Friday, April 29, 2011

God of Thunder, Hear Me Thor

© 2011 Paramount Pictures/Marvel Entertainment 
Like the ever hopeful dreams of retailers who fill their aisles with the dulcet sentimentality of a Bing Crosby Christmas before the Lady Gaga Halloween costumes are even discounted, the summer movie season has already arrived, and with it, the anticipated smell of money and mediocrity that most blockbusters exude.

This year though, it seems the season of popcorn and pretzels has done something right. Something good. Something that fanboys of all ages and even the general population can like. Maybe even love. Well, as much as you can love a Germanic god who once-upon-a-time required human sacrifices.

Thor, god of thunder, is bound for release in North American theatres this Friday, May 6th, and by Odin’s beard if the early buzz is any indication, I believe it just might be great.

Comic book adaptations, along with those of graphic novels, have been largely successful at the box office, as evidenced by the continual stream of them rolling off Hollywood’s digital conveyer belt, but many have been only mediocre in terms of their storytelling skill. Some have been a disaster. A shame when you consider the wide swath of tale to be tapped from fifty years plus of source material.

There are exceptions, of course. Bryan Singer brought some greatness to the original two X-Men films (and he’s graciously back, working as both a contributing writer and producer on Marvel’s second of three movies to release this summer: X-Men First Class.) and of course the original Iron Man and Spider-Man films were above average forays as well.

So what separates them? Well, there are the normal things to blame, flat acting, a poor script, or the use of special effects as a crutch when what the film really needs is pins surgically installed and six weeks in a leg halo. . . I’m looking at you Origins. . . but there is more to it. Sometimes in the evolution from comic to film it’s ambiguity that kills. Sometimes it’s the lack of a black and white hero. A real hero. Someone who can connect with human kind and fight for all the right reasons. Someone who can poke fun of their own ridiculous spandex image. Someone who can look at frost giants, or maniacs in mech suits and give them two middle fingers for the rest of us. Heroics, humor and heart.

And Marvel knows it. Last spring they revamped the Avengers story thread for the twentieth time (that may be an underestimation) and are revisiting their heroic roots of the early 1960’s. Thor and Captain America (who will be the subject of Marvel’s third release this summer) have returned to the roster. The grey mess of several years of grim, super hero civil war is at an end for a season and the heroes have returned. Men. Gods. Spider people. Good. I want my comic book heroes to be heroes even if they aren’t perfect. Leave the exploration of human darkness to the brilliance of Alan Moore. Keep Spider-Man, Spider-Man. Please.

Which seems to be exactly the vision director Kenneth Branagh has for the tale of Asgard’s prince-meets-mortals. The early promise of Thor is that it will set the bar for this summer’s tales of bravado, reckoning to be a bright, blazing summer hero for us lowly mortals. Let the peasants rejoice. Just don’t break out any Norse swastikas on his behalf. No one would understand.


Next up: Myth and Mortals