By Delta_Ass 1 Comments
The concept of Thor always appeared to be a difficult proposition for a film adaptation. The very idea of an actual Norse God as a superhero, co-existing with your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man and your military-industrial Iron Man, just seemed far-fetched. Would he wear tights and speak in ye olde Norse dialect? Fortunately, Kenneth Branagh was up to the challenge and has delivered a fairly first-rate superhero film whose ambitions are never that high but which succeeds on pure force of execution and entertainment value.
Asgard in this movie looks like some sci-fi vision of the Emerald City, which works quite well with this audacious and fantastical vision of the Marvel Universe's cosmic realm. Given that they're presented more like alien overlords then actual spiritual Gods, the glorious sheen of polished hallways with strange otherworldly designs melds well with the rustic Viking elements of long dining halls and carved stone steps. In other films, I'll often decry the widespread and indiscriminate use of CGI as a serious detriment, as they look wrong and pull the audience out of the story. Yet here... the world of Asgard obviously looked CGI, but it didn't bother me. After all, it's an utterly foreign world of Norse gods/aliens living on a planet in another galaxy/dimension and possessing technology which qualifies as both magic and science. In such a land, you can't help but get something that looks like CGI. It's not real, it makes no effort to look real, and I found it worked quite well for what they were going for.
Of all the elements in this film, the humor is probably what stands out to me the most. I found myself laughing, chuckling, and giggling more often during this screening then I have in quite a long time at the theater. Most of that humor comes from Kat Dennings's character Darcy, with lines like, "Mew mew? What's mew mew?" which always seemed to hit their mark, at least with me. The middle act is basically a fish out of water story, and wrings as much comedy out of that premise as you'd imagine. I dunno, maybe I'm just real easy to entertain, but the comedy all worked. It ends up striking that nice balance between humor and seriousness without tipping over into absolute goofiness that can ruin a superhero film.
Finally, Natalie Portman has managed to get herself into a good sci-fi film, cause those Star Wars prequels sure as hell didn't do it. While her performance is in tune with the rest of the film and quite competent, I never did buy her as a physicist studying Einstein-Rosen bridges. Anyone expecting something incredible and transformative like her Oscar-winning turn in Black Swan is going to be sorely disappointed, but... that's not really the sort of expectation you should have for this kind of film, I'd have to say. It's not amazing by any stretch, but she also doesn't embarrass herself here. Most of the time, she's being a giggly, googly-eyed girl, which is how pretty much any human female would behave in the presence of a winsome God of Thunder like Thor, I suppose. Oh, and her line reading of "Oh My God" has to be one of the top three deliveries of that phrase ever uttered on film. It is hysterical.
Chris Hemsworth makes for a dashing, slightly arrogant, and incredibly powerful Thor. I'll admit, I was somewhat leery of the casting choice at first, not because he didn't physically resemble the comic book character, not at all, but because honestly... I wasn't much of a fan of his performance at the beginning of Star Trek 09. Oh sure, it was just a small role, and he didn't have that much to work with, but his line delivery just didn't quite click with me. And then we heard of the rumors on set, where supposedly Anthony Hopkins had berated him for being lousy. Well, whether they were true or not seems moot now, because Hemsworth delivers a very comfortable, crowd pleasing performance which cements his status as a rising star in Hollywood and probably gives what many Thor readers have hoped and dreamed of. I can't say if his Thor is precisely one that leaps right off the pages of the comic book since I've never read a Thor comic, but it does seem safe to say that his is a rather faithful and well-executed portrayal. Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor, and Hemsworth proves to be worthy indeed.
While there's no weak link and everyone does a fairly good job, Tom Hiddleston is unquestionably the standout performance of the bunch as Loki. It's striking how effective and yet subtle his performance is. He brings this deep layer of pathos and turmoil to the character that allows you to understand some of his motivations, even if you don't necessarily react sympathetically to his actions. The central story of the entire film is ultimately one between two brothers, and Hiddleston absolutely elevates it to a higher plane than anyone could have expected. My hat's off to him, and I look forward to seeing more of his Loki in The Avengers.
I do feel bad for anybody who's adopted and goes to see this film though, since the message seems to be that if you're adopted, you're destined to be a deceptive and sinister child who betrays your family. That's kinda harsh, but in this reversal of the old Moses story, that seems to be what the film is conveying.
The rest of the supporting cast is fine and I had no issues with anyone. Anthony Hopkins makes for a suitably impressive and grand Odin, much in the tradition of Marlon Brando as Superman's father Jor-El. Renee Russo as Thor's mother is also good. As Richard Donner and Christopher Nolan did before him, Kenneth Branagh got these big name legends to lend an air of respectability and stature to the affair. The Warriors Three and Lady Sif are quite good as Thor's Asgardian companions and the fat one was even apparently a Punisher in a previous life, as Ray Stevenson put on a fat suit and a very large beard. I'm not sure why an asian alien would still have a thick asian accent, but you'll just have to go along with it. Lady Sif is played by Jaimie Alexander, who I hadn't seen before but which made a rather big impression, being the fierce warrior lady of the bunch, or "Xena" as one extra put it. Given that it seems somewhat less likely Natalie Portman is going to make a return in any Thor sequel, now that she's had her recent Academy Award success, I'd be quite welcome to seeing her step forward as Thor's new love interest. I actually found her more attractive then Natalie Portman, not that Portman's any slouch in the looks department in this film, but that's just my own personal preference.
And of course, Heimdall is played by Idris Elba, in a somewhat controversial casting choice, since Heimdall is supposed to be white in the comics and has been described as the whitest god. Well, I don't think anyone watching this film will have a problem with his portrayal, because it's well acted and exactly what you would expect a guardian or gatekeeper character to behave like. I'm generally in favor of staying accurate to the source material, but since I've never read the comic book or researched the myth, it felt fine to me. If you can have an asian in Asgard, why not also a black man?
Alright, now we get to the part of the review where I have some bad things to say. Unfortunately, Thor is not immune to the lackluster action scenes that many respectable directors make when stepping into their first Hollywood summer blockbuster. The fight scenes are the film's biggest flaw and misstep, especially the ones near the beginning of the film, where the quick editing and shakycam techniques seemed very reminiscent of Christopher Nolan's first Batman outing in Batman Begins, which noone praised for its fight scenes. Here, they're done an additional disservice by being placed on frozen Jotunheim (world of the frost giants), which results in an oppressive color palette consisting of black and blueish gray. What we get is an image looking almost like black and white yet immensely darker and which forced me to squint mightily. The lack of light in these scenes might have been a reasonable stylistic decision by Branagh given the bleak desolate wasteland that is Jotunheim, yet the end result is a bunch of fight scenes that are disheartening difficult to discern much of anything at times. The middle section of the film takes place almost entirely in the bright daylight glare of New Mexico and thankfully escapes these issues. The final showdown between Thor and Loki is an improvement in some ways from the early scenes, yet still much too shaky and quickly cut for my viewing tastes.
The climax of the film with Thor facing off against the Destroyer felt much too short to me, given how long we'd been waiting for Thor Odinson to finally prove himself worthy and reclaim his rightful power. This issue seems to be a recurring one with Marvel's films, as the final battles in Iron Man and Iron Man 2 were also quite lousy and perfunctory. Here, Thor just lifts them both up into a thunderstorm/tornado and uh, slams his hammer through the Destroyer's head. In fact, that was the same move he used to defeat the gigantic frost beast at the beginning of the film. I was just hoping for a longer epic battle. Ah well.
One thing I did find myself wondering as the film ended was, well... exactly how would the Frost Giants ever be a threat to Asgard? As far as I could determine, they lived on Jotunheim and couldn't travel to Asgard without either Loki's treachery, which was unexpected, or being let across Bifrost. Without those two possibilities, going to war with them wouldn't prove to be much of a hardship, especially since you could just use Bifrost as a sort of orbital bombardment cannon, as Loki does at the end of the film. Yeah, I just... didn't see the threat.
While the comic book has the actual words, "Whosoever holds this hammer..." inscribed into the hammer itself, the film veers slightly away from this by merely having an Asgardian symbol etch itself into the side of the hammer, occasionally flickering in and out of existence like invisible ink. Maybe they figured it'd be much too heavy-handed to have the actual phrase inscribed for all to see, I kinda wish they had gone that route. The Asgardian symbol was a lot less meaningful and never made much of an impression to me.
Thor is ultimately a very entertaining time at the theaters and achieves what any summer action flick should aspire to. The journey is effortlessly paced, there's hearty laughs and character moments in equal proportion, and you're left feeling satisfied that Kenneth Branagh let you keep stride with the Gods. It's not quite up to the high level of excellence of Iron Man, but I feel quite pleased to announce that it's at least a few steps higher then Iron Man 2. Marvel's once again captured lightning (and thunder) in a bottle.