Saturday, May 7, 2011

"Thor" (2011)

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins
Written by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne
Directed by Kenneth Brannagh
Rated PG-13 - Fantasy violence, language
Running Time: 114 minutes

I have to admit to never having read a "Thor" comic before going into Marvel's big-budget adaptation starring Chris Hemsworth ("Star Trek") and Natalie Portman.  I've read other comics that happened to have Thor in them, such as "Ultimates" and "Ultimates 2," but for the most part, my exposure to the character has basically been through guest star appearances in other books (and one really awful "Incredible Hulk" TV movie).

Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the ancient Norse God of Thunder, son of Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and brother of Loki, God of Mischief (Tom Hiddleston) is the arrogant and brash heir to the realm of Asgard.  Long ago, Odin led Asgard in a war against the Frost Giants, and conquered them and their king Laufey (Colm Feore).  When several Frost Giants manage to infiltrate the Asgardian armory to attempt to steal back an object of great power that was taken from their kingdom by Odin centuries earlier, Thor leads a band of warriors to their home city to discover how they managed to defeat Asgard's defenses and get payback for the dead Asgard warriors.

As a result of his unauthorized mission, Odin banishes Thor to the realm of Earth to teach him a lesson.  Unfortunately, the strain of doing so pushes Odin into a coma, allowing the Thor's traitorous brother Loki to assume the throne.  Trapped on Earth until he can prove his worth by reclaiming the power of Mjolnir, his mystical hammer and source of his power, Thor meets and falls for physicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) who is attempting to study a strange atmospheric phenomenon that happens to be how people travel between the different realms.  Thor befriends Foster's mentor Doctor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgaard) and graduate student Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) but begins to fall for Foster, who helps him but doesn't quite believe that he's actually the ancient God of Thunder.

Eventually, Thor must figure out how to reclaim his power and return to Asgard in order to save the kingdom from Loki's evil machinations.  To do so, he'll have to deal with not understanding Earth's ways, and especially an encounter with SHIELD and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg).

The next in the spate of Marvel films that builds upon the universe established in "Iron Man" and "The Incredible Hulk," "Thor" once again adds subtle layers that will all culminate in Joss Whedon's "The Avengers" next year.  But "Thor" by itself is a fine standalone film, with good performances, a solid script and some crackling action sequences to give it the appropriate superheroic atmosphere.  Kenneth Brannagh, who I never would have thought of as a potential superhero comic book film director, makes a couple of odd choices that didn't quite work for me, but on the whole, I found "Thor" to be a very worthy, very fun entry into the Marvel film universe.

Chris Hemsworth, who previously I had only seen in the opening sequence of JJ Abrams "Star Trek" reboot does a more than fine job as "Thor."  He's able to sell not only the demanding action sequences, but also the smaller moments.  He exudes the proper arrogance and brashness necessary, as well as the sensitive bits later on in the romantic subplot with Natalie Portman's Jane Foster.  Anthony Hopkins is, as always, awesome as Odin.  The scenes between Odin and Thor are some of the highlights of the film in terms of performances, and helps elevate the proceedings quite a bit.  The father and son dynamic was apparently what drew Hopkins to the role, and he clearly relishes in those scenes, which comes across quite well.

Portman's role is a bit thankless, as it's not particularly well-developed.  Jane and Thor have a clear chemistry, and it's nice that neither one of them ever says "I love you," since their relationship isn't given the kind of depth of, say, Mary-Jane Watson and Peter Parker.  It's not a defining relationship of the characters or of the movie, though there's promise for a sequel (which I hope for, beyond "The Avengers" next year).  Portman does get a good bit of comic relief, as does Kat Dennings as Darcy.  There's also a nice cameo by Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, a good introduction for fans in the know, as Renner is pretty much the only Avenger not to get his own movie before the big crossover.  Idris Alba also gets far too little screen time as Heimdall, the gatekeeper and watcher of Asgard.  But he brings a great atmosphere to such a small role.

The action sequences are well-done, though there's not quite as many of them as I thought there would be for "Thor."  The battle against the Destroyer in New Mexico isn't as epic as it seemed it would be, but is still good-looking and well made.  The movie kind of blows its wad on Thor's assault on Jotunheim against the Frost Giants.  Still, the rest of the film is pretty damn cool, it's just that the time spent in the other realms of Jotunheim and Asgard are so much bigger and cooler than the stuff that happens on Earth.  It's a bit unfortunate.  It's also nice that "Thor" manages to have a less than perfect ending, which leaves things open for "The Avengers" and hopefully a straight-up "Thor" sequel.

One complaint I have has to do with cinematography.  A good photographer I know always says, "If you can't make it interesting, make it crooked."  That was one thing that ran through my mind the entire time I was watching "Thor," as Brannagh and his director of photography very often skewed their camera at something like 45 degrees, making the horizon line cut diagonally across the screen very harshly.  Sometimes it worked out great, and the shot looked fantastic - but sometimes it was just ridiculously distracting, and pulled me right out of the picture.  Thankfully, each time this happened, I was able to get right back into it, but it was still quite distracting... probably more so since we had to see the film in 3D as the 2D screening we planned on was sold out (the 3D screening was less than half full, however.  I'll save my anti-3D rant for another time, though I'm pretty sure I've discussed it previously on this blog somewhere).

Next up on the Marvel slate is "Captain America," but to be perfectly honest, I haven't been wowed by any of the trailers or TV spots for that one.  My friend John, seeing the "Captain America" trailer in front of "Thor" with me tonight also had no positive feelings toward it, so frankly I'm feeling somewhat hesitant on that front.  "Thor" was a lot of fun, and a solidly crafted superhero film.  I hope "Captain America" exceeds my admittedly low expectations because after "Thor" I'm totally up for another great Marvel experience.  If "Captain America" doesn't do it, I suppose there's always "X-Men: First Class"...

See Also
Iron Man 2
Star Trek