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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Friday (4/11/14) 3:08am - ... wherein Peter posts a Weekly Media Update.

[Moving the media updates to Thursday, to even out my weekly schedule a bit.]

Movies:  Thor [spoilers]
TV:  <none>
Books:  <none>

Thor [spoilers]
This is the 2011 Marvel superhero movie about the Norse god of thunder.

Yes, it's a movie from three years ago.  I used to keep up with popular culture, but somewhere along the way, I got old, I lost whatever edge I might've once had, and I made a habit of catching up with everything years after its release.

In the case of Thor, that's turned out really well for me.  If I had been steeped in the hype and advertising for this movie, and if I'd heard all about the pre-production, and if I'd gone to see it on opening night, it would've been a thudding disappointment for me: "Great.  Another blob of extruded action-movie product.  Another bazillion-dollar production where weightless bits of CGI fight with each other, and a threat to the whole earth feels somehow emotionally vacuous, and the entire color scheme is teal-and-oranged to hell.[1]"

But instead, I watched it three years later, when the movie had become something of a punchline, relegated to the lower echelons of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  And now that Thor isn't carrying any expectations, and since Thor was never foisted on my cultural radar, I can just relax and enjoy it for the silly lark that it is.

Yes, it's a lark.  We can talk about 'what a movie is about' versus 'what a movie is *really* about'.  In this case, the movie is about Thor hitting stuff with a hammer.  Ostensibly, it's *really* about Thor maturing as a leader, a callow immortal who learns about true responsibility and empathy from a ragtag bunch of scientists.  But the writers work that theme in like they're grudgingly doing their homework.  "Okay, fine, if the studio says it *has* to have an emotional through-line, we'll throw in this talk-heavy scene before the next Thor-hits-stuff-with-a-hammer smackdown."

Eventually, I decided to pretend that this movie came about kind of like that Batkid Make-a-Wish project.  I figured the producers had found a bro who was a big Marvel comics fan, somewhere in the LA equivalent of Sixth Street, and they'd let him be the center of a superhero story.  "But I can't really act," said the bro.  "Oh, it's fine," they told him, "we will literally surround you with Oscar winners."  (By my tally: Anthony Hopkins, Jeremy Renner, and Natalie Portman.)

So sure, the plot was just a bunch of pointless moves, but that was okay.  And yes, the rest of the cast just blew him off the screen in anything that required acting with any sophistication, but that was fine.  Really, it was about showing this guy a good time.

So I was in a fairly good mood about the production.  If it was a bland and conventional superhero movie, well, that's the ride that I'd signed up for.  I liked that it was earnest about the ridiculousness of this comic-book pastiche of Norse mythology -- Loki wears the crazy metal-antler-horn helmet without apparent irony -- because otherwise, the whole show would fall apart.  The Frost Giants are generic, vacuous (and conveniently teal) monsters, but that's okay for a standard-issue superhero romp.  Yes, Thor gets a near-death scene where he falls in slow-motion, and there is sad piano tinkling, and the Love Interest runs in slo-mo to his apparently-lifeless body.  Just chill out and soak in the clichés.  It's fine.

Basically, everything that would show up in a Key and Peele parody of modern superhero flicks shows up in Thor.  But, again, you get what you pay for, and I'd paid for one standard-order superhero flick.

And there were many things that elevated Thor above "baseline competence".  As I said earlier, Kenneth Branagh got a crazy murderer's row of amazing actors in this film.  It's a surprise that Thor's warrior pals are such acting nonentities -- but then, the fundamental surprise is that the *rest* of the cast is so amazing.  Natalie Portman grounds the hell out of her scenes, when the material on the page is fairly limited.  Clark Gregg gets another chance to hone Agent Coulson, AKA the best thing about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  Tom Hiddleston and Anthony Hopkins could argue about the phone book and be riveting, and Loki turns out to be arguably the best character in the whole MCU.

(Side note: this is only partly due to Hiddleston's amazing acting here -- the script also gives the actor a lot to dig into.  Loki is the one who was adopted, who feels like an outsider in his home, and who has wildly conflicted feelings towards his family.  His story is so much more interesting than Thor's that it nearly throws the whole film out of balance.)

And I appreciated how they made a world that vaguely fit both Norse mythology and science.  With a minimum of exposition, they sort out that yes, Norse gods existed, but they're actually aliens, and they travel via wormholes.  You know what?  I'm fine with that.  Nobody's making fun of the ancient Norse for believing in their gods, nobody's making fun of modern secularists for trusting scientific observations, and nobody's getting too weighed down with clumsy exposition.

So, again, in spite of my barrage of backhands above, Thor was pleasant to watch.  It wasn't great, and it'll likely vanish from my memory as soon as I finish this paragraph, but sometimes it's okay for a movie to just be conventional and fun.

For next week: still listening to podcasts.  Finally watching Anchorman in the name of cultural awareness.

[1] Oh good *god* it's teal-and-oranged.  In an early scene, a camper van bounces along through the New Mexico desert.  Somehow, its headlights are both teal and orange.  What.

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