Tuesday, May 10, 2011

THOR (2011)

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. 

Rating: 4 out of 5


PTJunkie1975 said...

Great review, I truly believe what you just said, now I'm not sure if I should spent $9.00 to go see it...

Fritz "Doc" Freakenstein said...

Your review of Thor is both interesting and fair, as are most of your reviews, Francisco. Thor is not a film I had intended to see at the theater and the mainly good reviews – yours included - have not changed my mind in this regard.

I read Thor all through the 70’s during John Buscema’s run as artist on the book and his slightly more superheroic portrayal of Thor is the one that is always the one in my mind’s eye. I was familiar with Jack Kirby’s Thor as well, thanks to Marvel's reprint comics in the 70’s and I really admired the way he drew Asgard as a fantasy setting. I last read Thor during Walt Simonson’s late 70’s/early 80’ run on the title, but eventually I tired of the title. It has been so long since I read any Thor comics, that I may actually enjoy the film more than if I was still reading it.

I find your initial criticism of Thor very telling. You say that the film was moving “way too fast” and that “most films cut a few corners here and there to go through their story, but this one was ridiculous”. I felt the same way about the first Spiderman movie as well. I had read Spiderman from about 1964 to 1978 and that first film tried to encompass the storyline from about the first ten years! I think it is very difficult for a two-hour film to tell the “origin” of a superhero and still have enough time left over to tell any sort of complex secondary story. It sounds like Thor could have benefited from either a longer run time (as you infer) or a more streamlined initial storyline.

I’m pleased to hear that the look of Thor reminded you of Kirby’s work on Thor, as every version thereafter followed his blueprint.

I appreciate the connectivity between all the Marvel superhero films, but I haven’t been a Marvel maniac for so long that I’m more interested in each film for their individual strengths. I plan on seeing Captain America: The First Avenger at the theater, as much for the WWII setting, as for the character itself. The Avengers film is doomed to disappoint based on huge expectations and builup, but with Joss Whedon both writing and directing it, I’m expecting good things from it.

Franco Macabro said...

@PTJunkie1975: It's a fun movie, with great effects, I hope I didnt give the impression that I hated it, in fact, I did say I wouldnt mind seeing it again. If your interested in seeing lots of visual effects, this is your ticket!

@Fritz: Yeah, I enjoyed this film, it was fun, and fast paced and was impressive on many aspects, save for the points I mentioned.

I wouldnt mind revisiting some of the my old comics either now that you mention it! It's time to open those old comic boxes I got lying around my house and find some hidden treasures from the past! Walt Simonson, he's one of my favorites, he drew a great Conan as well, and I loved his Weapon X story for Marvel comics, some consider it to be one of the best Wolverine stories ever told. I love the gory art on that one!

Yeah, thats what I meant, that the film would have benefited from a longer running time, so they could get just a bit more into the characters, and their true emotions, not just jump from plot point to plot point, I hate it when that happens in a movie.

What reminded me of Kirby where the costumes, but one in specific did it for me: the one that the God that protects the gate wears, the Golden Suit with that cool sword, those scenes reminded me of Masters of the Universe the most.

Those little shoe horned chapters in all Marvel movies sometimes feel forced, and truth be told, I'm not a big fan of them. They always feel so tacked on, but when you think about it, these films are echoing the type of things they do in comic books where its always some sort of cliffhanger to grab you so you'll buy the next issue. It's actually genius on their part to do this, they already get you interested in the next film.

But that type of thing has been done many times in many films, the cliffhanger ending...what a way to grab an audience! Now that I mention it, even Fast Five did the same thing!

Thanks for your comments Fritz!

Chris Regan said...

Great review and I felt exactly the same way! There were things I really loved about it so I came out enjoying it by the end, but there is also a lot wrong with the structure of the film. There are too many characters for a start - why couldn't Kat Dennings and Natalie Portman be the same character? Why did Thor need four companions who never accomplished anything? If they'd cut some of the characters and plot points they would've had more time to tell the story. They did have some major problems with the script - five credited writers worked on it in total which is never a good sign. If you're interested in finding out more Jeff Goldsmith recorded an really in-depth interview with the writers here:


Franco Macabro said...

Agree, Kat Dennings could have been cut out entirely, but i guess they wanted someone the younger generation of moviegoers could connect with, it's the only real reason I can imagine to have her in the film.

Wow, five writers....as you say, never a good sign! The more the writers, usually, the bigger the mess.

Hey, thanks for that link, I'll check it out immediately. Thanks for commenting!


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