the Marvel universe, but visually it looks absolutely menacing and I love seeing its fiery blast fill from toe to head as it prepares to fire at its target. Loki’s illusion effects are also really well done, I particularly love his kaleidoscope illusion on the Bifrost in the end where there’s a billion Tom Hiddlestons on screen. There’s no short supply of beautiful imagery in this film and the special effects crew members should be absolutely proud of the work they’ve done. Thor was, without a doubt, one of the hardest films to pull off. Unlike Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, Thor has a mystical element to it that non-comic book oriented fans of the previous films would possibly have a difficult time buying into. I believe the extremely well done effects have a large part in allowing the common viewer to find themselves lost in Asgard and its mythical contents.
Other Minor Things
- There was a dachshund in this movie, therefore the movie is awesome. It’s even a puppy, so that’s even cuter.
- Stellan Skarsgård is awesome and does a great job in the film, despite the fact that he has a minor role. I love his bar scene with Thor, and there’s some great drunk-acting by him in Jane’s mobile home.
- Agent Coulson and Hawkeye were awesome. More on that later.
What I Liked Less About Thor
Note that this section is what I liked less about Thor and not what I disliked as in my Iron Man 2 article. These are mostly nitpicks that I feel detracted from what I feel about the movie. While I enjoyed it a lot, something doesn’t put it on the order of Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk for me and I feel as though these things are part of it.
Thor’s Character Arc
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful character arc. To go from god to mortal, killing your father, and being unable to go back and apologize in a matter of 24 hours is absolutely brutal. The whole idea of Mjölnir only being utilized by those with the character and fortitude to do so is a built in character arc itself. I’m also not going to say that Thor doesn’t earn the character arc and moments that he has in the film, he certainly redeems himself in the eyes of Odin, and if it’s good enough for Odin it should be good enough for the rest of us. For some reason I feel as though with the time spent on Thor’s character development, he shouldn’t have earned the arc that he has. The film has one of the leanest runtimes in the cinematic universe at about 1 hour and 55 minutes. 10 of that is credits, and the rest of the films (barring The Incredible Hulk) all top out past 2 hours themselves. I feel as though this is the film in the series that would really benefit from another 10 or 15 minutes, particularly focused on developing Thor (and a bit more I’ll talk about in the next bit of the article).
So the brazen, arrogant, and immature Thor gets banished from Asgard and ends up on Earth, supposedly without his godly powers. I presume he does get taken down by a tazer and a tranquilizer, which most likely wouldn’t happen if he had his godly powers, but he still completely destroys a few hospital employees when they try to restrain him. He also tactically breaks through a SHIELD operation like a knife through butter. There’s not a point in the film where I myself felt like he wasn’t a god any more… it just felt like he didn’t have his hammer and his shiny armor. There’s the beautiful sword-in-the-stone moment (pictured right) which is really well done. I suppose there is nothing like being unable to use a weapon you’ve used all of your life up to that point. But the rest of Thor’s turning point hinges off of Loki coming down and lying to him about his father’s death and permanent banishment. I feel like the bulk of Thor’s development happens in seven minutes flat, despite the fact that there’s an awesome discussion between him and Dr. Selvig at the bar and his selfless act against the destroyer armor.
However, I find myself caught in a double standard of sorts. In films like The Incredible Hulk and Tron: Legacy, I find myself willing to do the heavy lifting when it comes to some story elements. I’m willing to fill in elements that aren’t there or are very lightly implied, but in Thor I’m much less willing to do so. I went into The Incredible Hulk loving it because Edward Norton was in it and I love Edward Norton. My build up to Tron: Legacy was so intense that I made all of my friends love it too. It’s not that I didn’t go into Thor wanting to love it because I absolutely did, and it’s not like my lack of prior knowledge of Thor was a problem because I was in practically the same position for The Incredible Hulk having only seen Ang Lee’s Hulk and the same for Tron: Legacy because I hadn’t even watched Tron until the night I was going to see Legacy. I think part of it is the fact that I find the rest of Thor so fantastic that I wish the character arc was slightly stronger. But there’s a good chance that future viewings of the film will diminish my dissatisfaction with the hasty character arc.
The Jane Foster and Thor Relationship
I find there to be little or no reason for Thor to love Jane Foster. There’s a little bit more to talk about on the flip side of that, but seriously, Thor falls in love with the first woman he meets on Earth? Well, no. It’s not as though he falls in love with her immediately, fine. His potential feelings start showing as he and Jane venture towards Mjölnir’s crash site. Their relationship also develops a bit more when he brings Dr. Selvig back to her after their stint at the bar and he gives her the notebook he retrieved from SHIELD. It wasn’t love at first sight… but love also doesn’t develop in a matter of days, does it? Especially when you’re in your head supposedly thinking about how you’re not a god anymore and you’re the reason your father is dead. I just don’t buy it.
Jane on the other hand has a bit more behind her love. Thor represents everything that she’s been working towards in the past few “somethings” (weeks? months? years?) of her life. Okay, so he’s super attractive, has an awesome accent, knows magic/science, looks good in his uniform, and selflessly “dies” for people he barely knows. She’s got a lot of reasons to love him, but she goes head over heels so quickly that I just find their relationship development fairly uncomfortable from a plot standpoint. Marvel even acknowledges the haste in their relationship, as Kevin Feige told Collider.com when talking about where Thor 2 could take us:
Really they were only together for three days, and do they love each other? Do they like each other? Do they know each other? We’re acknowledging that that love story in the first movie was sort of a quick crush, essentially, over the course of three quick days in the middle of the desert.
Well that’s good… But seriously, give me a moment between Dr. Selvig and Foster post-Bifrost destruction where he tells her “You’re not really in love with this guy, are you?” and she says “Yes! No. I don’t know. But I don’t care, he’s part of something bigger than my relationship with him.” Plant the seed for the sequel somewhere in the movie, and it will make me acknowledge the fact that you’re acknowledging the fact that it was hasty. I like the fact that they plan to explore that in the sequel, but it just feels incomplete and rushed, give me the human element to it. That would be another point to relate to. But as I said, this section of my article was more about nitpicks that I had. I’ll conclude with some even smaller things.
Some Minor Points
- Normally I love Kat Dennings, but I saw her in one of the trailers for the film and groaned. Fortunately, I was not nearly as dismayed at her performance as I thought I would be, but I think her screen time would be more useful to the topics I’ve denoted above that could use a little more time.
- I would’ve loved a lot more about lady Sif and the Warriors Three but I understand this wasn’t their movie. I hope there’s more later on.
- The “BUT ‘CHA KNOT KING!” by Odin sticks out like a sore thumb and I laugh whenever I see/hear it.
Thor‘s Ties to The Avengers
Thor‘s roadwork for The Avengers was accepted much more graciously by the film critique community than Iron Man 2‘s, but I feel as though I explained that in its respective article. Once again, Agent Coulson finds himself in New Mexico to monitor Mjölnir for SHIELD, but this time he’s accompanied by none other than Clint Barton AKA Hawkeye (pictured right). It was a cool cameo, and probably a much better choice to have him as a cameo than a supporting character a la Black Widow in Iron Man 2. We also have Loki as a solid through-line to The Avengers as a villain but I can’t speak to how he develops further in relation to his Thor arc until I see The Avengers. Loki pops up in the post-credits button (directed by Joss Whedon and most likely a scene in The Avengers) with Dr. Selvig to get possession of the Cosmic Cube, which was an interesting tie-in to the subsequent film, Captain America: The First Avenger, which would be released a few months later in July last year. Finally, we get Thor’s acceptance to be an Avenger when Coulson pulls up after Thor obliterates the destroyer armor:
Know this, son of Coul: You and I, we fight for the same cause, the protection of this world. From this day forward you can count me as your ally if you return the items you have taken from Jane.
There’s also a few little nods (in practically the same scene) to other Marvel properties after SHIELD takes away all of Jane’s research and equipment. Dr. Selvig refers to a colleague in Gamma Radiation studies:
I knew this scientist, a pioneer in gamma radiation. SHIELD showed up and, um, he wasn’t heard from again.
That, of course, refers to Dr. Banner and the Hulk, but Dr. Selvig goes on to say that he’ll email a colleague who’s had dealings with these people. This is a slight nod to Dr. Hank Pym, or Ant-Man. It would’ve been a little more obvious, but Marvel tweaked the scene for some unknown reason, maybe because the Ant-Man movie isn’t moving along quite as quickly as they’d like.
Anyway, I look forward to seeing Thor fight for Earth’s protection in The Avengers tonight!
I hope to have my Captain America: The First Avenger article up before seeing The Avengers tonight, but it will be up by tomorrow night for certain. Thanks for reading!
*Nick B. He helped with a lot of the ideas formed in this piece.