Monday, April 20, 2015

Recap: "Thor" Intro

Moving steadily along in my ongoing coverage of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we come to one of the biggest hurdles in making The Avengers happen.

Making Thor happen.

Logistically speaking, this would be even trickier than making "fetch" happen. Not only did they have to integrate a world of magic into a world of science, but they had to delve into the fantasy genre. A tall order, now that every single fantasy book/film/TV show will always end up being compared to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Plus, the last two films in the MCU weren’t too warmly received, compared to the smash hit of Iron Man.

But like Iron Man, the Thor film would be the first theatrical outing for the title character. Would this allow them to weave a tapestry of cinematic awesome, unencumbered by previous film outings? Or would they fall into the same problems as the last two films?

We’ll find out. But before we take a look at the result, let’s examine exactly what went into getting this film around in the first place.

It all begins with Odin and his brothers carving the world from the flesh of a fallen giant. Norse mythology is awesome.
Say what you will about Stan Lee, but the man was seemingly determined to change his tactics after he found a successful formula. When he got tired of contrived origins, he made the X-Men into natural mutants. When he got tired of showing radiation as causing mainly beneficial superpowers, he decided to turn Bruce Banner into a rampaging monster. And when he got tired of mortal men becoming heroes with godlike strength, he decided to write about a straight-up god.

Seen here fishing for crappies, apparently.
Of course, he ended up taking a few liberties with the source material...

Not a single fishing trip to be seen.
...which angers Norse Mythology purists to this very day. But to be fair, everyone took liberties with the source material throughout the ages. Heck, a lot of the parallels between Odin/Balder and Jehovah/Jesus were added once Christianity spread to Europe. So all the Norse mythology purists who hold a grudge against the Marvel version are basically trying to defend a continuity that’s been modified more times than the DC Universe.

You can consider the Marvel version to be the Crisis on Infinite Earths of Norse mythology.
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby took the gods of myth, wove in a secret identity, and called it good. For those of you wondering how they gave Thor a secret identity, Odin banished Thor to Earth for being vain and boastful. To learn him some humility, Odin put Thor in the body of Donald Blake, a doctor with a bad leg. With one tap of his cane, he could become Thor. But if Thor let go of his hammer for about a minute, he changed back into a human. Most importantly, Odin enchanted Thor’s hammer (Mjolnir) so that only those worthy to wield it could even lift the thing. The character enjoyed success at Marvel since his introduction in August 1962’s Journey Into Mystery issue 83, thanks to Stan Lee’s typewriter and Jack Kirby’s ink.

Much like Iron Man, the character never really reached Spider-Man or Wolverine levels of popularity, but was still a much-beloved addition to the Avengers for years and years.

Of course, he had a few die-hard fans....
Anyway, back in the 90’s… wait, who was that guy she mistook for Thor, again?

Ah. The Kingpin.
Now there's something just asking for fanfiction.

Anyway, Thor was one of the many Marvel heroes they tried to make a movie about back in the 90’s. The man attached to the product was none other than Sam "Evil Dead" Raimi. He sat down to pitch his idea to Stan Lee and Marvel, but they didn’t really understand his vision. The film was abandoned in favor of focusing on other projects until 2000’s X-Men inspired Marvel to try and go full steam ahead with their other properties, a fervor which also gave us Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man.

The original plan was to make a straight-for-TV movie on UPN starring Tyler Mane. And count your blessings that didn’t happen, because the world had already seen what would happen if you put Thor in a made-for-TV movie.
Yeah, one of these ended up turning out better than the other.
After the project took a jaunt through Paramount Studios with David S. Goyer connected in 2004, the film rights ended up with Paramount. In 2006, Mark Protosevich agreed to write the script, which ended up being rewritten by Matthew Vaughn to bring down the budget. Vaughn was originally going to direct as well before being replaced with Guillermo del Toro, who was a fan of Jack Kirby’s work on the comic and envisioned a really dingy, dirty Valhalla. Del Toro (the first director choice when the project became part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe) ultimately left the project to direct The Hobbit, which he ultimately left, as well. The Hobbit, At the Mountains of Madness, Thor…. Guillermo del Toro has a really impressive resume of films he ended up leaving.

But then the torch was passed to somebody a bit unexpected. Kenneth Branagh.

Seen here in his natural habitat.
Or for you hoi polloi….

Seen here having loads of fun.
Or for you truly uncultured heathens….

Seen here waiting for his paycheck.
Ultimately, it makes sense. Branagh is not only a good director, but a classically-trained Shakespearean actor. And that familiarity with classic tales of love, revenge, war, and fantasy couldn’t possibly go amiss when added to the fantastical world of Thor.

The casting was actually rather straightforward, when compared to some of the other things I’ve gone over. Originally, back when Dr. Donald Blake was in the script, the actual Thor persona wouldn’t do much more than come out and fight, so wrestlers were considered for the role. But by the time the script was handed to Branagh, Dr. Blake was removed and the actor playing Thor would actually need to be able to act. One of the many actors who jumped at the call was Tom Hiddleston, a natural blonde, who gained some muscle and tried out for the part of Thor.

That just looks wrong. In several ways.
But Tom Hiddleston would end up in the role of Loki, to the squeals delight of excited women. And quite a few guys, too.

Chris Hemsworth was turned down for the title role initially, but a bit of persistence landed him the right to wear the armor instead of the other favorites, Channing Tatum and Daniel Craig. And by the time he bulked up for the role, his armored costume was actually too tight for him, which occasionally cut off the circulation to his arms. The rest of the roles were eventually filled out with little incident, save for a bit of anger from die-hard fans that Brian Blessed wasn’t cast as Odin. And a lot of anger at the casting of a certain gatekeeper that I’ll be going over in good time.

Within the production itself, the only Terrence Howard-ian bit of drama was the departure of Stuart Townsend as Fandral, citing “creative differences,” which is Hollywood code for “either somebody hated him, or he hated them.”

Of course, it’s important to bring up the big elephant in the room. The one that had some naysayers naysaying. Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2. These were all science fiction. Thor’s a freaking god. The filmmakers took note of this problem from the very beginning of production and had the Science and Entertainment Exchange provide them with Sean Carroll, Kevin Hand, Jim Hartle), and physics student Kevin Hickerson.

This team of science guys basically took all the Thor concepts, like the Nine Realms, Bifrost, and the gods themselves and altered them to make them fit into the more scientifically-grounded Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’ll explain further when we reach that point in the Recap.

But like Iron Man 2 before it, Thor had an important job. Iron Man 2 had to get the audience used to the idea of having all these movies in the same universe. It succeeded, but at the expense of the story Jon Favreau wanted to tell.

Thor would have to pick up on plot threads, start new ones, tell a good, self-contained story, and introduce us to new characters without having them be obviously added into the story later.

Don’t give me that look.

"Bite me."
Whatever. I’m just glad Ant-Man decided to not show up and whine for this Intro.

So without further ado, it’s time to see if Thor’s first outing would bring the thunder or hammer the last nail into the MCU’s coffin.

Coming up in Part 1: Myths, mead, and a journey into mystery.

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