Stop. Hammer Time!

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To the degree that there’s anything truly risky about the making of a movie in the most currently-popular genre in the world, by the most well-regarded production company in said genre, in a summer set to be dominated by said genre, that was teased at the climax of one of the most widely-watched films of 2010 … Thor represents the biggest risk yet taken by the fledgling Marvel Studios as part of their unprecedented multi-film Avengers project.

While The Hulk is a character everybody knows, Captain America is rather self-explanatory and Iron Man is (now) a household name at least to moviegoers, The Mighty Thor is the big question mark – a potentially deadly (in boxoffice terms, anyway) combination of a character that most people are completely unaware of, with easily the most absurdly strange backstory of any comic book superhero yet filmed. Forget one-off “reality but” tweaks like Gamma Radiation or mechanized-armor – Thor starts from the epic-sized premise that the gods, trolls, frost giants and other creatures of ancient Norse mythology really existed and that one of them – hammer-wielding thunder god Thor – has returned to Earth to act as a superhero. And then things get weird.

With such an out-there concept to sell – especially to a mainstream audience showing signs of fatigue with mind-bending geek epics – it’s unsurprising that Thor‘s trailer is already making the rounds. It’s a concept trailer – a broad sketch of the premise, establishing glimpses of the cast and heavy displays of action and effects to familiarize audiences with the film’s power metal album cover visual aesthetic. It’s purty.

But what’s that, you say? You’d like to know what’s actually going on there? Well, here’s some play-by-play:

Before we go any further, you should probably watch the trailer.

00:07 Thunder and lightning. Probably gonna see a lot of that.

00:10 Mobile military installation. Someone’s being interrogated. “Oh gawd, is this another terrorism movie?”

00:15 – 00:25 Very large, very blonde man (presumably the guy in the chair) beating the crap out of doctors and some type of soldiers. According to whoever’s asking the questions, this is impressive.

00:26 “Hey, isn’t he from Iron Man?” That’s Clark Gregg – hardworking character actor and director of the underrated Choke – as Agent Coulson, S.H.I.E.L.D. operative and luckiest guy in the Marvel Movieverse. After impressing in what amounted to a minor part in Iron Man, he’s now found himself cast in every subsequent Avengers-related film. He was last seen discovering a weird hammer-like object in a crater in the New Mexico des- hey, wait a sec …

00:32 Leaping double-kick. Bad. Ass. If the trailer is doing its job, now you want to know who this is as much as the secret agent guy does.

00:40 Yup. That’s Thor, alright. Aussie actor Chris Hemsworth has the part. They’ve gone with the beard/Jesus-hair look – good choice, I’d say. The musical chord here says “whoever this is, he’s a big deal.”

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00:45 Marvel Studios logo. The audience is now in two distinct camps: “Oh, it’s Thor!” or “Who is this, now?”

00:47 – 0:50 “We’re off to see the wizard!” This’ll be Asgard, kingdom of the Norse gods. Those familiar with actual Norse mythology will note that this is a departure from its traditional depiction. The film is taking its designs cues pretty heavily from the comics, most of which were set down by artist Jack Kirby in the 60s. Kirby was a big (I mean big) fan of the so-called “Ancient Astronaut Theory,” which posited that deities of ancient peoples may actually have been super-advanced beings of extra-terrestrial and/or inter-dimensional origin – and his conception of Asgard generally reflected that.

00:50 – 0:55 A great hall – probably the Great Hall. I’m getting a very 1980s Flash Gordon vibe off this set, and I mean that as a compliment. That’s Anthony Hopkins you’re hearing, naturally.

00:56 Rear view of (I think) Thor and his less-than-heroic brother Loki (we’ll get back to him).

00:57 – 01:00 And the fandom rejoices: Thor has been allowed to keep his signature Winged Helmet. Traditionally, the comics depict Thor’s helmet with wings, Loki’s with horns (see previous scene) and Odin’s with both.

The dialogue here, incidentally, indicates that Thor is receiving a serious dressing-down from his dad, Odin – the king of the gods. The comics started out with a doctor named Donald Blake who shared a body with Thor’s spirit and could transform into him, but later revealed a twist: Blake had actually been Thor all along – transformed into mere mortal (and stripped of his memories) by Odin to knock some humility into him. Looks like we’re getting a version of that origin.

01:00 – 01:10 Unpleasant-looking snowy place. My guess? This is Jotunheimr – one of the Nine Worlds of Norse myth and home of Asgard’s mortal enemies the Jotunn, here likely to be referred to as Frost Giants. We’re seeing what looks like a battle with Thor, The Warriors Three (gimme a minute) and Sif – aka “the girl” – against what are either Jotunn, Trolls or something else. This would seem to be what Odin is so pissed about … unprovoked war, maybe? (Was Thor looking for Jotunn WMDs?)

This is another aspect almost certain to have scholars of the authentic myths pulling at their hair, by the way: “Marvel Sif” is a bad-ass warrior woman with a (largely) unrequited tomboy/buddy crush on Thor.

Barely-glimpsed, but present, are The Warriors Three, Marvel-original Asgardian warrior pals of Thor: Volstagg (fat bruiser), Hogun (vaguely-Mongolian taciturn badass), and Fandral (dashing hero type.)

01:10 – 01:14 Anthony Hopkins as Odin. Take a knee, mortals, and respect his sweet golden eye patch. These costumes, incidentally, are insanely faithful to the material – they look every bit as accurate as Iron Man did. Bob approves.

01:15 And here’s some casting that will probably be waaaaaay more controversial than it ought to be, sadly: Idris Elba as Heimdall, guardian of The Rainbow Bridge, aka the guy who dictates travel between Asgard and Midgard (read: Earth.) Might as well get it out of the way: Yes, it’s somewhat unusual for a black actor to be playing a Norse god. No, I don’t think it’s reverse racism, political correctness or any other such nonsense it will inevitably be framed as. He’s a great actor you’d usually never see in a role like this, and I’m excited to see where he takes it.

01:16 – 01:19 Our first glimpse of Tom Hiddleston as Loki, Thor’s brother and all-but-surely the main villain of the piece. It’s widely assumed he’ll also play a part in The Avengers as well.

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01:22 Renee Russo (where has she been?) as Frigga, queen of the gods, plus a non-armored Sif.

01:23 -01:33 Yup, they’re going with the “Thor gets busted down to Earth” story, though evidently without Donald Blake. This is our first good look at Mjolnir, Thor’s magic hammer. In the Marvel mythos, Mjolnir is largely the source of Thor’s powers.

01:36 – 01:45 Natalie Portman as Jane Foster, Thor’s Lois Lane. A nurse in the comics, she’s here been upgraded to an astrophysicist – i.e. someone to facilitate exposition about how the science of this world is supposed to work. It’s interesting that they’ve not directed Hemsworth to suppress his Australian accent.

01:47 Aaaaand something for the ladies. Fellas, when your wife/girlfriend turns out to be more amenable than expected to seeing this, that will probably be why.

01:48 – 01:52 “Your ancestors called it magic. You call it science. I come from a place where they’re one and the same.” Translation: “Anyone who’s bent out of shape about how all this mythological stuff can co-exist with Iron Man and the others are advised to google Clarke’s Third Law and get over it.

Looks like we have our storyline, incidentally: Thor is exiled to Earth, probably to earn his godly powers back through introspection and light superheroics. Gee, I hope no villains get the idea to start mucking things up while the best warrior is in the penalty box.

01:53 Thor is his civilian outfit. If you look behind him you can see Sif and The Warriors Three are there, too. Theory: This is “come back, Thor, we need help!” probably in the third act.

01:54 Thor hoists Mjolnir before a cheering Asgard crowd. Gorgeous. You could frame that shot.

01:55 – 01:56 Loki, playing with Odin’s scepter. Usurping dad in Thor’s absence?

01:57 Tornado. Possibly magic, possibly not. I’m really hoping that Thor’s redemption does not solely involve rescuing helpless rural folk from disasters.

01:58 – 02:02 HOLY F*CK! THE DESTROYER! An animated suit of enchanted armor and one of the major enemies in the Thor mythos. I know it’s The Destroyer because it looks exactly like it’s supposed to. Just look at that thing. Awesome.

02:03 – 02: 04 Thor versus the Giants (Trolls) again, and our first live-action hammer-throw. The main value-added feature of Mjolnir is that if you throw it, it boomerangs back to you after striking its target. Thor‘s success as an action film will rest almost entirely on whether or not this function looks cool … and it does.

02:05 – 02:07 Thor trying, unsuccessfully, to hoist Mjolnir from (presumably) that spot where it appeared to have crash-landed at the end of Iron Man 2. It looks like S.H.I.E.L.D. tried, also unsuccessfully, to dig it up then built the facility we saw Thor trashing at the beginning to contain it. And so we have another piece of plot: Thor needs to earn his hammer back.

This is the other trick to Mjolnir: Only Thor or someone equally worthy (or really, really, really strong) can actually lift it. In the comics, an alien named Beta Ray Bill (long story) and Captain America have done it canonically, and both Superman and Wonder Woman (really!) have lifted it in non-canonical crossover stories.

02:09 – 02:12 Thor and Loki, with full comic-accurate armor and weapons, fighting in Asgard. Nice.

02:13 – 02:18 Okay, there’s not even words for how cool that hammer quake thing was.

02:21 Forward-leaping hero in action pose, cut to titles: “In 3D!” Eh, whatever. I’m not anti-3D in principle, and Dawn Treader proved that post-conversion doesn’t always have to look as bad as it did for Clash of The Titans. I can’t say it isn’t appropriate for a movie built around a guy who throws a hammer at stuff, at least.

Prognosis: Definitely needs a bigger full trailer with a clearer narrative and more scope, but I’m liking where this is going.

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Author
Bob Chipman
Bob Chipman is a critic and author.