Being a member of the Swedish Academy of Comic Art, I’m of course a big comic book fan, and I grew up with superhero comics — among other genres. However, I can’t say I have any relation to Marvel’s hammer swinging hero Thor, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1962. I’ve never really read that comic. Thor has never had his own book in Sweden and when I read superhero comics in the 1970s and ‘80s, he sometimes, and not very often, popped up as a back-up feature in other heroes books — and I remember thinking Thor was a rather strange comic, too much cosmic mumbo-jumbo, and that Thor himself looked a tad silly. When I think of Thor — or Tor, as his name is spelled over here — I don’t think of the Marvel Comics superhero. As a kid, I read and enjoyed some of the original Norse myths, I remember borrowing books aimed at young readers, retelling the old stories in entertaining and comprehensible ways. But the Thor I think of, is the character from Danish comics artist Peter Madsen’s “Valhalla”; a series of graphic novels that began in 1978, and was concluded with the 15th album in 2010. This is a remarkable comic and Madsen was presented the Comic Academy’s award Adamson for Best International Artist or Writer in 2010. In 1992, Stan Lee was at the big book fair in Gothenburg, Sweden, and I attended his seminar and press conference. Lee screened a teaser trailer for the upcoming Spider-Man movie, to be directed by James Cameron — as we all know, that version never happened; Sam Raimi handled the movie released ten years later. Lee also said that the one Marvel character he’d love to see on the big screen, was Thor — but that would be too complicated and expensive; it would be almost impossible to make a convincing movie about the God of Thunder back in 1992. However, Stan the Man had an idea: it would be possible to make it as an animation. So, if we in a couple of years read that the biggest, most expensive animated feature film ever is about to open, we know that it’s Thor. But no, that big animated movie never happened either. 19 years later, “Thor” has finally opened — and it’s of course a live action movie, directed by Kenneth Branagh. This isn’t the first time Thor has appeared on film. He starred in his own TV-cartoon already in 1966, and in the 1988 TV-movie “The Incredible Hulk Returns”, in which he was played by Eric Allan Kramer and looked absolutely ridiculous. Now, I’m very easy to please when it comes to superhero movies. I like most of them. The only ones I can’t say I like, are “Steel”, the starring Shaquille O’Neal, and “Elektra”. But yeah, I actually thought “Catwoman” was pretty fun — not good, but fun. And hell, I even like the two Captain America TV movies from the ‘70s starring Reb Brown, and the charming and short-lived live action Spider-Man show starring Nicholas Hammond, also from the late ‘70s. Branagh’s movie can’t be compared to any of the movies mentioned in the last paragraph. “Thor” is a big, enormous movie — and it’s good. Good for real. Some may think that Kenneth Branagh is an odd choice for directing a Marvel Comics superhero movie — but the British Shakespeare interpreter read comics growing up, and the Thor comics are in a way very Shakespearean. The scenes from Asgard and Valhalla are very theatrical, pompous, operatic and the plot is based on the father and son theme, common with Shakespeare.
The very first person we see in the movie, is Swedish character actor Stellan Skarsgård as Dr. Erik Selvig, who along with Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her comic relief sidekick Darcy (Kat Dennings) are in the middle of a desert, investigating a weird phenomenon in the skies. Little do they know that a Norse god is about to fall down to Earth just in front of their van. Australian actor Chris Hemsworth is the cocky, self-assured Thor, whom his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) has chosen to replace him when he retires — something Thor’s weaker, more introvert brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) isn’t very pleased with. The ambivalent Loki has a sinister plan and he arranges so that the old enemies of the Norse gods; the Frost Giants, can attack Asgard — which they do just when Thor is about to become the new king. Thor goes nuts and along with his buddies, he attacks the Frost Giants in their world, but goes to far. Odin is disappointed and realizes that Thor isn’t ready to become a king — and kicks him and his powerful hammer Mjolnir out of Asgard and down to Earth. Being a fish out of water and helped by Jane and her friends, Thor — posing as Dr. Donald Blake — tries to get his hammer back from SHIELD; the intelligence organization, something that turns out to be harder than Thor thought, since he’s lost his superhuman powers. And to make matters worse, the evil Loki takes charge of Asgard and sends a giant metal creature to Earth to kill Thor… The story of “Thor” is rather slim, but I actually find that a good thing. Bring on the entertainment without making things too complicated! And “Thor” sure is an entertaining movie! This could’ve become an exceptionally silly and/or pretentious movie, but it’s not. Branagh’s movie benefits a lot from magnificent actors such as Skarsgård (in a big part), Hopkins and Portman, and we also get to see Rene Russo as Frigga, wife of Odin — I’ve missed her, I haven’t seen her in ages. But what about (the very tall) Hemsworth? Well, he works. He’s quite charming. But personally, I think there’s something odd about his face — I don’t know what it is. Something about his eyes. And doesn’t he look a little to childish? Anyway, I shouldn’t complain, he’s no Robert Downey Jr, but he makes a fine God of Thunder. There’s lots of action in this movies, several big, bombastic battles, and Branagh handle these scenes just as well as the dramatic, dialogue only scenes. And fortunately, the comedy does also work — some scenes are very funny, especially when Thor enters a pet shop and wants to buy a horse. Stan Lee himself appears in his traditional cameo, this time he’s a truck driver, credited as “Stan the Man”!
OK, there’s one thing I find rather odd: some of the Norse gods are Asians and Africans. Say what? Where did they come from? Sure, the vikings were merchants and made friends in huge parts of the world (no, they didn’t rape and pillage wherever they went), but multi-ethnic gods don’t ring true. “Thor” is wonderful to look at. Yes, it’s massive amounts of CGI, but the result is impressive — especially Asgard and Valhalla. The sets, costumes and the over all production design remind me of Mike Hodges’ fun “Flash Gordon” (1980), and also quite a lot of Tinto Brass’ infamous “Caligula” (1979). Too bad they decided to make this yet another 3-D movie; the first one from Marvel. I guess this wasn’t supposed to be a 3-D movie and that it was converted after being shot. The 3-D doesn’t add anything at all, all that happens is that the movie is slightly out of focus — a common problem. And since I saw a subtitled version, I got out of focus letters in my lap. In this case, the 3-D was totally unnecessary, as it usually is. Well, sub-par 3-D can’t stop “Thor” from being a really fun roller coaster ride of a movie. This is big, loud superhero entertainment at its best. It’s no “Spider-Man 2” or “Iron Man” — the best superhero movies made according to this viking — but I highly recommend “Thor”. “Thor” is the first of the first of the four superhero movies opening this summer. The others are “X-Men: First Class”, “Green Lantern” and “Captain America: The First Avenger”. It’s really hard to hell if “Thor” will work outside of America. You see, kids today don’t read comics. We who grew up with comic books and still read comics, are often in our forties or older. Few Swedes know that there’s a superhero based on our old god. Few Swedes know who Green Lantern and Captain America are. Most Swedes only know Spidey, Iron Man and X-Men from the movies. And because of the political situation right now, it may be hard to launch the Captain America movie in Europe. But I, for one, am looking forward to it — the trailer for it is great! Finally: No. Unfortunately, “God of Thunder” by KISS isn’t on the soundtrack. Odin knows why.
Oh, and don’t forget: as usual, the movie continues with a cliffhanger after the end credits – and Nick Fury does makes his obligatory appearance. But it’s still a bad idea having Samuel L. Jackson play Fury! I simply don’t get it. “Thor” opened in Sweden, Australia, France and the UK on April 27. Americans have to wait till May 6.
Images copyright © Paramount Pictures Sweden, Carlsen Comics & Egmont Kärnan