The behind-the-scenes documentary I Am Thor is about a heavy metal singer who dresses up as, yes, the Nordic god Thor, bends steel bars, vanquishes foes onstage, and smashes bricks with sledgehammers. So, essentially, he’s the band GWAR before GWAR. He almost made it in the halcyon 1980s when He-Man (who he uncannily resembles) and the Masters of the Universe was a show kids watched. Eventually after 10 years of retirement, Thor (actually Canadian John Mikl) picks up the hammer again and begins his Spinal Tap-esque comeback in the late 1990s. This should be a movie tailor-made for anyone who loves American Movie and Anvil: The Story of Anvil, where hapless though not quite talentless underdogs strive to make good.
The problem with I Am Thor is that aside from the absurd premise of a nice Canadian boy who is into bodybuilding and who fronts a metal band and almost makes it, there’s not much else going on. Director Ryan Wise races through the first 40 years of Mikl’s life, past his childhood where he got beat up for wearing superman costumes, past his young adulthood as a naked waiter in the 1970s, past Thor’s first incarnation, and his first marriage. Instead, he mostly follows Thor’s comeback for 10 years waiting for it to happen.
God bless Wise for having faith, but until the last 20 minutes, it’s pretty much a slog as Thor plays a monster convention or has trouble paying his band, because Mikl is unusually nice, even for a Canadian. So, he never loses his temper, he just sort of deflates and mopes. He has led an interesting life, and his band is actually not bad if you go for hair metal, but his original bandmates out-charisma him easily, which is why in the last third of the film, when he reunites with them for a European tour, the film takes a noticeable upturn.
If Wise wasn’t trying to go for the cringe-worthy comeback trail, which we’ve seen a thousand times, and just focused on the subject, perhaps we’d see more of what made Mikl almost a phenomenon and why he didn’t reach a Twister Sister?level of success. (Generally, someone mentions bad management or a bad record deal with no follow-up.)
There is also a significant lack of concert footage until the final 10 minutes, so we catch tantalizing glimpses of his stage show but don’t get a real taste until the end. We just see rapturous fans declaiming how wonderful it is to see a Thor show (including the founder of Punk Magazine John Holmstrom, who, in an amazing display of hyperbole, compares Thor to the Ramones.) Aside for some “why am I still doing this” philosophizing, there’s not much depth. Wise never pushes Mikl to open up. In fact, he really never pushes Mikl at all. Somewhere, there’s a great story locked somewhere inside him.