Comic writers have created heroes based on myth and legend since the dawn of the superhero. Wonder Woman is an Amazon, blessed by the Greek gods. Fawcett’s (and, later, DC Comics’) Captain Marvel gained the powers of Greek and Roman gods and legends. Marvel Comics, though, tended to keep their heroes more grounded and human, with all the advantages and disadvantages of being mortal. Some, such as Doctor Strange, worked with forces far beyond the ken of ordinary men. However, even Marvel has dipped into the mythology pool. Instead of using the Greek and Roman myths, Marvel pulled a superhero out of Norse legend, the Mighty Thor.
Thor’s first appearance as a Marvel superhero came in 1962, in Journey into Mystery #83. His appearance in the comic would lead to it being renamed The Mighty Thor. A year after his first appearance, Thor was included in The Avengers as a founding member and mainstay of the team. When Marvel began its Ultimates line to try to prune fifty years of continuity without giving the original lines a hard reset, Thor carried over to the new universe.* In both lines, Thor wielded Mjolnir, a magic warhammer that grants the powers of flight, weather control, and shooting lightning bolts.
Marvel’s movie line, although with some rocky entries, has done well, with Marvel Studios having an excellent track record. The Avengers Initiative, starting with Iron Man, was done entirely within Marvel Studios, even after the Disney buy out. The idea behind the Avengers Initiative was to set up the origins of the major Avengers characters before releasing The Avengers itself. Thor was the third movie, following Iron Man and Iron Man 2, and shows how Thor came to Earth and to the attention of SHIELD. The movie shows, once again, what respecting the original material can do to help a movie succeed. In Thor‘s case, the movie paid attention not only to the comic book character but also to the original myths, pulling from both. Thor has a completely different feel to it compared to Iron Man. Part of the change comes from the director, Kenneth Branagh, best known for his adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays to the silver screen. Thor feels like an epic myth in modern times as Thor must learn what it means to be the king of the gods.
Helping elevate Thor is the quality of the cast. As seen in Iron Man, having the right actor in a role goes a long way to making a movie a success. The same idea comes to play in Thor. With such actors as Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Colm Feore, Stellan Skarsgard, and Tom Hiddleston, and a script by Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski, the movie had a sturdy base to build from. With Kenneth Branagh directing, the movie came together wonderfully.
Thor had a budget of about $150 million. The movie shows that it’s not just how much is spent, it’s also on how the money is spent. Special effects in a comic book movie have to look at least as good as those drawn in the comics. The costumes must be as close as possible to what the characters normally wear**. These touches can make or break a movie, and, in Thor, these considerations were met and exceeded.
Next time, sinking an adaptation.
* But not the New Universe.
** Or at least have a shout-out, as seen in X-Men.