Saturday, May 7, 2011

MOVIE REVIEW: THOR (some spoilers)

Directed by Ken Branagh (Marvel Studios)

Marvel Studios has done it yet again by producing the exceptional THOR movie. Bringing to life the “God of Thunder” may be the most difficult superhero movie of all to make, but the results are impressive. In some ways this is the hardest movie of the genre to pull off because you are asking movie goers to accept a race of gods are heroes and villains as opposed to those based on real life. 

The Destroyer shows up in the film.
Drawing the heavily from the original Marvel Comics run character as seen in the “Journey Into Mystery” comics in the 1960's, first 180 issues of “The Mighty Thor” created by legendary team Stan Lee (he has a cameo, of course), his brother Larry Lieber and the iconic artist Jack Kirby as well as the modern vision of Brian Michael Bendis (who along with Joe Quesada was a consultant on the film). Blending the classic Norse Mythology, the comic book character's origin and a little modern creative license the film tells a complicated story from a reasonable point of view. As I often say despite the fact that I am open about being a humongous comic book geek, super hero movies are not made for geeks, they are made mainly for the average movie goers. The same can be said for historians of Norse mythology and Viking lore (there are many liberties taken with both) who might find fault with the film. I do believe however, there is a lot to love here for all audiences. Thor has long been my second favorite comic book character ever behind The Punisher just ahead Iron Man ever since I was a boy. My first exposure to Thor was an issue of Marvel-Team Up when I was six as well as the old Grantray-Lawrence Marvel Super Heroes cartoons I watched on WPIX growing up. I went in with high hopes based on the director and choice of actors and the effects team of Digital Domain that this would be in line with the IRON MAN films.

The film opens with the scene we have all watched in the trailer with astrophysicists Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgaard) and their assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings) are doing field research and chasing theories about recurrent wormholes through space/time in the New Mexico desert. When one of these wormholes opens up, they drive right into it, hitting a man who seemed to come right out of it. The man is Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth) and at that point we are told the back story of Asgardian Gods, The Realm of Asgard itself, The King of the Norse Gods- Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and his sons Thor and Loki (The God of Mischief, played Tom Hiddleston). Visually this is our first gaze ever at the depth and scope of Asgard (imagine Heaven floating in outer space that is both classic looking and futuristic at the same time) and director Ken Branagh does a masterful job. Similar to Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings Trilogy) he allowed the stunning visuals to act as another character in the film. Over just a few short minutes we learn the classic tale of how Asgard is one of the Nine Worlds (in which our Earth is Midgard) and the conflict that helped vault Asgard to the top of this hierarchy of gods and worlds. We are shown how Thor was groomed to replace Odin, but was terribly arrogant and defied his father's direct wishes to protect the peace he created, reneging on his pledge never to do so. To punish his son he strips him of his vestments, much of his powers, as well as his hammer, the enchanted weapon known as Mjolnir (pronounced myole-neer) that is his trademark. He casts him out of Asgard to teach him humility and sends him to earth via Bifrost- The Rainbow Bridge, aka the cause of the wormholes.
A recent depiction of Thor in the comics.
The majority of the rest of the film takes place on Earth and the remainder of the movie is a series of convergent story lines all on a collision course with the now semi-powerless Thor abandoned and not fitting in to well with humans. This is worked to a big comedic effect for a lot of laughs. Loki's evil machinations behind the scenes and the government agency S.H.I.E.L.D, once again trying to control the board (as seen in IRON MAN) complicate matters significantly and factor into the climatic ending.

There is a Shakespearean seriousness to the dialogue of the gods and how they carry themselves. Presumably this is why Branagh was chosen for this, having never helmed an action film before. The tone and style of the movie works as it needed to. The performance of Hemsworth (last seen as George Kirk in opening minutes of JJ Abrams STAR-TREK) is a standout one with his uber-impressive physique and charming personality. His athletic ability in the action scenes do a fine job representing Thor's fighting style and sells his powers in a wholly believable way. In a nod to the comics Thor's personality has a bit of humor and charismatic guile to him that makes the role ring true to form. Hiddleston's Loki almost steals the movie with his dramatic and wicked performance. All of the Asgardians' characterizations are sure to please fan-boys with appearances by Hopkins as Odin (brilliant as always), warrior goddess Sif (buff and hot Jamey Alexander) the Warriors Three, Heimdall (Idris Elba, who is excellent) and several antagonist Frost Giants. In a limited role Rene Russo is stunningly gorgeous as Frigga, Odin's queen and Thor's mother. Portman as Foster, whose occupation is upgraded here from nurse in the comics, is entirely acceptable as a scientist unlike Live Tyler in THE INCREDIBLE HULK. Foster resists Thor at first despite Darcy's fawning over him, but she starts give in to his charm when she gets to know him better. Portman is a natural beauty and has an undeniable screen chemistry with Hemsworth. The romantic relationship between god and mortal is only briefly hinted at and could be developed much more in the planned THOR sequel in 2014. Skarsgaard also chews up a lot of screen time I wasn't expecting in role written just for the film, but does very well.
Thor and Jane share a moment.

Since THOR is just another chapter in what Marvel envisions are many superhero films (CAPTAIN AMERICA is up next in the series of nine next month) there are many allusions to next summer's THE AVENGERS. An uncredited Jeremy Renner appears with a bow and arrow as “Agent Clint Barton”, jokes about Tony Stark, references to Bruce Banner/The Hulk, Clark Gregg in an expanded role as Agent Phil Coulson and the now standard easter-egg secret ending with Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury whose stand alone movie is also in the works (yes, stay through the credits). Envisioned by the studio as a stepping stone film with crossovers already shooting and others planned, they are counting on this film to be a hit. Overall THOR is highly enjoyable with great action scenes and very strong acting from the entire cast. I will say that the RealD 3-D added very little to the movie and you can enjoy the film without it if you'd like to save your money. I'd rank it in the top six or seven comic book movies ever and this sets the bar very high for the other films in the genre coming out over the next few months.

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