Journey into Mystery

A no-prize to anyone who gets the reference in this post’s Subject line.

Two super hero films watched recently.

Thor (2011)

The background to this film is an uneasy truce between the Frost Giants and the warriors of Asgard, and when Thor upsets this he is stripped of his godly power by Odin and exiled to Midgard (Earth, to you and I). With Odin getting his strength back through the ‘Odinsleep’, Loki seizes the throne of Asgard and sends the Destroyer to Earth to deal with his brother. Meanwhile Thor is finding that being human isn’t all bad as it lets him get up close and personal with scientist Jane Foster, but when the Destroyer arrives, with the thunder god’s friends hot in pursuit, he gets to pick up the hammer Mjolnir again and take care of business. With the Destroyer destroyed (sorry) the Asgard gang head back home to settle Loki’s hash. There is, of course, a lot more to it than that, with various plot strands connected to S.H.I.E.L.D. that tie the story into the greater, evolving Avengers focussed design for the whole Marvel Universe, but those are the basics. And a lot of it seems very familiar thanks to my past acquaintance with the comic book. As I recall Odin originally stripped Thor of his power and exiled him to Earth because of his love for Jane Foster, while other elements, such as the Destroyer and the war with the Frost Giants, were all part of the overarching storyline. Also good to see the inclusion of such memorable characters as Sif and the Warriors Three – Volstagg, Fandral, and Hogun the Grim – though if I remember correctly they featured far more prominently in the subsidiary “Tales of Asgard” strip than the main comic, and the Lady Sif wasn’t introduced until Jane Foster was out of the picture. No matter, they’re all most welcome and add to the movie. The material is potentially comedic, risible even, but everyone manages to play their role with conviction, declaiming the variation on Shakespearian English that author Stan Lee put in the characters’ mouths with a straight face (but wait for those outtakes), and given the background in mythic and archetypal themes Kenneth Branagh was certainly the right choice for director. Chris Hemsworth looks and sounds the part in the title role, while Tom Hiddleston almost steals the show as the sly, calculating Loki, giving the character a depth and motivation that isn’t always obvious from the comic. Anthony Hopkins brings suitable gravitas to the role of Odin, and similar comments apply to the casting of Idris Elba as Bifrost Bridge guardian Heimdall. Finally Natalie Portman is excellent as Jane Foster, the woman Thor comes to love, upgraded from a nurse in the comic to an astrophysicist, so that she is a vital element in driving the plot rather than a simple love interest. Best of all though, is the grandeur of the effects, which bring Jack Kirby’s epic vision to the screen in all its magnificence. This is the Asgard I wanted to see, the gods and heroes I fell in love with as a teenager, and for being true to those templates this film was a pure delight from start to finish.

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

I wasn’t quite so keen on this sequel, though it did better at the box office. By way of setting the scene, we learn about the long, long ago war between Asgardians and the Dark Elves, who wish to plunge the universe into darkness. Although the latter were defeated by Odin’s father, their leader Malekith escaped and doomsday weapon the Aether was lost. Now it’s the time of the Convergence and Jane Foster, out and about investigating rare phenomena, has stumbled upon the Aether and been possessed by it. Thor brings her to Asgard in the hope that Odin will be able to save his beloved, but instead it’s the cue for an attack by a returned Malekith, repulsed at great cost, including the death of Queen Frigga. Malekith wants Jane Foster so that he can regain the Aether and bring about an end of days, and so Odin determines to keep her prisoner while Thor wants to use Jane as bait to lure Malekith out. Against the All-Father’s will, Thor flees Asgard with Jane and Loki, who has agreed to help his brother avenge their mother, and journeys into the Dark World of the title. Naturally things go badly wrong, and the scene is set for a climactic showdown at Greenwich, the place where the Convergence makes it optimal for Malekith to bring his plans to fruition. The back story of the Dark Elves felt a little too contrived to me, as if they needed to come up with an origin for the film’s big bad and this was what first came to mind. Similarly the way in which Malekith seems capable of striking at Asgard with almost impunity after his previous attempts at universal dissolution had gone awry wasn’t convincing either; he should be weaker, but appears stronger. There’s quite a bit of silliness with Jane Foster’s scientific doings and her backup team, most especially mentor Professor Selvig’s ventures into naturism and love among the interns, all of which felt like strained attempts at humour, which wasn’t necessary. The main characters, especially Loki, are still finely drawn, and Christopher Eccleston is suitably sombre and nasty as Malekith. The vision of Asgard is as spectacular as ever, albeit the Dark World itself was pretty dull and painted with a more or less monochrome palette (I guess the clue is in the name). Where the film really comes into its own is with the final scenes at Greenwich, Thor and his allies going head to head with Malekith in an edge of the seat finale. Overall it was a fun film, one that points the way ahead as regards the Marvel Universe, and I enjoyed it; just not as much as its predecessor.

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3 Responses to Journey into Mystery

  1. Rolnikov says:

    I hereby claim my no-prize for knowing Thor used to appear in the comic Journey into Mystery!

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