Saturday, May 14, 2011

THOR Review

Along with IRON MAN, IRON MAN 2, THE INCREDIBLE HULK and the upcoming CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, THOR is part of Marvel's ongoing build up to next summer's AVENGERS film. Of the three that have been released, THOR might be favorite thus far.

Marvel has been fairly successful in creating their universe on film. What once appeared to be a pipe-dream in combining these profitable properties in one film now is a reality. One of the major complaints about last summer's IRON MAN sequel was how it appeared to serve this purpose more than it's own. You'll get some of this in THOR, but essentially it's its own film. Much of what happens on Earth in the film hints at an AVENGERS tie-in, especially a Jeremy Renner/Hawkeye cameo, but Thor can carry his own film.

Plot-wise, THOR isn't terribly complex. His hubris leads to his downfall and life in exile on Earth teaches him to be the hero he needs to be. Nothing we haven't seen before. Where THOR excels is in it's character development and visual style.

Chris Hemsworth is equally humorous and intense as the title character. Portman is believable in her role as the nerdy love-interest. Hopkins brings a great deal to his performance as the king of the Norse pantheon, Odin, and newcomer Tom Hiddleson is slimy yet complex in his turn as Thor's jealous brother Loki. The Thor, Loki, Odin triangle is very well done. The emotions are all believable and not without proper motivations. Odin loves both his sons and his banishment of Thor is hard on him. Despite his bravado, Thor is completely crushed and brought down to Earth, so to speak, by his exile and inability to reclaim his mighty hammer.

I'm, perhaps, most impressed with the development of the Loki character, who is not mindlessly sinister. He is envious of Odin's love for Thor, yet still a seemingly loving brother and son. The scene when he comes to Earth to visit Thor in custody is another great one, which emphasizes their fraternity despite the fact that Loki is deceiving Thor.

Even smaller characters receive some pretty impressive development, especially considering the brevity of their appearances/importance. Idris Elba ("The Wire"), puts in a great, godly performance as the guard of the rainbow-bridge, Heimdall. Even Stellan Skarsgard, whose character I can't even recall the name of, inserts himself into the film nicely and even gets the AVENGERS treatment after the credits.

The look of the film, especially while in Asgard, is stunning. We are treated to a unique, fantastical realm with lots of color and star-filled backgrounds. At times, I didn't feel as though I was watching the clearest, most realistic CGI, but instead something more abstract, with some elements appearing almost like throwbacks to 70's or 80's fantasy films. I've never been a proponent of CG and modern films' increasing dependence on them, but it seems that we've finally come to a point where films can create these CG environments without being distractingly bad. I appreciate the look of THOR because I feel like there was a lot of work put into making the environments look good, but probably an equal amount of time put into making them look interesting and unique.

One last thing that I appreciated about THOR is its combination of sci-fi and fantasy elements. Thematically, this is mentioned a couple times by main characters, reminding us that science and magic are one in the same, but this is never really delved into, which I appreciate because it keeps the films fantasy elements from being tarnished. Instead, sci-fi and fantasy both show through in the way the film plays out. The opening, where Portman and company are investigating a possible wormhole ends with the appearance of Thor and a "where did this guy come from moment?" before cutting to the title, which I thought was a very effective sci-fi opening. The involvement of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the form of black van/helicopter government spooks who work to cover up the wormhole incident also struck me as very science fiction.

With THOR, director Kenneth Branagh has answered a few questions; most importantly - can he handle such a high-profile property? The answer is undoubtedly 'yes' and not only 'yes', but better than your average big-budget auteur might. I only hope that, after the AVENGERS has come and gone, he returns to make another THOR film, a prospect in which I see a lot of potential.


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