Almighty Thor

Because Marvel wandered down so many blind alleys and experienced so many false starts on its way to establishing itself as a serious player in Hollywood, TV stations have never lacked for something they could tie in with the latest big release, just in case there are people staggering home after being turned away from a sold-out theater, turning on the TV with the thought, "Shit, just show me somebody in the costume!" When the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies came out, it was a good time to anyone who wanted to revisit the "TV movies" made by cobbling together episodes of the late-'70s live action series. When The Punisher with Thomas Jane was released in 2004, local stations dug out their old prints of the unreleased 1989 version starring Dolph Lundgren. When Ang Lee's  Hulk appeared, it was an excuse to air the TV-movie sequels to the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno series, and when the Edward Norton movie came along five years later, it provided an even rarer excuse to re-broadcast the Ang Lee Hulk. Presumably, when the new Captain America movie hits theaters later this summer, it'll be a good time for Reb Brown to go out in hope that somebody recognize his face on the TV above the bar and buy him a drink.

But up until now, there doesn't seem to have been any enthusiasm anywhere for a live action spin on Thor, Stan Lee's annexation of Norse mythology into the Marvel universe.  I don't know why, unless it's that they couldn't find an actor who was willing to wear the headgear. Or maybe every time they did find an actor who was interested, some saboteur mailed him the issues in which Walt Simonson turned our hero into a frog. The point is, if nothing else, the Syfy's Almighty Thor, directed by Chris Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus Ray, does fill a void. I'm not sure what else there is to say for it, except that it's not every day that you get the chance to feel sorry for Richard Grieco. Grieco, whose naked display of arrogant narcissism twenty years ago on 21 Jump Street and its spin-off Booker, coupled with the failure of his career to achieve liftoff, made him the Michael Pare of his generation, plays Loki, the villain of the piece. As anyone reading this probably knows, in the comics, Loki is Thor's adoptive brother; here, he's referred to as "the demon Loki", and comes on like the devil himself. He is, it's stressed, a "trickster" of great cunning and guile, which does link him to the comics, where the character's preference for outthinking his  antagonists seemed to be linked to the fact that he was usually drawn as the only one in Asgard who didn't look as if he could bench press a tractor.

Almighty Thor gets underway with a minimum of set-up, when Grieco, wearing what looks like a fan's homemade Edward Scissorhands Halloween costume and with his face changing color from embalming-table white to light blue to light green and back again, shows up on the outskirts of Valhalla, located in a distant corner of one of our nation's fine national parks during the off season, and starts blowing people up by pointing his staff at them. Those who survive the wrath of his boom stick are swallowed up whole by his terrible, giant CGI hell hounds, who from the looks of what's going on around them must have also swallowed up most of the budget. The film is so underpopulated that most of the awful deaths Loki inflicts go down off-camera; he points his stick or gives a command to his dogs, and then you hear somebody holler, "Argghhhh!!" Far be it from me to complain that something the kids might be watching on a Saturday night doesn't have enough graphic scenes of people being torn apart like fresh bread. 

Naughty Loki attracts the attention of Odin, played by gray-haired veteran pro wrestler Kevin Nash, who is out strolling the grounds with his son, Thor (Cody Deal), and his other son, and who looks like he could make a pretty fair living as Henry Rollins's stunt double if only Henry would consent to having one. Loki, who wants to get his hands on the ultimate weapon--the hammer of power, which looks as if it had been made by the finest craftsmen of Bedrock--so he can use it to destroy the world and bring about Ragnarok, makes short work of Thor's family and would quickly finish off the inexperienced young hero if he were not rescued by Patricia Velasquez, who played the beautiful Egyptian with the Venezuelan accent in the Mummy movies and who can still rock a midriff-baring warrior princess outfit with the best of them. 

Maybe it was because the director was so busy admiring how well her costume fit that he failed to ask her if she could try a little harder to deliver her lines intelligibly. Her character spends a lot of time giving Thor sage advice and warriorly wisdom, and I swear that at one point, I heard her tell him, with all the passionate intensity at her command, "No enemy can rubber baby buggy bumper!" She takes Thor to "a training camp" where, if I heard her right, they would be "protected by a powerful rooster", before catapulting them into the modern world, where she assures him that "the tree of Life" will be rebuilt, "no matter what Loki does in origami." Cody Deal, who speaks English as a first language but has had limited experience at doing so on camera, gets into the spirit himself, stepping close to her and looking into her eyes to say what sounds like, "You have my heart and sock size. Know that." (His best line comes when his new friend wonders if he's man enough to swing his big hammer. "I swing hard enough," he says proudly, with just a hint of Johnny Wadd.) Meanwhile, Richard Grieco, whose performance has the odor of a desperate cry for help, gets to deliver such lines as "I'll make this land a chasm of death," which he does enunciate clearly, but in the tone of someone badly hungover saying, "I'm sorry, I asked for a vanilla latte."

The first half of Almighty Thor mostly consists of these people wandering around in the woods. The second half, once they've teleported themselves to our world, mostly consists of them wandering around Los Angeles, or, to be more exact, what passed for post-apocalyptic Los Angeles in low-budget Italian sci-fi movies made during Reagan's first term. Grieco has one scene where he gets to walk down the street while extras step out of his way and stare at his funny get-up while, to judge from the look on his face, he drafts and redrafts his suicide note in his head, and Thor gets to break up a mugging, but for the most part, the "modern world" scenes are pretty much set in abandoned parking lots. The comic high point is a fight between Thor and Loki, with the guys spinning around and waving their weapons at each other while keeping one eye peeled for cops who might demand to see their filming permit. The sheer emptiness of what's onscreen develops a kind of fascination, like a Monte Hellman Western or one of those small-cast one-set wonders from the '50s and '60s (such as Shack Out on 101) that look as if they'd been made by the last survivors of nuclear war to kill time while waiting for radiation sickness to kick in. But it badly undercuts the, for lack of a better word, drama: if this world really were to be destroyed, who'd notice?

Almighty Thor was produced by The Asylum, the direct-to-video outfit whose credits include Transmorphers, Snakes on a Train, and The Day the Earth Stopped. The company has been called the king of the "mockbuster", but their co-founder, David Michael Latt, prefers the phrase "tie-in", and once told the New York Times, “I’m not trying to dupe anybody. I’m just trying to get my films watched. Other people do tie-ins all the time; they’re just better at being subtle about it." In Hollywood these days, you take integrity where you can find it, I guess.