Title: Thor (2011)
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Chris Hemsworth, Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings, Rene Russo
Thor is the second big summer movie of 2011 (first one was Fast Five) and honestly it’s one of the ones I was most looking forward to seeing. I’ve been a life long comic book fan and I love all things related to the wonderful world of sequential art, I love comics as an art form almost as much as I love movies. When we get down to it, comics and films are extremely similar in many ways. In Thor’s case, I was curious to see how they would translate all the cosmic grandness of the city of Asgard and the Gods that inhabit it. The previews gave me a good sign, I liked what I saw, and the fact that Keneth Branagh was directing the film gave me good vibes since Branagh is a director that has made films that can be considered some of the best films based on Shakespeare’s most important works like Hamlet (1996) and Henry V (1989) among others. So the film was in the hands of a guy who understood drama and stories about family feuds between royalty. The cast was shaping up to be nothing short of impressive, Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins? Awesome! Plus this Chris Hemsworth guy really looked the part! Still, the question remained: how would all this translate to the world of films? Would the transition be a smooth one? Would it work?
Thor and his brother Loki
Story wise, Thor sticks pretty close to the kind of stories we could find in Marvel’s comic books, mainly, the eternal fight between Thor and his brother Loki. On this film we first meet Thor when he is about to be crowned King of Asgard by his father, King Odin, played by Anthony Hopkins. Problem comes when the Frost Giants of Jutenheim decided to crash the party and steal the Casket of Ancient Winters, an ancient relic that is the source of the Frost Giants chilling powers. Thankfully, the Frost Giants are stopped before they manage to steal the trinket. The event ignites an anger in Thor who from that point on wants to do nothing more then go to Jutenheim and kick the Frost Giants collective asses! Odin advices against it, because he being the wise King that he is, would rather preserve the truce between both kingdoms instead of starting another war. Thor doesn’t agree with that course of action and so he convinces some of his warrior friends to go to Jutenheim anyways to stir up some trouble. When Odin hears of Thor’s disobedience, the Mighty Odin’s anger is stirred and so he ends up not naming Thor King of Asgard after all! Instead, he rids Thor of his god like powers, takes away his magic hammer (called Mjolnir) and banishes Thor to earth. Odin hopes that this banishment will teach Thor a lesson or two on humility and what makes a good king. Will Thor learn his lesson? And what evil scheme does his envious brother Loki have in mind?
So finally I got to see Thor, sadly, it was not all I hoped it would be. Mind you, I didn’t think it was an awful movie, I just thought it was kind of a disjointed tale. Not all together, kind of a mish mash of ideas not well strung together. Maybe what this movie suffered from was having too much story to tell in too little time. The story is epic in scale, yet at times you feel that things are happening way too fast, as if the movie was going through some beats to simply keep things going at a brisk pace, so the kiddies won’t get bored with lots of babbling. I have to admit, I didn’t like how fast the movie was going. I mean, the film had everything it needs to be epic, the story deals with Gods! Unfortunately, the film doesn’t give us any breathing room and because things happen so fast, events just don’t come off as believable. To me this was meant to be the Gone with the Wind of superhero movies, you know, a grand old tale taking its time to hit those beats, but with some character development, some depth. Instead, things happen briskly and fast, you don’t have time to absorb it all. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the first Marvel movie suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder! Movie goes something like this: Thor’s going to be King! Boom! Bad guys crash the party! Boom! Thor is banished! Boom! Thor learns humility! Boom! Thor gets his powers back! Boom! He goes back to Asgard to kick ass! Boom! Movie is over! Boom! Boom! Boom! We go from one beat to the next in a very unbelievable pace. I mean, yeah most films cut a few corners here and there to go through their story, but this one was ridiculous.
Yet, in spite of this the movie has many positive things going for it. First up, Chris Hemsworth as Thor was the best choice they could have made, I mean the guy IS Thor! He’s plays the role with the right level of arrogance, but at the same time, he’s got a likability to him. A lot of what makes the character work is the wardrobe which is excellent, they really nailed the look for Thor. He looks like he could have leapt off the comic book page and on to the screen, literally. Same goes for the wardrobe of the Gods, impressive stuff! Cool looking helmets, awesome capes, armor with muscles…I mean these guys look powerful, and at times, the design of their armor reminded me of something Jack Kirby (comic artist legend) could have cooked up himself. Actually, he did cook these characters up back in the 60’s when the first issue of Thor was printed. He worked alongside Stan Lee in creating these stories based on the Norse God of Thunder. By the way, Stan Lee has a hilarious ‘blink or you’ll miss it’ cameo in the film.
In terms of art direction, the film excels as well. I mean, I loved the way Odin’s throne room looked! In fact all of Asgard looks appropriately gargantuan. A city filled with huge glistening statues and steps upon steps upon steps! Loved how everything is so spacious and gigantic, pretty impressive film in terms of art direction. Same goes for the visual effects which were pretty astounding. In fact, in spite of the films flaws, I think I will be seeing it again simply to enjoy its visual flair. Aactually, the films art direction and all those scenes with Thor fighting other Gods reminded me of those scenes from Master of the Universe (1987) that took place in Eternia, that was a film that also had Gods fighting each other over ultimate power.
These Marvel films have all enjoyed a connectivity to them. They all end up connecting with each other somehow, like one big cinematic comic book! This one is no different. On this one they mention Tony Stark and Bruce Banner a.k.a. The Hulk. We get to see the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. trying to make sense of Thor and his Hammer, plus, as in most of these Marvel movies, Samuel L. Jackson shows up as Nick Fury. We even get to very quickly meet Hawkeye (played by Jeremy Renner) a character we will no doubt be seeing a lot more of in the upcoming The Avengers film which is being filmed as I type this. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you guys to stay after the credits role for that extra tacked on ending that connects us to The Avengers, which should be premiering summer 2012 if the world doesn’t end first! That was a joke by the way. But seriously folks, that Avengers movie better be something awesome, they’ve been hyping it in every single one of these Marvel movies!
Natalie Portman plays Jane Foster, an astrophysicist who discovers Thor when he first falls from Asgard. This isn’t the performance of her life, but I’m sure you guys weren’t expecting that either. I wish they would have given her a meatier role on this film, something more intense, something that involved her a bit more in the proceedings. She deserved something more dramatic and intense. Unfortunately, she gets lost in the shuffle between Asgard and Earth and all the Gods. Same can be said for Kat Dennings. She’s cute as hell, but her character is only in the film to make facebook and IPod “jokes”. Honestly, she’s one of the most worthless characters in the whole film.
Kenneth Branagh directs a scene
My final word on Thor is that it was a good superhero movie that could have been better had it not been shy with its running time. Sadly, many of these summer movies gotta play by that rule of making the film short enough to squeeze as many showings as possible in a day. The studios gotta squeeze these films for all the can and a short running time assures them that a film will make as much money as it can in theaters. In the end, that’s the only problem I had with this flick which is kind of weird because Thor is a film that comes to us from a director who knows a thing or two about character development in films. If only he hadn’t succumbed to the pressures of making fast paced film to please the studio! Still, its worth the price of admission for the spectacle it offers.