Sunday, May 8, 2011

Thor and Wonder


I saw Thor yesterday and thought it was good--though I wonder if “good” superhero films have gotten common enough that I’m no longer impressed by mere competence. I do know that the formulaic elements of the “successful comic adaption” are beginning to wear thin.

So anyway, Thor drapes the Iron Man frame with interesting enough characters, a von Daniken-Kirby "gods from space" rift, and some cool action. It was in this second part, though, I was a little disappointed in their choices, given the source material they were working with.

One of the most interesting things about Thor the comic (and one of the things I think would be most interesting to steal for gaming) is the mixture of mythological elements and Jack Kirby’s crazy sci-fi-ish design. The preponderance of evidence in the comics doesn’t make the Asgardians just extraterrestrials (or even extradimensionals) who were mistaken for, or gave rise to, legends of the gods of Norse myth--they're people who we’re told and descended from a guy who got licked into existence from ice by a giant cow and who endure repeated cycles of the end of the world. And it’s a world where Odin zaps Jane Foster with a fairly technological looking wand to turn her into a “goddess.”

What Kirby started with the Asgardians in Journey into Mystery--and developed to its fullest “are they aliens, gods--or both?” fullness in the New Gods at DC--is a science fantasy blurring of traditional definitions, a thread only Grant Morrison, among all of Kirby’s successors, seems particularly interested in exploring. Kirby seems to be saying that in this modern world, tech should be as much part of a god's trappings as ever-full flagons and flying goat-chariots were in the past.

Check out this scene:


A somewhat bug-eyed monster alien-looking troll captured and carried in some mechanical contraption, guarded by warriors in retro-futuristic armor, against a backdrop of strange planetoids.

Or how about Kirby’s vision of Asgard:


A pulp sci-fi future city on an asteroid floating in a romanticized cosmos with a very literal rainbow bridge connecting it to the rest of the universe.

Obviously, some of this stuff might have come across as silly on film--maybe some of it teeters on that edge as it is. The movie makes some gestures in this direction with some of its design, but it also is very insistent about Einstein-Rosen bridges and its implication that the Nine Worlds can be seen with Hubble. The point (well worth remembering for gaming I think) is that the oft-quoted Arthur C. Clarke line that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” doesn’t have to mean that the wonder and strangeness must be stripped from either.

11 comments:

The Angry Lurker said...

Thanks for that, will probably wait until rental.

Desert Scribe said...

Do you remember Walt Simonson's run on Thor back in the 1980s (since collected in a series of Marvel Visionaries trade paperbacks)? He took the approach you're talking about--I remember the sequence of dwarves forging a companion weapon for Mjolnir looked like it took place in a 20th centurry steel factory instead of an Iron Age smithy; retellings of all the old myths; as well as alien "demons" coming from the heart of an exploding galaxy.

Brutorz Bill said...

Wife and I saw it yesterday, thought it was good, you do make some great points.

Aos said...

I thought it was pretty good, but it didn't blow me away. I pleased to see that they worked in so much of the background material. The fact that they rewrote Jane foster into a physicist troubled me a bit, just because I think there is some kind of misguided bizzarro PC subtext there, but maybe that's just me.

Johnathan Bingham said...

As an avowed comic book geek, I'm totally stoked to see the plethora of comic movies out this summer with Thor and Cap being at the top of the list. I'll probably have to wait until I get back Stateside this summer though. And then it'll be show time!

egopoisoning.com said...

Your opening line summed my own realization about the film. Thor would have blown the brain out of my skull, say, 10 years ago. Or if it had come out when Iron Man did, after the agony of Spiderman 3.

But in the context of modern hero films, I place it above The Spirit but not much else. And as a dude who was almost named Thor, that stings.

Havard: said...

The magic is not lost on me yet! I loved the movie. When I was reading the comic book, I used to be annoyed that it didnt follow the mythology closely enough, but now I have come to accept that. I like how the movie combined the sci fi and mythological look of Aasgard.

Trey said...

@Desert Scribe - You're right! I usually think of Simonson has bringing more of the mythological elements to the table, but you're right he did both.

@Bill - Yeah, I think its perfectly good, it just wasn't great to me.

@Aos - Maybe they didn't want her to be a nurse, I suppose for PC reasons, but I think the change to physicist was just for plot reasons.

@Jonathan - You'll have quite so catching up to do. :)

@egopoisoning - Oooh...I don't know if I'd go invoking The Spirit. That's harsh. ;)

seaofstarsrpg said...

Just got back from seeing it. I place it as a solid movie, nothing exceptional nothing great except the full bore realization of crazyKirby-esque designs! Those were fantastic especially Loki's crazy horned helmet.

Trey said...

I can see the inspiration from Kirby, but how its was realized bore as much resemblance to some TV budgeted sci-fi show as it did the Kirby pics above. Horns, though nice, just aren't enough.

Aos said...

Yeah, Trey, the physicist thing totally fit the story, and they didn't overplay it. You are most likely right.