There is an absurdly vast selection of music movies and documentaries available on Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, and on and on and on. But it’s hard to tell which ones are actually worth your 100 minutes. Watch the Tunes will help you pick what music doc is worth your Netflix and Chill time every weekend. This week’s edition covers I Am Thor, which is streaming over on Netflix.I am the God Thor,
I am the War God,
I am the Thunderer!
Here in my Northland,
My fastness and fortress,
Reign I forever!
So opens Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem The Challenge Of Thor. In comparison, Ryan Wise’s film I Am Thor opens with our hero - The War God! The Thunderer! - on stage proving his physical superiority over mere mortals by... inflating a water bottle. Maybe I’m just a jaded millennial, but as far as expectations versus reality go, the real life version of Thor was a pretty big step down from the literary one, and that opening footage was from the guys prime. What is surprising though is that by the end of this movie Jon Mikl Thor, the shiny galoot up there flexing all that muscle will, by sheer force of stubborn tenacity and dumb luck, stumble about as close as he can to actually, no joke, reigning forever.
Between Kiss and Alice Cooper, the early '70s North American spin on Glam was bigger, darker, and undeniably more metal than its British counterpart. For all the edge we added on our side of the pond, those groups and others always maintained a flair for the theatrical. Gene Simmons blew fire when he wasn’t drooling fake blood, Alice Cooper guillotine’d himself every night on tour, and the Canadian equivalent, Thor ("The Legendary Rock Warrior"), bent steel bars that he held between teeth and broke concrete blocks on his chest in order to make himself relevant as some form of entertainment. While he never reached the same level of fame that those two early adopters of elaborate stage chicanery, Thor did garner a fair amount of press and acclaim. His first album went gold (in Canada) and he appeared in numerous magazine spreads, and that was enough of an experience of the limelight to keep him on that path for the rest of his life despite long stretches where no one seemed to want to buy the wacky heavy metal novelty act that he was selling.
After spending the '80s attempting and failing to break into acting (his credits include Zombie Nightmare and Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare, among others) Thor experienced an unexpected resurgence across Europe in the 2000s, which is what I Am Thor spends its second half focusing on. Apparently, in a Searching For Sugarman style twist, the entire population of Scandinavia is in love with Thor. His signature bleach blonde locks and muscles are long gone, but he’s still a consummate if half-assed showman, dedicated to putting on a show for his fans since that’s seemingly all he knows how to do.
There are times when I Am Thor feels like a mockumentary, but it’s all too real and unmistakably human despite the profoundly absurd twists and turns that Thor’s career path takes. The understanding that Thor would need big concrete bricks for his act is lost in translation at one of his European Festival stops and the band come out on stage to find a sledgehammer and a half dozen small red bricks, at which point someone rightfully refers to it a near-miss Spinal Tap “Stonehenge moment.” There are so many moments like this where everyone involved approach, but never quite cross over into full on self-awareness of their own ridiculousness somehow.
The unexpected problem with I Am Thor is that it actually holds back on the insanity of Thor’s life. The fact that, barely out of his teens, he was the titular “talent” on some sort of X-rated something-or-other called "What do you say to a naked waiter?" is just tossed in there and not really discussed as abnormal at all. Oh, Thor was kidnapped at gunpoint not long after his first album came out? We’re just going to put that out there and not go into any more details on it past Thor’s admission that “It doesn't matter how big you are since bullets go through muscle.” There’s no mention (that I caught) of the Vancouver Millionaires, a hockey team that Thor single-handedly resurrected, despite the fact that he seems to have on a Millionaires jersey every moment that he’s not on stage. In focusing so intensely on the comeback narrative the filmmakers squandered an opportunity to present a somehow even more colorful character than the one they captured here.
The question of whether it’s better to burn out or fade away doesn’t apply here since Thor took the unspoken third option of just keep barreling ahead with what he was doing in the hopes that the pendulum would eventually swing back his way. Luckily for him, it did, in a way. I suspect that Jon Mikl Thor hasn’t read much Longfellow, but somewhere along the way he’s managed to sincerely channel the spirit of the Norse god himself as captured by the poet:
Force rules the world still,
Has ruled it, shall rule it;
Meekness is weakness,
Strength is triumphant,
Over the whole earth
Still is it Thor's Day!
Strength is triumphant indeed and, against all odds, still is it Thor's Day.