Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Recap: "Thor" Part 1: Sharper Than the Serpent's Tooth

Were I a more learned guy, I would write a little something here parodying the Prose Edda, or the Voluspa, or some other ancient text you've never heard of. But take a look at this malarkey.

Hearing I ask
From the holy races
From Heimdallr's sons
both high and low;
Thou wilt, Valfather
that well I relate
Old tales I remember
of men long ago.

Near as I can tell, it's a fancy way of saying "Hey, lemme tell you a story."

You know what? Good enough. Lemme tell you a story....

Sorry, people. Shakespeare? No problem. Chaucer? No sweat. Norse poetry? Slightly out of my comfort zone.
The film begins as one of those storm chaser-type vans slowly drives down a stretch of road near Puente Antiguo, New Mexico. A bit of trivia, “Puente Antiguo” means “Old Bridge.” New Mexico is known as the “Land of Enchantment.” The opening of this movie literally shows us a bridge to enchantment. Well, nearly literally. There’s not actually a bridge, mainly because New Mexico is not usually remembered for its numerous rivers.

Inside the van are some as-of-yet unnamed, unknown individuals. Who are they? What are they doing? All in good time. One of them, a woman who bears a striking resemblance to Natalie Portman, is watching some kind of sciencey stuff on a screen. If I had to guess, it looks like she’s monitoring the magnetic field around the Earth.

They find a spot in the desert to park and get on the roof of the vehicle to set up their science gear. There’s three of them in total. A man and two women, which means that once they start talking, we're going to pass the Bechdel Test right off the bat.

They set up some more sciencey stuff, and some numbers flash, and it’s all very technical. They wait and wait for something to happen…. And it doesn’t. After Darcy (Kat Dennings) flippantly suggests listening to the radio, the man, Dr. Erik Selvig (Alexander Skarsgård), tries to gently tell “Jane” (Natalie Portman) that it’s not happening. But she refuses to listen. Apparently, whatever they’re trying to detect has occurred at least seventeen times before in the area with a timing that can be predicted down to the second. Like Old Faithful, or people who use Metamucil.

Jane indulges in a little “As you know” dialogue, telling them that the latest atmospheric disturbances have clear links to her research. Whatever that is. As Jane insists that there should be an atmospheric disturbance happening as they speak, Darcy spots some kind of disturbance in the atmosphere behind them. I wonder if there could be some kind of connection? They take a look out the window and see some kind of wibbly-wobbly, swirly-whirly funnel cloud forming in the clouds as the sky lights up like a divine message from the Almighty Creator.

They drive right for it as Jane whips out a camcorder to take infrared readings. The heat is localized to the middle of the funnel cloud, but it’s very clear that something gets shout out from the sky into the ground. Suddenly, right at the edge of the funnel, Darcy decides that driving straight into a tornado might not be the best idea.

Darcy: “I am not dying! For six college credits!”

What college do you go to that you get to be a storm chaser for credit? Where I went to school, you did things like take Economics, Backpacking, or participating in Theatre productions to get that general education requirement. Clearly, I should have gone to college in the Land of Enchantment.

As expected, the proximity to the funnel means that the quick swerves cause their vehicle to start skidding out of control, despite Jane grabbing the steering wheel to “assist.” Unexpectedly, they hit a guy who was apparently walking around in the middle of the tornado. And just like that, the storm ends. The team exits the van to look around for the dude and Darcy gets her priorities in order.

Darcy: “I think it was legally your fault.”

They quickly find the body, what with it being the only other thing in the area, and he seems to be okay, considering the circumstances.

Jane: “Where did he come from?”

Where did he go? Where did he come from, Cotton-Eyed Joe?

"Beats me."
We then cut to Tønsberg, Norway, back in the olden days of 965 A.D. That’s not me extrapolating from the location, or anything, there’s a helpful caption on screen. What, you just assume that I know things about the landscape of 10th Century Norway? Because if you did… well, you’d be right. In real life, Tønsberg is in a flat area. Here, it's near some Slartibartfastian fjords. The town is mainly included as a Norse mythology in-joke, seeing as how the town was first mentioned in writing by Snorri Sturluson, writer of the Prose Edda,one of the main sources of information on Norse mythology.
There. Information about 10th Century Norway that you’ll never use again. Can we move on to what the voice over’s saying?

Odin: “Once… mankind accepted a single truth.”

Every odd-numbered Star Trek movie is terrible.

Odin: “That they were not alone in this universe.”

Well, you know what they say about stopped clocks.
The voice goes on to elaborate that humans believed that the universe was full of many different worlds. Some contained gods. Others, monsters. Speaking of monsters, Frost Giants from a faraway realm suddenly appear to wreak havoc upon the poor Norsemen, blanketing the area in ice, freezing the men, women and children solid. I know exactly which movie you’re thinking of. I think we can wait a bit before we indulge ourselves in Disney memes.

Luckily for the Norse villagers, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) arrives in a beam of rainbow light with a legion of what appears to be the elves from the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring. In a brutal, yet short battle, the Frost Giants are soon forced back across the cosmos to the frozen world of Jötunheim from whence they came. Odin lost an eye in the brutal battle, but in the end, he managed to claim their greatest treasure from them; a weapon with the power to freeze anything in its tracks. Without this, the Frost Giants surrendered and peace has reigned ever since. Peace born of forced demilitarization, which as we all know never results in nationalists wanting revenge. Anyway, Odin takes the weapon (the Casket of Ancient Winters) back to Asgard.

As was the case with many Marvel comics of the time, the Thor comics were drawn by legendary artist Jack Kirby, who often incorporated psychedelic architecture, sweeping arcs, and geometric shapes into what he drew. Our first glimpse of Asgard showcases a blending of this unique style with modern expectations of a City of the Gods and a smattering of the Emerald City of Oz. The result….

No words… Should have sent Jodie Foster….

As Odin finishes up his story, it seems that he is telling this tale to his young sons, Thor and Loki. He’s also showing off the Casket itself to them. While this scene is all regal and whatnot, it’s a bit weird if you actually think about what’s happening.

"And that's the story of how Daddy nearly wiped out a sentient race and took what was originally theirs. Now, who wants to see Daddy execute a traitor?"
"Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day" on Asgard is weird.

But there’s a purpose to what Odin’s doing. As he tells his sons, one of them will eventually become the rightful king. And as king, they will need to carry out the same duty as the protector of not only Asgard, but all the nine realms. Loki’s a bit worried at hearing this, because Frost Giants scare the crap out of him. But little Thor (who just can't wait to be king) just wants to bash their brains in until no more are left. Congratulations, Odin. Your son is contemplating systemic genocide.

Odin: “A wise king never seeks out war. But… he must always be ready for it.”

"Being brave doesn't mean you go looking for trouble."
Loki and Thor smile at each other and run through the weapons vault after their dad, passing a suspicious hammer on a pedestal along the way. They tell Odin that they just can’t wait to be king, each hoping that the All-Father will choose them.

Odin: “Only one of you can ascend to the throne, but both of you were born to be kings.”

And we cut to a little over a thousand years later, where Thor has turned the Asgardian equivalent of 21. He holds his war hammer up proud to the masses assembled in Odin’s throne room. For you see, this is the day Thor becomes the king of Asgard. Thor is now played by Chris Hemsworth, and we can see that the years have not done much in the way of maturity for our God of Thunder. He plays to the crowd, doing little tricks with his hammer and soaking up their adoration, much to the mild dismay of Lady Sif (Jamie Alexander) and Thor’s mother, Frigga (Rene Russo). What's that? Thor's mother in the myths was the giantess Jord? That's only because Snorri Sturluson got some details wrong.

As Thor kneels before Odin, he can’t help but throw little smirks to his nearby friends, the Warriors Three. (Volstagg, played by Ray Stevenson, Hogun, played by Tadanobu Asano, and Fandral, played by Joshua Dallas). Clearly, Thor has a bit of an ego. And if Iron Man taught us anything, we know that this means he’s going to get knocked down a peg or two. Odin stamps his spear, Gungnir, on the ground once, beginning the ceremony. And stopping the music, too. That’s right; Odin’s so powerful, he has control over non-diagetic music.

Odin begins his speech about how his son Thor has made him all proud and junk. Naturally, we cut to Loki as Odin says some of this. Loki is played by Tom Hiddleston now, but he hasn’t changed much. While Thor has bulked up and grown a rugged beard, Loki is still wiry and clean shaven. And his face wears the same look as Leonardo DiCaprio clapping at the Oscars other people have won.

Odin’s speech suddenly takes a left turn as he begins talking about just how freakin’ awesome Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, is. The thing is the most powerful blunt instrument in the universe, forged in a dying star. Speaking of awesome weapons, as Odin begins yammering on about “kingly” this and “defender of the realm” that, we pan down beneath Odin’s throne room to the vault of weapons, where Odin likes to store items from all of Marvel Comics history.

Tablet of Life and Time, Orb of Agamotto, Eternal Flame, Infinity Gauntlet. Expect to see that last one again....
As Thor begins taking the oath, Frost Giants invade the vault to reclaim what is rightfully theirs. Odin senses this, and mentally activates the metal guardian of the vault: the Destroyer. It soon renders the icy invaders to ashes, and the ceremony is halted as Odin and his sons go to check the vault. Everything is in order, save for the guards who lost their lives. Thor demands righteous vengeance, but Odin tells him that vengeance has been attained. The Jötunns killed the guards, so they got killed by the Destroyer. An eye for an eye.

No offense, Odin.
As Loki merely stands back and watches, Thor demands to know why this attempted theft isn’t being followed up on with a full-scale war. Odin responds that he and Laufey, king of Jötunheim, have a truce between their kingdoms. That’s really nice and all, Odin, but you’ve signed a nonaggression pact that the other half isn’t honoring. That changes it from being a truce into an agreement that the Jötunns can do whatever they want and you won’t respond. I thought you were supposed to be the All-Father of Asgard, not Neville Chamberlain.

Thor agrees with me wholeheartedly and demands that, as king of Asgard, he would lead an invasion force straight into Jötunheim to kick the Frost Giants’ icy butts. But Odin simply reminds him that the ceremony was not completed. Thor is not king. Not yet. Thor takes this news well.

Relatively well.
Loki enters to comfort his brother, followed by the Warriors Three and Sif. As the rather rotund Volstagg mourns  the waste of perfectly good food, Loki tells his brother that he understands his pain. In fact, Loki agrees with Thor. They should take the fight straight to those ugly, blue monsters once and for all. And by telling Thor that there’s nothing they can do without defying the wishes of the king of Asgard, the seed of an idea is planted. If they must disobey the wishes of their king and father… then so be it.

Loki: “Thor, it’s madness.”

Madness though it may be, his buddies are with him on this one.

Thor: “We’re going to Jötunheim.”

Now, people who know all about Loki’s eventual role in the MCU might assume that he’s being a mischievous little trickster to convince Thor to invade Jötunheim. I don’t think so. I think that more likely, he’s just trying to have Thor express his growing displeasure at the way Odin is running things in front of the Warriors Three. With them as witness, he can bring Odin evidence that Thor simply isn’t wise enough to be king. The reason that Loki doesn’t actually want Thor to go on this suicide mission is twofold.

First, he truly does love his brother, despite being jealous of him. And second, he never lost his childhood fear of Frost Giants. Loki’s sudden outburst of “It’s madness” is genuine. He didn’t think his brother was that stupid.

Fandral agrees and tells Thor that he’s a moron, pointing out that while the primitives on Earth are wowed by a little lightning, Frost Giants are huge and can freeze you with a touch. But despite the others telling him how colossally dumb the idea is, Thor manages to use that charisma of his to start to fill them with some death-and-glory bloodlust. Loki responds in the appropriate way.

"I'm surrounded by idiots."
Thor waxes on about their past exploits in battle, fine dining, and feminism. No, really.

Thor: “And who proved wrong all who scoffed at the idea that a young maiden could be one of the fiercest warriors this realm has ever known?”
Sif: “I did.”
Thor: “True; but I supported you, Sif.”

Huh. The film strongly implies that the Vikings modeled their civilization after the Asgardians, but Asgard seems to be much more sexist that the actual Vikings, who were largely a-ok with women picking up weapons. Yeah. Looking at you too, Brave. I mean, have we all forgotten about one of the most iconic representations of Norse mythology? Valkyries? The warrior-women who took honorable warriors to Valhalla?

Anyway, Thor and company soon head off on horse across the stunningly beautiful backdrop of the Bifrost until they come to Heimdall’s observatory as well as the elephant in the room. Heimdall is played by Idris Elba. Idris Elba is black. I’ve already touched on this before, but it deserves to be addressed again.  There were MANY complaints that Idris Elba was cast as a Norse God. In fact, according to the myths, he’s described as the “whitest” of all the Gods. And there were many different groups of people making different arguments, with differing degrees of validity.

Norse Mythology Fans: “The Norse Gods should logically be represented as the same ethnicity as the Norse.”

A valid point.

Comic Fans: “Heimdall is white in the comics.”

A valid point.

Racists: “The Norse Gods, being a representation of white perfection….”

I’m cutting that argument off right there and proceeding to address the points that are actually valid.

This movie addresses Norse mythology as an approximation of the truth. They’re not Gods, they’re extradimensional beings. Heimdall is black because Asgardians can have as many races as humans do. And as for comic purists, Idris Elba was cast by Kenneth Branaugh based on the strong performance he gave, not his resemblance to the character, saying "If you have a chance to have a great actor in the part, everything else is irrelevant."

And with his first appearance here, Idris Elba shows with every word just why he was cast. The man has presence. He is the only man standing between Asgard and the rest of forever. And when you see Idris Elba in the role, you believe he’s more than capable of handling it.

Loki: “Good Heimdall…”
Heimdall: “You’re not dressed warmly enough.”

There’s nothing Heimdall doesn’t see. Which makes me wonder if maybe he saw Odin bringing a little something else back from Jötunheim all those years ago….

"The cold doesn't bother me, anyway...."
Heimdall wonders how the Giants could have snuck into Asgard without him seeing for the first time, and he allows them passage to Jötunheim. He inserts his sword into the pedestal, and all sorts of beautifully ornate clockwork machinery kicks into high gear as the observatory beams a ray of light into the heavens. This movie is beautiful. The only reason I'm not showing more pictures is because you wouldn't be able to stop me from posting a million of them.

But, dang, would it be worth it.
He tells them that not only is he sworn to not let them back in if their return would let Jötunns in as well, but he can’t just leave the portal open for them, as that would overload the Bifrost and destroy whatever was on the other end. Like all of Jötunheim. They beam through space (again, beautiful) until they soon arrive at the frozen wastes, where they make their way through the ruins to the king of all Frost Giants, Laufey (Colm Feore). He may be considerably smaller than the giants around him, but he still has the bearing and controlled rage of a king of this frozen Hel.

There ya go.
Thor: “How did your people get into Asgard?”
Laufey dismisses Thor’s bravado, saying that Asgard is full of traitors as Frost Giants congregate around the Asgardians, forming weapons of ice around their hands. Loki gets in his brother’s ear to tell him that enough is enough, they’ve illegally interrogated the leader of a sovereign nation, and it’s time to GTFO while Laufey still lets them. After an extended bout of glaring, Thor turns around and begins to head for home.

Frost Giant Sentry: “Run back home, little princess.”

I like to think that this guy’s referring not to Thor’s beautiful golden locks, but instead to that time in the myths that Thor had to dress up as a woman to reclaim his hammer from the Frost Giants.

I would have loved to see that in live-action.
Either way, every Asgardian but Thor breathes a heavy sigh of disappointment. They know what’s coming next.

Loki: “Damn.”

A massive fight breaks out. All the warriors show their mettle, including Thor, who shows us exactly what Mjolnir can do, including stopping in midair and returning to his hand after being thrown. Loki even shows his own preferred tactics of tricking Frost Giants with illusions instead of full on force. But Frost Giant after Frost Giant arrives to attack them, slowly leaving them outnumbered. Volstagg takes a hit when a Frost Giant grabs his arm, leaving instant frostbite. Loki is the next to be touched by a Frost Giant. But interestingly enough, his arm doesn’t get damaged, it just momentarily turns blue. Interesting….

The fight continues to go poorly for the Asgardians as all but Thor retreat. Only Laufey summoning a gigantic behemoth manages to convince Thor that perhaps he should consider a hasty escape. True to his word, Heimdall does not open the portal to beam them back immediately. Instead, he waits for Thor to kill the gigantic ice beast before sending in Odin himself, riding the eight-legged horse Sleipnir. Which, if you check the mythology, Loki gave birth to.

Tom Hiddleston's favorite Loki myth? Giving birth to a horse. True story.
Thor is overjoyed at the prospect of killing Frost Giants side by side with his dad, but Odin quickly hushes him and instead tells Laufey that this was not an invasion, but “the actions of a boy.” Laufey still wants war after all that’s just happened, so Odin knocks Laufey away and peaces out back to Asgard with the others in tow, leaving Laufey to stew. After they return, Thor and Odin decide to hash out all their problems with each other.

Odin: “You are a vain! Greedy! Cruel boy!”
Thor: “And you are and old man and a fool!”
Odin: “Yes. I was a fool. To think you were ready.”
Loki: “Father…”
Odin: "HRROWRR!"

That growl was an ad-lib on Hopkins’s part. And you know what? Tom Hiddleston’s immediate reaction to stand up straight and shut up wasn’t acting either. When Anthony Hopkins growls at you, you do as the man wants. Odin, as king and All-Father, has no choice but to punish Thor for his crimes against Asgard. He strips away the metal circles from Thor’s armor (inspired by the stripping of medals in The Life of Emile Zola, removes Thor’s cape, and summons Thor’s hammer to his own side. Odin uses his powers to strip Thor of his armor bit by bit, remove his great strength, and finally places an enchantment upon Mjolnir before casting Thor out through the Bifrost.

Odin: “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.”

He tosses the hammer into the portal after his son, and we soon see where Thor ends up. That’s right, we’re back where we were at the beginning of the movie, with Thor revealed to be the guy Jane and the others hit with their van. He staggers to his feet, demanding his hammer.

Darcy: “Yeah, we can tell you’re hammered.”

Jane takes note of the odd pattern of dirt left by the funnel cloud, and begins documenting it as Thor keeps staggering around, yelling for Heimdall.

Thor: “What realm is this? Alfheim? Nornheim!?”
Darcy: “New Mexico?”

As he approaches Darcy, she aims her taser at him.

Thor: “You dare threaten me, Thor, with so puny a weapon?”

When the taser darts hit him, he drops like a bag of hammers.

Darcy: “What? He was freakin’ me out!”

They load the unconscious Thunder God into the van and take him back with them as something else falls out of the sky, landing in the desert. They proceed to take him to the nearest hospital, but they have a bit of difficulty.

Nurse: “Name?”
Jane: “He said it was… Thor?”
Nurse: “T, h, o… r. And your relationship with him?”
Jane: “I’ve never met him before.”
Darcy: “Until she hit ‘im with a car.”
Jane: “I grazed him. But she tasered him.”
Darcy: “Yes, I did.”

As this goes on, a doctor appears in Thor’s room to do usual doctory things.

Doctor: "We'll just take a little blood."
Thor: "How dare you attack the son of Odin!"

This leads to a few injured doctors until they manage to stick him with some, say it with me, thorazine.

People magazine's 2014 Sexiest Man Alive. But after the 1992 winner, you should take that with a grain of salt....
Coming up in Part 2! Probably a buttload of Disney references, to be honest.

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