Sunday, January 28, 2018

Road To Infinity War: Ten Years of Marvel (Part Four- "Thor" 2011)

Road To Infinity War: Ten Years of Marvel

Part Four


After “Iron Man 2,” superhero movie fans were treated to a vacation to Asgard in order to meet Thor, God of Thunder.

The year 2011 was going to be a big year for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So much so, that it could have possibly decided whether or not the MCU would continue or not. We had “Thor,” which was easily going to be the weirdest of the MCU movies up to this point, and a month later, we would be getting “Captain America” who is the leader of The Avengers. These were the two most important Avengers to cast. These were the two Avengers that Marvel had to absolutely get right. There was no guarantee that they could get these characters right. How many A-list stars are over 6’5 and are built like Vikings? How many actors can perfectly embody the American ideal and the American spirit with no nuisance, no sarcasm or no tongue-in-cheek bullcrap? It was hard to imagine. I read lots of movie websites, and many people were trying to figure out who Marvel would cast as Thor and Captain America. For Thor in particular, lots of fans were suggesting any and all supertall actors. It didn’t matter evidentially if those actors were good or not, everybody just expected a tall actor because Thor is tall. Would it be possible for the studio find an actor who had some talent and be as tall as the dear God of Thunder?

Marvel struck gold when they found Chris Hemsworth. Up to that point, which was the year 2011, the only thing anybody really saw Chris Hemsworth in previously was “Star Trek.” In the 2009 film, he was in the first five minutes, his character quickly becomes captain of his ship once his previous captain is captured by Nero. He only appeared in the film for ten minutes, maybe five. But he was able to captivate the audience in his wee bit of run time. Here was a guy who had the ability to move an audience, to keep them engaged, and he just happened to be tall. As I said, they struck gold, and I think Marvel has realized how epically they hit that gold when they found and cast him. Thor needed to be a homerun, and he was not just a homerun but a grand slam. But with a tall good actor, could Marvel still get him to convey the very weird world of Asgard? Would there be a way that this actor could get the audience to believe in a world of gods and magic? There were some people on internet forums in 2008 and 2009 who thought that Thor shouldn’t participate in The Avengers, simply because his power base was so incredibly out there that they wouldn’t fit into the franchise Marvel was building. So far at this point, Marvel had put together Hulk and Iron Man. While both of those characters are rather comic book-y, they are more realistic and there was a tone to the movies at the time that was smothered in realism. So, there was no way that Marvel could get modern audiences to believe in this god of thunder, right?

“Thor” was kind of a magic trick that came together when Marvel needed it most. They needed to prove to the world how far they were going to take things, how far they were willing to expand the universe they were creating. They found a great Thor in Chris Hemsworth. They were putting together a stellar cast with Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgard, Colm Feore, and while I didn’t know anything about Tom Hiddleston at the time, I knew Hemsworth would be good, so I figured Hiddleston wouldn’t be that bad. (And boy it seems really weird saying “that bad” in regards to Hiddleston, since as far as villains go, he has emerged as the fan favorite.) But even with all this talent in front of the camera, something could still go wrong. Marvel hired Kenneth Branagh to direct the film, and that made me groan out loud when I read that.

Sure, it’s easy to think of Branagh in regards to his recent hit “The Murder on The Orient Express,” but before recently, I wasn’t crazy about Branagh’s films. I didn’t feel he could make a compelling “Thor” movie. When the first few shots from “Thor” started popping up online, I wasn’t impressed by the look of Asgard or the costumes. I was dumbfounded that everything looked so metallic and, dare I say it, cheap. The armor seemed exaggerated on all the characters, and it’s weird that the armor looked so cheap. I was hoping for a “Lord of the Rings” style look to the film. Heck, maybe something Shakespearean. Since Marvel was aiming for an authentic world, I figured we’d get an Asgard we’d believe in and I figured that this movie was sure to be a disaster. Mind you, this was all based on my initial reactions to the set photos and stills from the movie, it would be a year or so before seeing the actual movie.

When “Thor” was coming out, it was at the tail-end of my junior year of college. Once again, like with many of these Marvel movies, I was only days away from finishing another year at school. I couldn’t believe that my junior year was nearing to the close and that I was going to be a senior. Four years of college was flying by and I wish I had a way to slow the time down, it was falling off the clock at a rapid pace. During my freshman year of college, I had a friend named Pat, a guy I met on my floor during that year. We spent lots of time talking TV shows, sports, Stephen King and we found out fast that we both shared a mutual fascination for Thor. As the Thor movie was moving closer and closer into production, I was always discussing it with him, every step of the way. We’d been talking about this movie since freshman year of college, so I had no better a buddy to see this movie with. We picked a slow Saturday afternoon to map the movie out, and we went to go see it.

On the other side of the movie, I couldn’t believe how much of a naysayer I was when it came to Kenneth Branagh, because he made one great “Thor” movie. Chris Hemsworth proved that he was a perfect Thor, and I was certain that he would grow into a well-known, popular actor. All the problems I had with the look of the world of Asgard evaporated quickly. I ended up liking the world of Asgard. I wasn’t completely sold on the design of it, but there was an epic quality to the place, and I was engaged in the world. As I stated above, Tom Hiddleston also emerged as a talent. He is so incredibly good as Loki, and you all know that. If you’ve seen a single Marvel movie, you know how good Tom Hiddleston is as Loki. There is a reason why he’s a fan favorite folks, he completely made the role his own. Not only is the world of Asgard addicting to look at, but so was the world of Jotunheim, the world of the Frost Giants, who were some antagonists of the first movie. What’s amazing is that they pulled off exactly what they set out to do. The movie does a fine job of blending magic and science into one cocktail. Yes, the movie spends lots of exposition explaining the correlation between magic and science, but thankfully it works. This isn’t a movie that is constantly reminding the audience that they are watching a fantasy movie. There was not an obnoxious use of strange words. While I wasn’t crazy about the look of Asgard, I did like that it felt like a world that had been lived in. Much like Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings,” Kenneth Branagh did a good job of creating a world that you felt like you could go visit if you found the right transportation. What’s really amazing that he created this world while also making it feel like a comic book world too.

As I rewatched “Thor” earlier today, I couldn’t help notice something about the action sequences of the Marvel movies up to this point. Not just “Thor” but “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk.” At this point in superhero movies, the budgets weren’t as big as they are today, especially in the superhero realm. “Thor” much like the “Iron Man” movies” and “The Incredible Hulk” all featured some action sequences that I felt ended before they really began. I see so many people these days ridicule the older superhero movies, simply because there were things that they couldn’t pull off due to budgetary concerns. Marvel had to set up the world that they would use to make twenty other movies in, and they needed to take their time setting up this world and the rules of the world. Setting up these universes and the huge amount of world building makes the storytelling easier, so as the audience got more flexible in this world, the storytelling got better, chances started to be taken and yes, action sequences got more epic. You can’t really do that when you are setting up characters and worlds. It seems a little unfair to me to try to compare what came before with the now, because the Marvel Cinematic Universe has changed and evolved so much, it just wasn’t capable of that right at the beginning of its birth.

What was most important about this first “Thor” adventure was setting up the world of Asgard and explain its relationship with Midgard AKA Earth. I felt like the movie did that. It had to find some great actors to portray Thor and Loki, and even though Hiddleston and Hemsworth were general unknowns at the time, they have grown to capable actors now, as well as homegrown celebs. (This may have just been a rumor, but there was some speculation that Marvel almost hired WWE superstar Triple H to play Thor, what the hell would that have looked like?) They made a movie that was both entertaining and fun and action-packed. It still had a story to tell though, and I think Branagh was able to juggle lots of things in order to make a good movie. He also created a fantasy world that felt real in a way. I think for the most part, “Thor” is a mission that was accomplished. What started as a huge gamble for the studio ended up paying off in spades and in royal flushes. Hemsworth set up a style for these movies that has payed off for his individual franchise as well as the greater MCU.

Join us next week as we head to World War II with “Captain America: The First Avenger”

For my look back at "Iron Man" click here!

For my look back at "The Incredible Hulk," click here!

For my look back at "Iron Man 2" click here!

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