It Looks Like Most Rock Docs and Feels Like Most Rock Docs -- It's 'I Am Thor'
He’s a tank that keeps on plowing through the fields in the face of opposing forces, and it’s somehow admirable and inspirational that he hasn’t given up.
I Am Thor will, by no means, win any awards for originality. Like countless other ‘forgotten rock band’ documentaries -- Anvil, A Band Called Death -- I Am Thor co-opts a predictable structure but changes the band. It may seem harsh, but predictability doesn’t doom the film to failure. After all, the mythology behind the rock band isn’t a secret to anyone. Throw in sex, drugs, and a healthy dose of mental anguish, and you’ve got the foundations of the classic rock band.
So, the subject of I Am Thor isn’t difficult to sum up. Thor, a former bodybuilder, starts a half metal band / half Alice Cooper-style performance that splits their set between cheesy Manowar-esque metal and feats of Thor’s power -- which includes, but is not limited to, bending steel and blowing up a hot water bottle until it explodes. The classic rock documentary style follows Thor’s beginnings and early fame, and at a third of the way in, switches to the story of Thor’s attempt to stage a comeback.
It's at this point that the film really becomes interesting. Up until now, we haven’t seen anything spectacular. Thor’s origin tale is mostly a predictable path, although his stint as an erotic dancer is a bit irregular for a metal musician. Once the story pivots from how Thor came to be to how Thor is trying to pursue fame, the documentary gets a chance to tread new ground and examine the psychology of Thor’s quest. It’s an interesting ride and one that makes us think about how utterly unpredictable fame is.
Now significantly less buff than his '80s persona, the comeback Thor is still bent on his act -- one that presupposes a chiseled physique for the demonstrative feats of strength. It’s a normal thought process: Thor doesn’t change up his music, his show, or anything, opting to continue doing what he’s always done and hoping that something will change.
Watching the documentary isn’t exactly depressing, and much of that is due to Thor’s likable persona. But at the same time, it’s a bit confusing to watch a man so stuck in one moment of his life try to relive it over and over. Thor is acutely conscious that he is not the hulking hero he once was, but he slides into his leather chaps and skull belt and pretends he is. It’s simultaneously endearing and depressing to watch Thor play house parties comprised of a few people with the same theatrical effort he puts into a large crowd. He never comes off as wholly delusional, but moments like that make the audience question exactly what his ethos is.
The film is presented in a way that fits thematically with Thor’s image. It’s imperfect, very rough around the edges, not pretty yet strangely endearing. Everything from the editing to the cinematography feels amateur in a fitting and not necessarily terrible way. The low-key aesthetic lends itself well to the subject matter, but doesn’t do much to present the material in a way that’s visually compelling. It ends up leaving the film feeling more like a behind-the-scenes feature on a Thor Deluxe Edition CD than a feature in its own right. It definitely does not feel as polished as the crisp presentation of A Band Called Death.
But in the end, there’s an unmistakably compelling quality to the whole ordeal. Thor demonstrates that he warrants a documentary about him by being so magnetic throughout the film. Like I’ve said, watching him and his intense determination to succeed is moving. He’s a tank that keeps on plowing through the fields in the face of opposing forces, and it’s somehow admirable and inspirational that he hasn’t given up.
The film plays out like a love letter to Thor and his music, and for those who come to it without knowing him, it makes a good case for liking him. As a documentary, it succeeds in providing a portrait of a person and in chronicling a certain time and a certain place. It doesn’t reach too far, and that’s both a blessing and a curse. For on the one hand, not stepping out of the expected boundaries makes most of the experience a bland one. On the other, there seems to be no reason to delve into challenging questions about the pursuit of fame in the first place.
The movie is just like Thor -- it’s not interested in asking why, it’s interested in just doing it. It’s admirable and entertaining, but nothing special, lacking the sort of cultural relevance that would make it a hit with anyone outside of a small circle of fans.