Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Weeks Too Late: Thor, For Real This Time

Thor. Directed by Kenneth Branagh & Written by Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz & Don Payne.

: My feelings on Thor went through a rather ridiculous change. To begin with I was certain it was a misstep. I mean, Iron Man, Captain America and the rest all fit into a science fiction-y comic book hero universe. A god with magic powers? Not so much. Still, hearing that Branagh was directing really turned my head. Not because he's never done a bad movie (I hate his self-aggrandizing directing in Hamlet, for example) but because his movies aren't stupid. Even if I didn't end up enjoying how Thor fit into the rest of the Marvel universe, I wasn't worried about rolling my eyes at prancing idiocy. Then I began to hear the trickling work of mouth, mostly good, and more than being interested I was excited to see Thor (words I never thought would pass my lips...or keyboard in this case). Finally, when I wasn't able to see it I was disappointed (who'd have thought?). So I made another stab at going to the theater. This time there would be no hateful Plan B movies, I was going to see Thor.

General Review: Well to say that there was no prancing idiocy is maybe a bit of a stretch. Once again, we've got a superhero movie with an excellent cast where I completely do not buy the love interest. I have a soft spot for Natalie Portman. The Professional was a powerful and disturbing movie that wouldn't have worked without her talent and I think she didn't get nearly the credit she deserved in V for Vendetta. Her performance in this, however, didn't even reach the level of "meh." It was so uninspired that I simply can't get to anything else about Thor, not even my usual general summary until I get this out of my system. I didn't believe for two blinks that she was a scientist of any kind. She didn't sound like she understood any of the jargon she used and she certainly didn't seem like an expert in her field. What's more, I didn't buy that there was anything captivating enough to get Thor's attention. Sure, she was the first person who was nice to him, so there might have been a bit of a complex there, but she wasn't especially brilliant, charismatic or even pretty (and if it was going to be her ridiculous loveliness that was going to catch his attention, they really shouldn't have put her next to the much sexier Kat Dennings). I don't know what it is about super hero flicks being unable to cast convincing female leads, but it's gone way past the point of tiresome. Because it isn't the writing or directing that's falling down, it's strictly a matter of poor acting.

Now that I've ground that particular axe down to a nub, lets talk about some of the great things about Thor. Chris Hemsworth and (even more so) Tom Hiddleston can wash the taste of Portman out of my mouth any da
y of the week. And not just because they're some jaw dropping-ly gorgeous men (because on that score let us not forget Idris Elba, I mean, how could we?). No, these two were excellent, both in their own rights and as foils for each other. Yes, yes there was the obvious blonde, tanned muscle-y brother next to the dark, lanky brother, but the mirroring went deeper than that. Hiddlestone (as Loki) spent most of his time lurking in the corners of scenes while Hemsworth (Thor) roared and smashed at centre stage. It was a wonderful pairing of good acting and directing.

I could go on about these two and the directorial choices for them for ages. Hemsworth's brash, dopey Thor was charming. And it was nice to have the big dumb hero actually be gullible and clearly out-matched mentally by almost everyone around him. If Portman had been better we might have believed that he was mooning after her because he admired her intellect. Loki's arc was suitably twisty and tragic. As ever, it was fun seeing Clark Gregg be Agent Coulson: Super Bureaucrat and I also quite dug Jaimie Alexander who played a completely believable warrior woman.

Despite my ribbing of Branagh's ego (there is so much to rib), this was a wonderfully put together movie. Not only were the Asgardian bits cool and believable looking, but I wasn't bored either when we were there or when we were on Earth. I very rarely found myself wishing one part or the other was shorter. That's some amazing pacing right there. It was vibrantly colourful both on Earth and on Asgard and looked more like a classic comic book than any of the previous superhero movies, which tend to be a fair bit grittier (as a aside, me and Doomwench got into a silly grammatical argument over whether it should be "on" or "in" Asgard. It's a planet in the Marvel U, so I stick out my grammar tongue at her). I do have a few minor nits to pick, the Frost Giants were kinda lame looking (though from what I can tell, fairly true to the comics) and the huge beast that they fight in the first act (I guess it's the Frost Giant's dog) looked like every CG slobbering horror I've seen in the past few years (yawn). The design choices there were tedious and cribbed awfully heavily from Lord of the Rings.

The costume design, on the other hand, deserves some seriously praise. The costumes in Thor, lets make no bones, are stupid. Sure, some of them are passable in comics (though certainly not all), but making them real? That had to be tough. Somehow Alexandra Byrne made the the costumes not only look like something that people could wear, while remaining true to the original design sensibility, but she made them look cool.

While there are certainly a few flaws to Thor (ones besides Portman) it is really worth your while. It's a story of a hero's redemption which, despite all the comic movies from the last few years, is also one that hasn't been told recently. Thor is funny, it doesn't take itself too seriously and is skillfully acted and directed. If I were a betting woman, I'd place several shinies on you enjoying this flick. What's more, I don't feel the need to throw up the usual: "if you like comic books" disclaimer!

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