Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Soulless, but still fun, the Marvel collection continues with Thor, the mighty God of Thunder, along with his mighty hammer.  Under the direction of Kenneth Branagh, in his first foray into the land of cinematic franchises and superhero whatsits, there's an odd schizophrenia to the film, one that takes place in two realms, one kind of close to ours, and another in some galaxy, or planet or Tron-inspired setting with Viking costuming and British accents, and while never quite jelling in an artful, thrilling way that one may have hoped, there's still enough spark and energy to moves the film forward in a serviceable, fairly entertaining fashion.  Of course, as was the case with the Iron Mans and Hulks that proceeded it, there's the cynical, nagging distraction that this is all build-up and filler to the grand movie franchise on it's way next year, of course being The Avengers.  Surely this is the longest and most expensive commercial in film history: I can't help but imagine the deluxe Blue-Ray collection set coming our way, inevitably, in a few years time.  Yet, even for the cynical and jaded, Thor offers enough to distract momentarily of the salesmanship being so strongly thrown in our faces.  Much of that is thanks to the charismatic brute at the center, Aussie newcomer Chris Hemsworth, whose mythic, muscular physique belies a soft, nimble comic charm; he's a warrior first and foremost, but also kind of a flirt.

Perhaps what appealed to Branagh, he of the Shakespearean creed, was the mythic qualities to the comic-- Thor comes from Asgard, a pristine intergalactic kingdom, where our hammer-wielding warrior is expectant to be it's future king.  Thor's father is Odin (Anthony Hopkins), a speech-heavy nobleman who tells tales of his epic battles with the Frost Giants, the baddies in the next realm over.  But Thor is impulsive and arrogant, all Norse warrior mentality, little rationality, and soon enough he's banished from his CGI-built kingdom, leaving his duplicitous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) as the new king of Asgard and Odin falls ill.  This clearly isn't Hamlet, but Branagh seems far more in his element dealing with royal family dynamics as opposed with anything else in the film, and while a bit heavy-handed in times, the other dimension is given life by the performers and playfulness of the set pieces.  Hopkins, specifically gives Thor a bit of credibility by hamming it just right, laying the histrionics on for full effect.

Once banished from his home (he lands somewhere in New Mexico), Thor meets Jane (Natalie Portman), a flighty scientist type...actually she hits him with her car (twice) in a ultimate meet cute moment.  Jane is studying phenomena in the sky (which of course Thor is related to; he is a god of course) alongside comic relief cohorts Stellan Skarsgaard and Kat Demmings.  There's an awkward mid-section, as Thor adjusts to "normal" life, yet thankfully the fish out of water, Thor-meets-Jane moments settle in fairly early on.  Thor, for instance, must learn manners and anger management, and of course a costume change to accentuate his physique.  Portman, given the requisite, but thankless, girlfriend role plays Jane as an old school screwball comedy heroine, which is fine, but of course we don't particularly care-- there's no Tony Stark-Pepper Potts type of spark.  It's the modern setting that the film shows it's biggest weaknesses-- filmed starkly, with the camera typically angled it feels feel and barren, and contrast between the fantastical and seemingly bland always feels a bit off.  And the visual dichotomy of Thor between the mythic and ordinary never quite coalesces-- the influences seems as varied as cheesy 80s era science fiction yarns and wild west shows.  Greedily retrofitted to 3-D in post-production, the choice is not quite as distracting as in the past, but hardly needed.  The film gears up for an epic showdown between Thor and brother, restoring order in his kingdom, and with father Hopkins, and the inevitable kiss with Jane, as well as a truce between the evil Ice guys...admittedly the villains are sort of lame.  Thor goes down the predictable route, but thanks to Hemsworth's charm and his mighty hammer, a silly but mighty prop, there's an unexpected adrenaline rush towards the climax. 

It's in the obligatory through-line, all en route to next years big epic tentpole that nags...the omnipotent S.H.I.E.L.D., first introduced at the very end of Iron Man (2008) that makes its biggest appearance, and while we can all see where it's going, I can't help but wonder how it's all going to tie in, and the endless stream of build-up, now going on three years of films is starting to get a little old.  B-

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