When I was but a wee Bunche of about four years old, my first introduction to the Marvel Universe was daily airings of the 1966 THE MARVEL SUPERHEROES cartoon show, a (mostly) faithful assortment of adaptations of the adventures of Captain America, the Hulk, Iron Man, the Sub-Mariner, and the mighty Thor. To call that show's animation "limited" would be a gross understatement, but it was colorful, it looked just like the panels of a comic book (which only made sense because the images were static art straight from the comics, with minor details like a character's speaking mouth or pointing hand being crudely granted motion by the so-called animators), and it fired my developing imagination. I enjoyed the show as a whole, but my favorite segments were those telling stories about Prince Namor, aka the Sub-Mariner — a regal and nearly-naked Mr. Spock lookalike who ruled Atlantis and displayed an incredible arrogance — or Thor, the Viking god of thunder who fought far-flung mythology and sci-fi-based villainy in the modern day. The characters of Namor and Thor were not dissimilar, what with both of them being haughty princes of fantastic realms who spoke in stilted, faux-Shakespearian dialogue while handing out severe ass-whuppings, and I have loved both of these heroes since first encountering them in 1969. I would have loved to have seen the Sub-Mariner make the leap to the Hollywood screen first, but Namor never achieved the level of exposure or popularity held by his Norse stablemate, so Thor's transition was inevitable once the wave of Marvel Comics-derived movies began to rake in vast amounts of cash at the box office.
Having eagerly anticipated an adventure of Marvel's original answer to Superman (a role usurped in recent years by the unspeakably boring Sentry), I was the built-in audience for a Thor movie from the get-go, and last night I finally got my wish and checked out Thor's big screen debut at Manhattan's venerable Ziegfeld movie palace, accompanied by my usual pack of friends — most of whom are tasty chicks — who aren't comics fans, but who always go to the big superhero films on opening night. Part of the fun of these expeditions is that we hit a nearby bar for post-movie eats, alcoholic libations and erudite discussion of the film's merits and the relative hunkiness of the super-powered protagonist (there was much lusty commentary after IRON MAN), with Yours Truly acting to field questions about how faithful the movie was in relation to its source comics. At times, being the go-to geek is the thing to be, boy...
So we all went to see THOR, and here's the skinny:
The film updates and rewrites the origin of Marvel's version of the Norse god of thunder and opens with the blonde super-hunk's unconscious form crash-landing in a remote desert expanse in New Mexico, where he's found by astro-physicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), her Swedish colleague and mentor (Stellan Skarsgard) and an annoying student (Kat Dennings). Upon asking aloud how he got there, the scene flashes back to Asgard, the other-dimensional realm of the ancient Norse gods, and the coronation day of Thor (Chris Hemsworth). His aging father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), intends to pass his rule on to his firstborn son while Thor's frail and dark-aired brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), remains on the sidelines. Just before the ceremony can be completed, the security of Asgard is breached by a trio of Jotuns — aka Storm Giants — who seek to steal an ancient and powerful artifact. When that plan is thwarted, Thor proposes to move against the Jotuns and disobeys his father's direct order to just leave that shit alone. From that act of rebellion, aided by Thor's old pals, the Warriors Three and the warrior-goddess Sif, spirals the threat of all-out war, so Odin strips his favored son of his powers and enchanted war-hammer , Mjolnir, and banishes him to the Earth. It is on Earth that Thor, the toughest of all Asgardian warriors, must learn humility and at least a modicum of wisdom, while his absence leaves the gate open for intrigue back on Asgard that starts closer to home than any of the immortals suspect...
That's all I'll say in regard to the plot, but I totally dug the flick and proclaim it my favorite of the Marvel films released thus far. It was not overlong (it's just shy of two hours), moved at brisk pace, and did not suffer from a weak final act (unlike IRON MAN), so apparently lessons have been learned from the previous Marvel film adaptations. The only thing I did not like about the film was the unnecessary character played by Kat Dennings, the aforementioned annoying student, but even she did not get to Jar-Jar-level annoying because her screen time was wisely limited. As for the highlights, here's what stoked me about this flick (I advise Googling any names in the following list that you are unfamiliar with; explaining stuff here would take up to much space and time):
- Chris Hemsworth, perfectly cast as Thor.
- The fact that there are Asian and black Asgardians is actually not a big or incongruous deal, thanks to it being made clear that the Asgardians are aliens. The point being that though they were worshipped by the ancient Norse, who interpreted their spectacular powers and abilities as magic, Thor and his people are not themselves ethnically Norse, so the diversity simply is.
- Thor explaining that where he comes from, magic and science are one and the same, a point bolstered by Jane invoking Arthur C. Clarke's adage about there being no discernible difference between magic and a sufficiently high level of technology.
- The reactions of my female friends and gay pals when they witnessed Thor shirtless.
- Getting to see the Warriors Three in live-action. (Although Volstagg is waaaaaay too thin.)
- Thor's power and sheer badassery translating perfectly to the screen.
- The palpable chemistry between Thor and Jane.
- Academic Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) coming face-to-face with the living gods that he'd heard about in stories told to him as a child.
- What may be the first screen appearance of Odin's completely awesome war horse, Sleipnir. I nearly shat myself when I saw him in all of his eight-legged mythological glory.
- Asgard itself being exactly the right fusion of the ancient and the science-fictional.
- Bifrost, the rainbow bridge that allows the Asgardians access to the various realms of existence, re-imagined as a believable technological construct.
- The all-too-brief appearance of Clint Barton.
- Tom Hiddleston's letter-perfect portrayal of Loki.
- A blink-and-you-missed-it cameo by Walt Simonson, the guy whose '80's run on the Thor comics is second in classic status only to the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby era.
- The Easter egg during the end credits that sets up a major element in the upcoming CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER.