The Writing

08 May, 2011

a tale of two brothers

I didn't go to Thor expecting to see Norse mythology. I was not disappointed. Actually, I was relieved. Thor is a comic-book movie based on source material conceived of in the pro-science boom post WWII. Everything can, and will, be explained by science! We just know it! There's no fate or magic! But there's logical causal reasons behind everything!

So the gods are aliens and Bifrost is a wormhole, and Odin's characterization owes more to Wagner than the Eddas, and I'm okay with that.

JMS co-wrote the story for Thor, so I was reasonably confident that it wouldn't suck. JMS does good epic, and he's thoughtful and reasonable and not a sexist ass, even if most of his characters are Male with a capital M (speaking for B5, here). Anyway. Story didn't disappoint, although there were moments in the screenplay where I thought the writer(s)--and I know screenwriters are not story writers--went for the cliché easy way out, and that was because of The Love Interest, who was the weakest element of the film.

Kenneth Branagh directed, which gave me both hope and pause. I have not forgiven him for the excrescence that was Frankenstein, you see. But I was encouraged by reports that he was approaching Thor with an eye to Henry V. And I admit that I did a little dance when I read that he had Hemsworth learn and perform the St. Crispin's Day speech from Henry V as a "regal diction and cadence exercise." Only thing I kept wondering about was the framing. Why the happy hell is everything tilted all the time...? I get that tilted and canted framing is meant to inspire a sense of off-balance in the viewer, but that works better in fast-action scenes and horror. In the big slow deep focus shots, it made me tilt my head and watch sideways.

So what did I think? It was a fun movie. Probably one of the best comic movies I've seen, behind the Hellboys. Better than the first Ironman. Not really comparable to Dark Knight, because that was, well, dark. A different palette. I think I do have a preference between them, but we'll set that aside for now.

There may be spoilers after this point. Just sayin'.

A tale of two brothers, light and dark, force and cunning, warrior and wizard, saved from cliché by a solid story and good acting/actors. Loved both Loki and Thor, loved their dynamic, loved their complication and their honesty. I believed that Loki really did want what was best for Asgard, and that he did love his brother and father. I believed his horror when he realizes his parentage, although I wish the story had allowed Odin to actually be his father, instead of making him the adopted/stolen child. Thor is a simpler personality--in some ways a pretty poor successor to the wily, Wagnerian Odin. He does not seem as complex, on the surface--but he grapples in a way that Loki does not with the responsibility of leadership and sacrifice. Thor has a heart. Loki has a brain. And since this is Hollywood, Marvel, and the USA, we know which one's going to be valued. 

Besides. Thor gets the girl. 

Which brings me to my only major objection to the story.  I get that we want women to come to comic films, and the way to do that is write in a romance, but good grief. Let's at least make it a romance, then, shall we?  Jane Foster was not particularly interesting or compelling. I mean, yay for smart women! and all that, but there wasn't much there. I wish the story had focused more on the brothers' dynamic, and left off the cliché "what changed you, brother? was it that girl? Then I should pay her a visit!" crap--because that wasn't Jane who played catalyst to Thor's moral and emotional evolution. The line should've been: "What changed you, brother?" --"You did."

When Thor fails to retrieve Mjolnir, he breaks. He could've fought his way out of the compound, same way he fought his way in. He didn't have the heart for it. And then Loki comes down and kicks him, metaphorically, telling him lies that have just enough plausibility that Thor, not the brightest crayon in the box, believes him. That was awesome. So later, when the brothers fight again, it's a letdown that they quarrel over The Girl when as far as we know, Loki doesn't really know who she is, and when Thor should be rightfully pissed that his brother lied to him about, oh, everything. That was the place to have the moral showdown. Does peace justify genocide? Can one lie for the right reasons? Not--hey! I'm gonna rape your woman when this is all over, brother! That was so...not Loki, as he'd played so far in the movie. He was smart. Sneaky. Clever. Ruthless. Not given to little emotional freakouts and childish taunting and being, oh, stupid. I mean, come on. You're fighting with the badass of Asgard. Do you really want to make him all territorial like that?

That said--I think I liked Thor better than Dark Knight. I know, I know (and I'm generally a DC girl, too). Heath Ledger's Joker was the best bad guy ever, and I loved him, but that movie went on too long, going deep and hitting bottom and then scraping along for another quarter hour. Thor stopped too soon and did not go deep enough--but it made me want more, and even better, made me believe that there was more. Maybe I'm just tired of onscreen angst and over-determined emotional manipulation. Thor and Thor are not particularly complicated, but they're honest, and they don't sulk and brood. I like that.