Monday, May 9, 2011

Movie Review: Thor

Thor ***
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh.
Written by: Ashley Miller & Zack Stentz and Don Payne and J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Protosevich based on the comic by Stan Lee & Larry Lieber & Jack Kirby.
Starring: Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Natalie Portman (Jane Foster), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Anthony Hopkins (Odin), Stellan Skarsgård (Erik Selvig), Kat Dennings (Darcy Lewis), Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson), Idris Elba (Heimdall), Colm Feore (King Laufey), Ray Stevenson (Volstagg), Tadanobu Asano (Hogun), Josh Dallas (Fandral), Jaimie Alexander (Sif), Rene Russo (Frigga), Adriana Barraza (Isabel Alvarez), Maximiliano Hernández (Agent Sitwell).

When you stop and think about it, Thor has got to be one of the silliest superheroes in history. He is, after all, the Norse Thunder God, who travels between worlds on a magical, glowing highway and has a hammer that can destroy anything and allows him to fly. It makes you wonder why he needs to join up with The Avengers, because really, Thor could destroy anything earth threw at him pretty easily all by himself. But these are questions you aren’t supposed to ask – just like why Wolverine is apparently the greatest of the X-Men, when Magneto could just pull his skeleton out of his body, and when Storm is clearly the most powerful one.

And yet, despite the inherent silliness of Thor, I have to admit, I quite enjoyed Kenneth Branagh’s big screen version of the superhero. Why they decided to get Branagh, best known for his Shakespeare adaptations (that, in many cases I think are superior to even those by Laurence Olivier) to direct this film, I honestly have no clue, but he pulls it off. The silliness of it all simply adds to the films charm.

The movie opens with Thor in his own world. His aging father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is finally getting ready to turn the kingdom over to Thor, much to the chagrin of Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who feels passed over. But during his coronation, right before Odin is to make it official, the discover their arch nemesis, the Ice Giants, have broken into the palace, and are trying to steal back the source of their power, that Odin had taken from them 1,000 years before. Odin preaches patience, but Thor has none, and decides to travel to the world of the Ice Giants to find out what happened. This, of course, does not go well, and it looks like after a millennium of peace, war will break out again. Odin, furious at his son, banishes him to earth, as a mere mortal. He also sends Thor’s magical hammer done to earth – but makes it impossible for anyone “unworthy” of its power to possess it.

On earth, circa 2011, Thor is obviously a strange person. The first people he meets are scientist, tracking strange lights in the sky. They are led by Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), her mentor (Stellan Skarsgaard) and her wise cracking assistant (Kat Dennings). Of course, it isn’t long before SHIELD finds out about Thor, and his strange hammer, and sends Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) to find out what happened. Coulson is the character who ties all of the Avenger movie together – having appeared in the first two Iron Man movies and The Incredible Hulk, although I doubt they’ll be able to work him into Captain America, seeing as how in that film Captain America is fighting Nazis.

The flaw in Thor is the same flaw I find in nearly all first installments of superhero movies. They have to spend so much time setting everything up, telling the “origin” story of the superhero, that an actual plot seems secondary. And for the most part, origin stories are usually pretty lame. Even Stan Lee admitted that he made the X-Men mutants because he was tired of figuring out how to make his superheroes obtain their powers. At least in Thor, the origin story is radically different – there are no Gamma Rays or Radioactive Spiders or strange blasts from space. The stuff on Asegard, where Thor is from, actually works quite well – and could well be the reason they decided on Branagh to direct. After all, it is all about Kings and Princes, and struggles for the throne – in other words, stuff Shakespeare wrote all about. One thing I will mention about the Asegard scenes is that the special effects work there was not very effective to me – it all seemed overdone and rather fake. The special effects work done on earth is much better handled however.

Overall, I liked the scenes on earth more than Asegard. True, you really didn’t need someone of Portman’s talent to play Jane Foster – who like many women in superhero movies seems like window dressing more than anything else. Yet, I enjoyed the fish out of water comedy of Thor, this giant, Norse god in 2011 America. Chris Hemsworth finds the right note to play Thor – he doesn’t take it too seriously and become bogged down by playing this larger than life character.

I enjoyed Thor more than I really thought I would. The whole concept of Thor still seems silly to me, and I’m not sure how he’ll fit in with the other Avengers (which thankfully, will not include Ant-Man of Wasp, because really, who the hell wants a superhero whose power is to shrink to the size of an insect), but at least in this film, it works. For better or for worse, Thor signals the official start of the summer movie season – at least it started on a good note.

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