Monday, 9 May 2011

Review: Thor

Thor (2011)
Odin, King of the "Asgardians", as the Æsir are called in this film, is on the verge of handing the throne over to his eldest son, the Eponymous Thor, when his hotheaded actions against their ancient enemies, the Frost Giants, brings Asgard to the brink of war.  Banishing Thor to Earth, Odin throws Thor's hammer Mjollnir after him with the command that "Whoever wields this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor".  Meanwhile, Thor's brother and closest friend Loki learns some unsettling things about his past that send him on the road to villainy.  So the stage is set for an arrogant, selfish thunder god to learn humility and self-sacrifice among the mortals of Earth while Thor's friends must deal with war and intrigue on the other end of the Bifrost Bridge.

In 1962, Marvel's Comics' Journey into Mystery No. 83 introduced a new superhero; one with a twist.  Instead of an alien from another planet or a man exposed to radiation, this one cut to the chase and made the hero literally a god.  It was certainly a way to out-super Superman, but Marvel suffered both the misfortune and the luck that very few of its superheroes stuck in popular culture like their DC counterparts and even fewer gained the status of archetypes.  This meant that even non-comic book readers knew who Superman or Batman was while the likes of Thor and Iron Man were obscurities, but it also meant that when they were brought to the big screen Marvel characters didn't carry as many expectations, so it made adaptation that much easier.  

Where the first three features in Marvel's grand Avengers series were earthbound stories dealing with the origins and problems of Tony Stark and Bruce Banner (AKA Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk), Thor goes more for the epic as we're whisked off to Asgard to join Thor and the other Norse gods.  Word of warning here:  If you, like me, had a Norwegian grandmother and were raised on the Icelandic sagas and the Eddas, then this film will be extremely confusing because of the astonishing liberties it takes with the myths.  It's the reason why I didn't care for the original comic books–that and the fact that Thor's hair looked better than his girlfriend's.  But if you keep reminding yourself that this is a comic book movie and suspend disbelief to maximum tolerance, it's a lot of fun.  

And let's face it, this is a comic book movie.  That isn't a slam; it's merely a statement of fact.  If Iron Man was a good movie, this is a good comic book movie.  Kenneth Brannagh's choice as director may have seemed odd at the time, but it's one that pays off.  Once the Wunderkind of the cinema, Brannagh at age 50 hasn't had a directorial success in over a decade, so he has a lot riding on this film and his background as both a Shakespearean actor/director and a fan of the Thor comics pays off.  Understanding full well that this is pure action/adventure fantasy, Brannagh understands the balance between needing to take the comic book world seriously on its own terms so it doesn't descend into camp, yet he never loses sight of the fact that the entire premise of the film is absurd.   His Shakespearean background allows him to give the stilted Asgard dialogue (my eight-year old daughter calls them "speeches") a believability.  This is particularly important because if the pseudo-Shakespeare of the comics had made it to the screen unchecked, it would have been laughed out of town.

The look of Thor is impressive.  Brannagh is clearly a fan of the late comic book artist Jack Kirby (Inventor of ink and paper).  Asgard looks very much like what Kirby would have drawn in 2011 and the action scenes have many Kirbyesque touches, such as when Thor whirls his hammer so quickly that all you can see is a wispy circle in the eye of all the havoc it's causing.

The acting is up to what the film requires with lead Chris Hemsworth not being called upon to do more than deal with standard heroics and basic character development.  Anthony Hopkins walks Odin home in a role where he claims he was essentially playing himself and Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson is finally getting the sort of screen time that his performance deserves.  However, as always, Natalie Portman is upstaged by any potted plant or chair that happens to be on the set at the time.  The surprise was Tom Hiddleston as Loki, who takes a role with very little to it and manages to convey a complete character without chewing the scenery or padding his part.  Instead of a simply sly and malicious creature, Hiddleson's Loki has a believable progression from loyal brother to villain that has neat little airs of emotional complexity that comes across as a sort of stripped-down Edmund from King Lear.   His appearances were always welcome and the revelation in the post-credits teaser indicate that the producers were aware of this as well.

Whether there is a Thor sequel depends on the box office, but at least we'll get to pay another visit to Asgard in next year's Avengers however it turns out.

1 comment:

  1. Check out the Conan O'Brian re-edits of the Thor trailers.