Mon
May 9 2011 2:14pm

Superheroes Wear Jeans & Don’t Leave Others Powerless : The Surprising Restraint of Thor

Ryan Britt: Watching a summer blockbuster, much less a superhero film, usually makes me brace for the inevitable formula inherent in these kinds of movies. The action will be kinetic and a little too fast and confusing. Both the heroes and villains will be extremely adept at violence in ways that are at once familiar but somehow more over-the-top and “badass” than previous films of the same ilk.

Fans often defend “bad” action movies by saying things like it’s “just a popcorn movie!” or “what did you expect?” So the question becomes, how do you make a movie that satisfies fangirls and fanboys who love action and special effects while at the same time reeling in people like me who get a headache from gratuitous action? The answer: you do what Thor did. You hold back.

Total spoilers for the movie below.

To be sure, there is plenty of action in Thor, in fact the start of the film is loaded with it. Thor himself kills a beast/creature/thing by literally propelling his body through the monster and exploding himself out of its back. Pretty gross and fairly violent, this lets us know Thor doesn’t screw around. In a contemporary sense, having a superhero who just smacks the crap about of things with a hammer feels a little psychotic. Nothing civilized and elegant about pounding to get your way.

But here’s where Branagh, Straczynski, Ashley Miller and everyone else involved with the story got it right. They take away Thor’s hammer and his powers, and then the real story gets going. In keeping with established continuity, Thor’s father Odin casts him out of Asgard because he’s too much of a jerk and needs to learn to grow up. This means Thor doesn’t have the power of Thor and despite being in good shape and sort of a stud, he’s basically mortal. Meaning, when he gets hit with Natalie Portman’s trailer, he actually falls down and passes out.

Superman II played with this, as well, having Clark lose his powers midway through the movie. If someone is invincible and all-powerful, not only are we unconcerned with what happens to them, we also have a hard time getting to know them. When Clark Kent gets his ass kicked in the diner in Superman II only to then see General Zod is taking over the planet, the audience gets really worried. Thor doesn’t present as big of an Earth-threatening plot device, but with Thor himself similarly incapacitated, we get to know him a little better as a guy, rather than as a god.

The ultimate fake-out in this movie comes about midway through when Thor goes to retrieve his hammer from the spot it’s landed. SHIELD has a whole compound set up around it now, trying to figure out why no one can pull a King Arthur on this thing. Thor cockily tells Natalie Portman that’s he’s going to waltz in there and then fly his way out. He does just that but then, when he gets to the hammer, the money shot of money shots, he can’t pull it up. The hammer won’t respond. And then Thor gets arrested. It was at this point that I really began to take heed; the tension was ratcheted up and I was even more excited to see him become Thor.

Chris Hemsworth is also pretty great in another surprising way; he plays the whole thing extremely straightforward. You totally buy that Portman and her buddy are swooning over this guy, and it’s not because he’s hot or faux-funny. Wisecracks in movies (not just superhero movies) have basically become the death of good dialogue in film. When everyone talks like Juno, it’s hard to keep the movie grounded in any kind of reliability. But conversely, if everyone is too dark and down in the dumps all the time, that too becomes one note. Personally, my main problem with Christian Bale’s Batman is his complete lack of humanity.

Hemsworth’s Thor isn’t funny, and he isn’t dark, either. He’s genuine and charming. You get the sense that he really does feel guilty about putting his friends in danger and opening up his home, the realm of Asgard, to external danger. Even at the end, he clearly feels terrible about causing Loki to plunge to his doom. Thor is basically a nice guy, but he’s not self aware about it, and doesn’t make a big deal about it. His cockiness isn’t over-played, nor is his self-doubt. Everything seems well balanced. In short, he seems like a real person. Which is a pretty ridiculous assertion considering he does end up wielding a hammer and flying around in a silly silver suit.

But I think this succeeds because the filmmakers decided to keep him in jeans and a t-shirt for a good portion of the movie. Because if Thor wears jeans and a t-shirt, then maybe any one of us could be as nice of a guy as Thor. Maybe we can be superheroes too.

 

Emily Asher-Perrin: Should I start by saying that I was excited for this film to come out? Perhaps I should, though I should also point out that I had been informed by many that it “looked terrible” and I should lower my expectations. I did. As it turned out, I really didn’t need to at all.

But I know what you’re really wondering about this movie, after seeing all those previews full of shouting and slow-motion cries of sorrow: can family drama, interpersonal relationships and old-fashioned romance drive a big-budget superhero flick?

The answer is yes—in case you were in suspense about that.

The advantage with Thor is different from other superhero yarns in that the plot of the original comic book series is pretty basic and not over-laden with aggravating period constraints and continuity problems that need extra attention. It has at its heart an undiluted, timeless plot that makes for great storytelling:

It’s about a boy who gets exiled from home by his father so he can learn what he needs to become a good man.

And that’s it. That’s all you really need.

Everyone has their thresholds for believability and, more importantly, every audience member has moments when they want to be able to relate to a character and moments when they don’t care. In the case of Tony Stark, none of us may know what it’s like to be an uber-genius who can have anything we want just by asking our gorgeous red-headed assistant/girlfriend. Then again, we don’t really need to relate to Iron Man; we just need to love him for the jerk that he is.

However, in the case of Thor, our hero is an impossibly gorgeous, impossibly strong, impossibly courageous near-god who receives awesome super powers by wielding a giant mallet.

Maybe it’s time to inject a little humanity into the scenario.

And humanity is what Thor has in spades. Odin’s disappointment in his son and the painful choice to banish him, Loki’s jealousy and need to be seen as his brother’s equal, Thor’s friends coming to his aid when he needs them most, and his own romance with Jane Foster (portrayed by an awkwardly adorable Natalie Portman). Every hero needs his achilles; Thor’s happens to be a cute lady. And not in that stock superhero “the people I love are always in danger” kind of way. His love for her is naive but honest, epic yet somehow beautifully commonplace.

Their relationship, though it may come rushing in on the plot awfully quick, happens to be one of the strongest points of the story for a very interesting reason; Jane is not left powerless by the end. Though Thor gets cut off from her, he never demands that she stay in her place like a good little woman and wait for him. So she starts searching the heavens because her love for him and her love for the mad work that she does are now irrevocably connected—almost as if it fate had already predetermined the whole thing. It results in a deeply satisfying ending that most superhero films are not lucky enough to have.

Combine that with the chilling sneak peak scene at the end and The Avengers can’t come soon enough. This movie has upped the stakes in a big way for the arc Marvel has going—I’ll be biting my nails off to the quick until I get to see Thor in the same room as Nick Fury, Iron Man and the Hulk.


Ryan Britt is a staff writer for Tor.com and felt like he was the only person in the theatre who recognized the J. Michael Straczynski cameo.

Emily Asher-Perrin would like to point out that the best poem of the Elder Edda is when Loki convinces Thor to crossdress.

23 comments
mirana
1. mirana
I really enjoyed this film a lot. However, I felt Thor's change from "cocky war-monger" to "sympathetic peace lover" was rushed and unbelieveable. All it takes is for him to lose the hammer and get a "this is the end" speech from Loki and he's changed? Ehhh. The way Thor presented himself in the beginning made it more plausible for HIM to go crazy with obession, not Loki!

The romance was also forced for me. If Jane had been gushing about Thor's bod/charm from the beginning like her friend, I could believe in some puppy love. But Jane pointedly ignores him shirtless and is obessed with her data. Up until the point he kisses her hand. Then it's like flipping a switch. Suddenly she notices he's hot. Super crazy, but hot. And lets be real here. Him being hot is the ONLY reason she'd have an interest in him. The guy is NUTS and a bit dangerous.

And why is Thor interested in Jane? It feels like he's just using his usual charm on her, with no attachment until towards the end. And though Ms. Portman is definitely hot, Thor comes from a world of hot godesses. That should be less than impressive to him. In this case, any interest he has in her feels like "Aw, isn't it cute this little mortal trying to figure out this stuff that's too advanced for her..." Or as a friend of mine said, "Like having an Earth souvenir." She doesn't really do anything amazing I can see to "change" Thor as Loki suggests.

Having that and the short time they're together, as a basis for True Love? Not believable. Although kudos to the writers for having Thor's warrior gal tell his mom that he "misses" Jane, not that he "morns the loss of his brother and THE LOVE OF HIS LIFE" or some other nonesense.
Chris Palmer
2. cmpalmer
I enjoyed the Jack Kirby'esque portrayal of Asgard. The FX weren't perfect, but they fit perfectly in my opinion. Those scenes kept reminding me of something (and it wasn't necessarily the Thor comic, which I only read sporatically). After the movie (which I loved), I realized what it was they reminded me: Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light. Now I have a new "movie that I most wish would be made" - Lord of Light, directed by Kenneth Branaugh, adapted by J. Michael Straczynski, and using Jack Kirby's pre-production art for the 70's movie that never got made.

I agree that the balance between the glossy godlands of Asgard and the mostly realistic characters and events on Earth was handled quite well - so much so that the most jarring scene in the film, to me, was when Lady Sif and The Warriors Three appeared walking down the street. The anticipation for Thor finally wielding the hammer and appearing on Earth in costume was built up nicely and when the hammer flew into his hand and the lightning bolts began striking, there was giddy laughter in the theater - almost applause.

Also, I loved the way he ordered a coffee refill. I need to try that next time I'm at the Waffle House...

Bring on Captain America and The Avengers!
Chris Palmer
3. cmpalmer
@Ryan, strangely enough, I didn't know J. Michael Straczynski was involved in the writing of the movie until the credits, but I was thinking, "That guy looked a lot like JMS" during the cameo.
Ryan Britt
4. ryancbritt
@cmpalmer WE HAD THE EXACT SAME EXPERIENCE! I didn't know he was involved beforehand either.
Sean Fagan
5. sef
I appear to be in the minority -- I didn't like the movie.

Helmsworth was great -- he certainly looks like a god. And there were certainly a couple of times where his casual arrogance -- what you would expect from an immortal war god -- were just exactly right.

But I thought there was too much talking, too much exposition. And Hopkins did not come across as wise -- he came across as wimpy, cranky, and whiny. Loki was nothing but a whiner, and was a lousy viallain.

Unlike mirana above, I actually did buy the transformation: he realized, at one point, that he could save everyone if he let himself be sacrificed. That he could win by not fighting. I think that made his later self-doubts and humility convincing.

Also, and I know this is somewhat petty, but... big brawny guy with a bright red cape flying? Horrible visual there -- way too reminiscent of another guy.
David Thomson
6. ZetaStriker
I thought it was a deeply flawed movie, and the weakest of Marvel's recent forays into film. Mirana summed up most of my issues very succinctly, but there's one other that bears mentioning. Siff and the Warriors Three.

Okay, so they were in the comic. I understand that. But I can't help but feel that is the only reason they appear here. They have no development, next to no personality, and the asian and "robin hood" members really don't do anything. At all. Ever. I feel that, if they had been focused on making the best movie they could, the Warriors Three, who aren't even unique enough to have names, would not have been present. They're legacy tag-alongs that eat up time that could have been spent developing Siff and making her more interesting.

The biggest example of this is their big fight scene near the end. They go toe to toe with the Destroyer, and Siff proves their weapons can pierce its armor. What's more, they even manage to close the distance and take away the one overwhelming advantage it had; a deadly, lightning faced ranged laser weapon. They were in attack range, all ready to tear it apart . . . and instead blonde-warrior and asian-warrior hide behind walls, and the others run away giving it its advantage back. I facepalmed in the middle of that scene and disconnected until Thor returned to Asgard.
C C
7. Hatgirl
I really enjoyed the Thor movie! As well as being funny, I think the cup-smashing scene is a good example of why we like Thor. He doesn't smash it out of bad-temper or because he's on some sort of power-trip, he smashes it out of sheer exuberance. 'Cos it was a really nice cup of coffee! LOL. But Thor has to learn that you just can't go around smashing crockery. Think first, you silly boy.

@Emily Asher-Perrin
LOL Whereas I found it easy to relate to Tony Stark . No, I'm
not an uber-genius who can have anything I want just by asking my gorgeous assistant (unfortunately). But I do know what it's like to be bouncing along happily through life only to have a medical problem pull the rug out from under me. Tony's point-blank refusal to allow himself to be limited by his injury... resonates with me LOL
Joe Matise
8. snoopy369
Sef, I'm with you in thinking it was a poor movie. I thought it was at best 'okay'; the characters were horribly weak, Loki in particular was a paper cutout generic bad guy who had none of Loki's features (intelligence, wit, cunning), the actor portraying Thor didn't really get my buy-in, and the plot was both too far-reaching and too simple at once. The love plot was completely useless - it felt tacked on, like 'we should have a romantic subplot'. Why did Ms. Portman feel attracted to Thor? Was he just so studly that she couldn't help it? Didn't make an ounce of sense to me.

And yes, Siff and the Warriors Three seemed entirely out of place. I think they would've been better off with more character development - indeed, had more of Thor's development come as a result of them (say, banish all of them instead of just Thor, or have them leave right away with him) it might've been a better movie.

But I guess we just don't have high expectations of superhero movies anymore...
Joe Matise
9. snoopy369
@Hatgirl - the smashing crockery is a cultural issue (which I think they didn't spend enough time on). That's what you did in the Viking days with your mug when you wanted a new drink...
Chris Palmer
10. cmpalmer
@snoopy369:9, I think most of the audience got that and it was a sign of exuberant joy as Hatgirl said.

It wasn't just in Viking days - I fondly remember a rowdy college bar I used to visit where you could tell how much fun everyone was having by how many beer bottles were smashed on the floor. Not a great place to wear flip-flops...
Emily Asher-Perrin
11. EmilyAP
@mirana - While I agree that the romance comes at you super fast, I really feel like it was deliberate mythological sort of move. Understanding "why" people fall for each other is really something that we only started demanding recently in narrative, if you're looking at the history of humanity as storytellers. Myths never really explained why Hades loved Persephone, why Psyche felt that Cupid was worth all the trials she faced. The idea of love as an unstoppable force, something that you're destined for, is a very old concept and seems right at home in movie about a Norse god.

Which was why I really liked the fact that Jane's job was basically watching the skies for him before she even knew he was there. It gives their story that element of fate that makes the sudden romance work, in my opinion. And frankly, while Thor may seem pretty crazy at the start, he also comes off as a genuine, charming guy who believes in her life's work. I wouldn't say that his body was the deciding factor there at all. I also felt like Jane was just quirky enough to make that split-second decision about how she felt.

@sef - Absolutely agreed on Thor's realization about not fighting. It's a pretty big step to take for someone who has clearly gotten everything they wanted in life by tossing people around.

@ZetaStriker - That's interesting because I really thought that Sif was as important as I wanted her to be for a first film. I thought that she was given just enough to be engaging and for her character to come through without distracting from what was happening.

@Hatgirl - I'm sure you're no the only one who relates to Tony Stark. ;) Actually, I think a lot of us do at some point, if only just because we would like to be able to get away with the things that he does. I think what I was trying to say was connecting with Tony isn't actually important to your enjoyment of Iron Man, because Tony is just so much fun to watch. If you didn't get any sort of humanity out of Thor, he would have been too high up on the pedestal for us to care. Also, I completely agree on the coffee cup smashing. He's treating your diner like a mead hall, and he's jolly and full of caffeine! How can that be wrong?
C C
12. Hatgirl
@snoopy369 I did get that it was meant to be an Asgardian tradition. (But are you sure smashing crockery was a Viking tradition? I thought it was Greek in origin. The Vikings mainly drank from wooden, horn or metal vessels, which wouldn't smash well. I could be wrong, though.)
Chris Palmer
13. cmpalmer
In re: to Sif and the Warriors Three. A friend of mine was excited they were in the movie, but, to be honest, I didn't even know who they were before the movie. I vaguely remember them, but I never was much of a Thor comic reader.

That said, I had no problem with their role in the movie. As ZetaStriker pointed out, they weren't that well used in the battle with the Destroyer, but I had no problems rationalizing where they came from and what role they played in the story (and in Thor's life). Likewise, it isn't too hard to understand Sif and her future role.

Besides, they were the most Shakespearian characters in the film, and I figured Branaugh felt comfortable with them (after all, Volstagg was like Falstaff and Fandral was like Benedick).
David Thomson
14. ZetaStriker
EmilyAP@11: I agree with you, actually. Siff was the one character in that group that I felt "worked", but I would have rather had the Warriors Three carved down to the Warriors Zero or Warriors One, and developed Siff and that character more heavily.
mirana
15. DocDerry
I'm happy they had Volstagg, Fandral and Hogun in the movie. Some people I guess weren't paying attention to the looks Thor's future wife Sif were throwing his way after Jane Foster enters the picture.

The effort's Loki went to for Thor's exile and to destroy Jotunheim were equally brilliant. The guy who played Loki was great. I didn't suspect him of letting in the initial frost giants. I fully expected him to allow Odin to die.
Noneo Yourbusiness
16. Longtimefan
I really liked the movie even with its quirky issues. I thought the visual design was fantastic and the costumes were really powerful. The acting was on par for most modern comic book movies and I really liked the complexity of the plot even if I felt the plot was a bit rushed. I honestly felt there could have been an extra half our of Asgard development with the Loki/Thor/Odin dynamic to show a bit more understandable motivation by the characters than just the prerequisite "I am upset, let me cause a problem".
I also agree that the romantic angle could have been developed better. I understand why the writers would want one but it felt forced in at the end to me as well. I really did not feel the Thor/Loki byplay about Jane and "paying her a visit." was neccessary but more witten in to give some villany to the scene. Why can't the characters just fight about the dynamics of Asgard accendency? Why do they have to bring Jane into the situation?

But that is just me. I never felt that there was much chemistry between the Thor and Jane character so having him magically love her so strongly at the end did seem a bit more like hitting some notes than keeping with the organic flow of the action played to the point in the film.

Still, I thought it was a good film and would watch it again on DVD. perhaps even own it.

Overall Thor is a very enjoyable movie.
mirana
17. Foxessa
Wisecracks in movies (not just superhero movies) have basically become the death of good dialogue in film.


Also, reviews as one posted to this site over the weekend, was all, you know, internetz lulz speak. There are many occasions when a text needs to be written, not presented in jargon. Academics are not the only ones guilty of writing jargon.

Love, C.
john mullen
18. johntheirishmongol
I took my wife to the movie this weekend and there were a few minor issues I had with it but overall I enjoyed this movie. I was pleased that it wasn't all cgi and was more about the story of Thor, who is one of my favorite characters.

I also want to add that my wife liked it too, but when Thor took his shirt off she had an "oh my".

Overall, I would recommend it.
mirana
19. mirana
Oh yeah guys, I agree that the Warriors Three were underdeveloped. Although, I would not have cut them out b/c I got too much enjoyment out of the "We have Xena, Jackie Chan and Robin Hood..." line. ;)

@EmilyAP: Ehhh, I think you give the writers too much credit for intentional mythos referencing, given the overall lack of depth to the film (and not all films have to be deep). As a lover of myths myself, I have to say Greek/Roman (and other) myths usually prefaced a story of love with a reference to how damned attractive one or both of the parties were.

For example, you reference Cupid and Psyche. The whole catalyst to their tale is the fact that Psyche was so gorgeous she made Venus jealous. In turn, when Psyche finds out her husband is the beautiful Cupid (and even if the story didn't say so, we know Cupid is hot because of who his mom is), THAT is when she goes on a quest to find him.

Ancient stories were certainly a product of their culture and how people chose partners, just as they are now. If you don't really know someone, you go on their looks to begin with. Especially in a time when more people were matched before they knew each other at all. So...

"I wouldn't say that his body was the deciding factor there at all."
Reeeeally? So if Thor were a completely unattractive (or hell, average) guy who is quite completely insane, threatening (in the beginning), and continues to say crazy stuff that doesn't even hint he knows jack about Jane's research...this would make her fall for him on it's own? Really?? I could totally buy her sympathy, her good nature, her coming to like him as she learns he's NOT crazy, but giggling and hiding her cereal? Pfft. It's the abs and blue eyes. ;) And I'm FINE with it being that, I just don't see how she wasn't acting interested from the beginning, and then suddenly interested after a hand kiss. That's all.
Ryan Britt
20. ryancbritt
@Foxessa Personally, I try to keep my LOL speak down as much as I can. But just like the filmmakers of Thor had to put some kind of violence and action into this movie, I must communicate on the Internet through the speech of the Internet sometimes. Forgive

:-)
Bike Baykara
21. Amarie
I think it was an overall good movie. I was not disapointed.Although I admit I do feel that the "growing up" of Thor on Earth and the romance with Jane developed a bit too fast. Then when I think about it Thor I think changed not because of Jane or even Earth but because he saw the consequences of his actions even though some of those were lies. He saw he could not take Mjolnir which was a part of him , at least in the myth, which I think is a great punishment for Thor not only losing his powers but his hammer for a warrior in his caliber would be a part of his arm and body. Then comes Loki telling him basically his actions killed his father. So he now have to face the fact the effect of his actions.
There is that scene Thor can not lift Mjolnir and sits defated and we see the mark Odin put on the hammer. I wonder at that moment did Thor realize why he can't lift his hammer, can he read the rune and realize that he is not worthy for Mjolnir?
A weird scene for me was towards the end where Thor tells Agent Coulson that they are on the same side or something like that. How did he figure that out exactly? All their communication was a mild interrogation what did S.H.I.E.L.D or Agent Coulson do exactly to prove their worth or their purpose? Does he have any idea what S.H.I.E.L.D actually is? It is a prelude for the Avengers movie I get that but still where did that allience come from exactly?
On the note of Sif and Warriors Three I actually enjoyed them, not too much comic relief but still a connection to Asgard for Thor other than his immediate family. I hope for some character development in the sequel though.
mirana
22. nicba
I thought the movie was great. Perhaps a bit rushed, but not to a degree that it bothered me.

I was, however, rather dissapointed about Asgaard. I was really looking forward to seeing the great viking hall of Valhal, and all the dwellings of the nordic gods. But instead I got a trip to Olympus, or perhaps it was Atlantis? The architecture, the clothes and so on definitely didn't seem nordic to mee.

Thor looked much more like an arthurian knight than a viking warrior, in his silver armor. And Thor's parents? If it wasn't for the discreet eye patch, I would have thought those were Zeus and Hera. I've always imagined Odin as a rather sinister figure: The god of death, war, runes and poetry, sitting at the end of his dark hall, with his wolves at his feet and ravens on his shoulders.

Oh well, you can't have everything, I guess. It was still a good movie.
mirana
23. David Whiskey
Christian Bale being typecast for "American Psycho" was not a strech. There is something missing in that man, which is exactly why he is excellent as Bruce Wayne. Wayne is damaged goods and being Batman in the only thing that keeps him from being as big a monster as Koker or Two Face.

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