ACIDEMIC Journal of Film and Media

Appetizing Young THOR for Sale...

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David Del Valle

The mythic land of Asgard as envisioned in director Kenneth Branagh's intensely butch retelling of the Norse legend of THOR is visually stunning with a marvelously comic book sense of wonder. It is as if all the album covers of one's favorite heavy metal groups had come to life in 3-D. I mean, just get a load of Sir Anthony Hopkins as Odin, supreme ruler of Asgard: all flash and filigree complete with silver eye patch. He is every inch a god (Christian, of course) booming his displeasure at his court while maintaining a sense of humor very unlike his Nordic counterpart.

Why Hollywood seems so willing to invest millions in the myths and legends of our neighbors to the far north is understandable simply because they immediately change everything to suit the current standards of our pop culture of the moment. Hollywood likes their Norse legends to be preternaturally buff, blonde and sexy (so they can mate with earth women like Natalie Portman, don't you know).

I had just seen SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER prior to going to the IMAX for the screening of THOR so my mind was still in a Tennessee state of mind when I sat down to experience this epic. Imagine if you will what I thought when I first got a load of the ultra-jacked Chris Hemsworth looking like a Sebastian Venable wet-dream, having crashed literally to earth after getting the boot out of Asgard from his dad, Sir Anthony.

The lines Cathy speaks toward the end of Tennessee's play regarding Sebastian's taste in men that summer ("Blondes were on the menu; he was fed up with the dark ones and famished for blondes") come to mind. If you consider what Hollywood did this summer in mixing genres like the Western with science fiction (i.e. COWBOYS AND ALIENS) then let's take it a step further and mix THOR with SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER: Thor lands in Sebastian's pre-dawn-of-time garden just in time for Mrs. Venable's feeding of the Venus fly trap...The mind boggles. The line My son Sebastian would have liked you...." was (both in the play as well as the film) referring to another blond, a doctor with a Polish name that translated into "sugar. You can well imagine what Mrs. Venable could do with some rough trade named THOR.

Naturally, all the main characters in SUDDENLY would be smitten by THOR in one way or another, making Mrs. Venable's desire to lobotomize her niece Cathy somewhat more tiresome than it would have been without his godly presence. For the record Williams used the lobotomy ploy as a way of exorcising his own personal demons regarding what was done to his own sister many years before. I have always felt the real monster in SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER was Mrs. Venable in the first place since Sebastian is a phantom character from Act One until the finale. My comparison of the two films is really just more about the objectification of male beauty which plays such an integral part in both films. The scenes on Asgard with THOR and his warriors is all muscle-and-sweat, a Tom-of-Finland bonanza.

I mean there are no women to speak of in that entire alternative universe yet both THOR and his father have wives (goddesses, in fact). Thor's wife Sif is the goddess of fertility, a potent force in her own right; of course we see little of this in the film because it just gets in the way. Another very kinky point here Thor's half brother Lokiis a shape-shifter with a decidedly open sexuality who at one point took the form of Thor's wife for months at a time...and this was featured in the Marvel comics as well! The Norse myths had very little concern for who was having sex with whom as long as there was enough to go around.

One must realize that these myths are rarely set for accuracy in the comic book realm and certainly not in the film. The real" Thor had red hair and a red beard in the myths and a very bad temper, which made him a bit of a monster himself. This is all overlooked in Hollywood as well as the comic book universe that spawned the film. We now enjoy a blond superman instead of a fiery red avenger. In this film version of the Nordic nightlife of the gods Earth remains a playground of humans who, down through the ages, mistook space aliens for gods, a concept best served in the Erich Von Danniken's book Chariots of the Gods.

In any case we have in Kenneth Branagh a director who, while best known for his arthouse leanings with filmic adaptations of Shakespeare, we still have an talented artist who is not past playing villains in junk films like THE WILD WILD WEST as well as the odd British sex farce. Branagh manages to include the Bard when and where he can in THOR. There are moments as Thor battles in the mud that we see the various HENRY plays at work and certainly he invests all Thor's father Odin's scenes with a certain Shakespearean rivalry usually found in MACBETH (sans the Lady of course). Branagh seems confident enough in his own sexuality that he can and does set a lovers glow on every scene that involves his leading man, as he well knows a good director must be somewhat in love with his leading man to make it all work.

When Branagh did his version of FRANKENSTEIN he at once set about making his character the doctor as buff as his workout schedule would allow, putting a decidedly different spin on the nervous Nellie persona established by Colin Clive. When it came time for a reboot of the theater chestnut SLEUTH Kenneth Branagh went the distance in taking Harold Pinter's homoerotic dialogue right to the limit until Jude Law has to spell out in a shouting match on a bed just what an "old poof Michael Caine was in asking him to move in with him and chuck his on-camera wife. The original play had no such dynamic set in motion even though it was always a two-character play; the men were at best rivals but never closeted gay men with designs on one another that is, until Kenneth Branagh's remake. There are moments in this version that put anything between Brad Pitt and Antonio Banderas in INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE to shame.

Now with his production of THOR we have more male eye candy than the male strippers in "Thunder from Down Under" ever had on Ladies Night in Vegas. The woman in THOR (that is, Natalie Portman, still reeling from her BLACK SWAN tour-de-force) is an odd choice to stand alongside this mega hunk since even on her toes she barely comes to Thor's nipples. Yet his time on earth is spent with both the male and female population of earth in awe of his torso. Branagh does give the God of Thunder a number of moments to be funny and most of the time it works on a comic book level. Let's make no mistake, this is a grand entertainment that does what it sets out to do: create a franchise.

One must always remember this Norse God was introduced to the world by Stan Lee (with the aid of the fantastic Jack Kirby) way back in 1962, yet the legend itself is very near two thousand years old. Thor was idolized by the Vikings in the day although the real pretty boy of the myths was never Thor but his blood brother Baldr, who is described as blond and beautiful. The Norse Gods were really defined by their abilities and not necessarily on their personalities. Branagh understands the Western culture's obsession with violence and gives the film more than enough with his depiction of the frost giants that inhabit the other realm outside of Asgard. The rainbow bridge that separates these realms (known as the Bridge of Bifrost in the myths) separates the "Joluns" from Asgard.

A rainbow bridge certainly rings a bell on earth as well as the realm of Asgard since this is acknowledged as the colors for gay liberation (I know this is taking some license here but after all this film is gay enough already; I don't need to grasp at Frost giants to make a point). Odin as played by Sir Anthony Hopkins reveals a softer side when it comes to his sons, a concept not to be found in Norse legends regarding this powerful god. Odin is by all accounts a wizard of great power, who traded his eye for knowledge. He is sexual in a monstrous way, being a born predator with deviate tastes (sound familiar?). Yet the Marvel comic Odin is almost benevolent in his wisdom, more like Laurence Oliver in CLASH OF THE TITANS. It would be interesting to see a film adaptation that dealt with the real Norse myths regarding Odin and especially Loki, who is made the villain in this film, yet in the myths sometimes helped the gods in their work. His current personification is more in keeping with the rash of fey villains that keep popping up in films like TRON-LEGACY where the villain is coded-gay in manner and eyeliner.

While Hollywood may decide that LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is good box office THOR'S success will certainly pave the way for more films about the God of Thunder and his pals. I think the market is wide open after the worldwide profits from the LORD OF THE RINGS films, which mine similar myths and legends that began with the Norse and Germanic people of the ancient world.

If we can go back for a moment to my original concept of SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER-meets-THOR: what indeed would Mrs. Venable not do to keep this other-worldly male beauty in tow, as her son Sebastian would have insisted she do her best to accomplish? I think Thor would be the likely candidate to take to the gay beaches of the world wearing a swimsuit (to quote Tennessee's Cathy) that "was a disgrace to the jaybirds...when I would come out of the ocean it was if I was wearing nothing at all!" Thor would soon realize that sex and beauty come at a price here in Midgard, the term his world gave to Earth. The God of Thunder as a male escort well, maybe for a season....As Mrs. Venable would remind us, "they never just referred to us as mother and son. It was always Violet and Sebastian..." Well let's rethink that for a moment: to Violet and Thor never seeing one without the other. And all the most interesting and beautiful people would be in our court...Sounds like Asgard all over again, only this time without those unappealing frost giants.

If Sebastian Venable had made a checklist of his favorite Norse films from the vaults of Hollywood done after his summer might look something like this:

David Hemmings is dark and somewhat appetizing. Yes, he can stay.

Great camp fun with Orson Welles and a few blonds. I mean, a very few blonds.

Well, at least we have some sailors to explore with...

Nothing says Norse myths quite like Kirk Douglas in a leather skirt.

Now, Angelia Jolie is someone to take to the beach. What she would bring back would be truly appetizing.

Well, Antonio Bandaras is on my menu regardless of hair color.

All I can say is that Mario Bava is one dizzy queen when it comes to lighting and set design. Make it work, Mario!

That zany Bava working it with Vikings and with a Shakespearian revenge plot to boot. Who says you can't make it pretty and cerebral as well?

I sure Sebastian could think of more but it is time for a nap and then that late afternoon Daiquiri with Violet. If Chris Hemsworth ever finds himself in the Garden District believe me a good time will be had by all. Work those Thunderbuns, dude!

David Del Valle is a journalist, columnist, film historian, radio and television commentator on the horror/science-fiction/cult and fantasy film genres.

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c.2011 - David Del Valle / Acidemic / Marvel Comics

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