I am Thor filmmaker Ryan Wise really lucked out with Jon Mikl Thor as his documentary subject, because Thor is a man who does it all himself. Surely the hardest-working human in show business, Thor started out his professional career as a bodybuilder before evolving into an actor, screenwriter and, eventually, "legendary rock warrior" Thor. He's been touring and recording since 1973, a journey that has been beset by bad fortune, mismanagement, ill health and a series of unhappy coincidences. Thor has never given up - well, actually, that's not true. Throughout the course of I am Thor, filmed over a period of several years, we see Thor give up several times. But it never seems to stick.
He's surrendered teeth, musculature, his health, a happy marriage and decades of his life to the pursuit of entertaining audiences, and though those audiences are often sparse, they are damn well entertained. Thor's sets consist of elaborate costumes, light shows, feats of strength and rock and roll, all songs written by Thor himself with simple refrains and an undying love of metal. This guy is a showman and a stalwart, a flat-out legend, and I am Thor is the often uproarious, and sometimes quite poignant, love letter he deserves.
Underneath the devil mask and band of skulls adorning his waist (an accessory he never seems to wear properly, constantly adjusting it as he dons his complicated costume), Thor is a perennially nice Canadian fellow. We see a montage of people, including his ex-wife, telling us exactly that. He does the dishes when he stays at your house! And, really, that's the crux of I am Thor, a movie that follows this kind, hardworking, often hapless rock god as he attempts and fails, again and again, to embark on a successful tour. While I am Thor boasts plenty of laughs, they're never at Thor's expense - or at least without his express participation, as he spends much of the film grinning ruefully and throwing his hands in the air at the insane obstacles the universe has thrown in his decades-long path toward superstardom. Strokes, depression, kidnappings (!), anxiety attacks, ill-fitting managers, disgruntled bandmates and studios that simply don't understand him - Thor's dealt with it all. Is it any wonder he now works as his own manager, planning every intricate detail involved in a European mini-tour himself because he can't trust anyone else to do it?
We watch, terrified that the tour will end badly (because by now, we're deeply invested in Thor's journey. If Thor isn't happy, we're not happy), and though I wouldn't dare spoil you, know this: Thor's ending will always be a happy ending, because Thor is a goddamn optimist. He's tired now, and he's old, but he's still Thor, the most dedicated, industrious, adaptable musical legend of our time. If you already loved Thor, I am Thor will give you so much more to love, because we see how much strife he has transcended through tenacity and hope. And if you don't already know who Thor is, it's time you met him. There can be no better introduction than I am Thor.
Because Fantasia Fest is a special place, the screening ended with a "mini rock show" featuring Thor and his longtime guitarist (an incredibly placid, mildly stoned presence in the film), Steve Price. It was loud and weird and absolutely wonderful. Thor's still out there entertaining and hustling - selling his own merch before and after the show, and shaking every fan's hand he could find - because that is what Thor does. We're lucky to have him.