Sunday, June 24, 2012

Thor, Prince of... Denmark?

So, being on this huge Avengers kick right now, and not being able to go see it whenever I want to, I'm starting to watch the movies that led up to it.  I started with Thor (2011), which is totally out of order, but hey, it's me!  Obviously going to start with the stand-alone about my fave Avenger.

I spent the first section of it going, "Um, really?  I see."  It's much different than I was expecting, much more stylized and fantasy-based.  Which is not exactly bad, just not what I was expecting.  Once Thor hit Earth, I grooved on it much more, as I like Natalie Portman and I love fish-out-of-water stories.  Thor adjusts to modern life fairly quickly, and because he's a god, I'm okay with that.  (Not like in Kate & Leopold, where Leopold's adjusting so quickly annoys me and is the main reason I don't love a movie that stars three of my favorite actors.)  One of my favorite moments is when Thor's eating (and eating and eating, even though it's not shawarma) and tosses a coffee mug to the ground in appreciation of how tasty it is -- I love the culture clash right there, it made me laugh and laugh.

But anyway, after watching Thor, I had a blog post about it all planned out.  And then before I could write it, I had a revelation.  While sitting in the car in the grocery store parking lot, as a matter of fact.  And the revelation was that, although I was not fond of some of the FX, and there were parts that felt rushed, the movie as a whole appealed to me for one simple reason:  it's basically a retelling of Hamlet.

Okay, stop sniggering and rolling your eyes.  I know, I know, I'm a nut on the subject.  But let me list the similarities:

  • Thor's father winds up in a coma at the hand of Thor's adopted brother, Loki; Hamlet's father winds up dead at the hands of Hamlet's uncle, Claudius.  Loki's words sent Odin into the coma, while Claudius poured poison into King Hamlet's ear, but since evil words are a kind of poison, I say the comparison works.
  • Thor gets banished to Earth;  Hamlet gets banished to England.
  • Loki usurps the throne while Odin is incapacitated;  Claudius usurps the throne once King Hamlet is dead.
  • Thor returns from Earth to stop Loki from starting a war and claim his rightful place as King of Asgard;  Hamlet returns from England to avenge his father's murder and take his rightful place as King of Denmark.
  • Loki uses his silver tongue to get him out of trouble several times; Claudius uses his powers of persuasion to keep Laertes from killing him, to woo Gertrude, and to convince all the courtiers that him taking his brother's wife and throne is perfectly acceptable.
  • Thor's climax is a big duel between Thor and Loki;  Hamlet's climax is a big duel between Hamlet and Laertes.

Thor/Hamlet, Odin/King Hamlet, and Loki/Claudius

It's not perfect or complete, I grant you.  But there are a lot of plot similarities (and thematic ones too, which I may go into another time), and I'm wondering if they're what drew Kenneth Branagh to the project in the first place.  I have to say, thinking of Thor as a kind of retelling of Hamlet makes me like it a lot better, and now I really want to watch it again, to see if I can find other similarities.

EDIT:  I read an article that quoted Branagh as saying he thought of Thor as very similar to Henry V.  That works too.  Who am I to argue with Branagh?


  1. Okay, now you really should look deeper and see if one was based on the other, or if it's mere coincidence. Or are there other classics with the same plot line??? When Mrs. Czer sees this, I definitely want to read her take on it.

  2. Oh. My. Stinkin'. Word. This is pure brilliance. I love both of these stories, and I can't stop thinking "Why did I never see that?!"

    While we're on that note, do you prefer the Mel Gibson Hamlet? He's the only one I've seen, and I like him so much, I wonder if I should scope out others...

    1. There was a time when the Mel Gibson version was my unequivocal favorite. But now I really love several others, and enjoy various aspects of each, so I'm not sure I have one favorite version.

      So what would I suggest? Well...

      Kenneth Branagh's is awesome -- the only theatrical version that uses the whole play. So it's more than 4 hours long. Also, there's a love scene between him and Ophelia, though shown as a memory and not explicit (I think the movie is PG-13). A quick finger on the FF button or ClearPlay will eliminate it if you so desire. The acting overall in that is wonderful -- Branagh has a rather different take on the character, that Hamlet hasn't always been melancholy, but was actually a cheerful sort until his father's death. His Horatio (Nicholas Farrell) is wonderful, and so is Ophelia (Kate Winslet), and Derek Jacobi. who plays Claudius, was a renowned Hamlet himself in his younger days. Plus, this version is easy to find -- most libraries have it.

      The 2009 BBC version with David Tennant as Hamlet and Patrick Stewart as Claudius is also great, and also has a wonderful Horatio (Peter De Jersey this time). And it's quite easy to find too. Also, nothing to fast-forward through (though there's a sight gag involving a condom packet).

      If I have a favorite, it might be the 2000 version with Ethan Hawke as Hamlet and a brilliant Julia Stiles as Ophelia. It has the only Laertes that has ever measured up to what I want from the character: Liev Schreiber. There's only one real flaw to that production: a terrible Horatio. Blech. But the rest of it sings. For some reason it's not always carried by libraries, but it's usually available for sale pretty cheaply online. I think Amazon has it for like $5 most of the time.

      So, um, yes! Scope out others! The Campbell Scott version is good too.

    2. I have GOT to finish my crochet and music projects...because I now have some serious Hamlet-ing to do. :-) David Tennant as Hamlet? That's a load of awesome. And Liev Schreiber as Laertes? I was kinda impressed by his moodiness/broodiness as Sabretooth. That could be great.

    3. Yeah, Liev has become one of my favorite actors because he's quite fantastic no matter what he's in. Even if a movie is kind of silly or forgettable, he still shines. And he's the most tender, relate-able Laertes ever.

  3. I always watch movies that I think are so weird, then I learn that they are based on or similar to Shakespeare plays and they become instantly better! I watched this last night and never realized the Hamlet ties, but you are so right!

    1. MC, that's so fun! I love it when revelations like that make me appreciate a story or movie more. I even started liking The Lion King a little better when I realized it's a Hamlet retelling. Never going to be a favorite, but I do enjoy spotting the parallels.


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