Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Review: Thor

Non Spoiler Review:
Marvel's latest installment in its shared super-hero universe is Thor, which is a challenging character to tackle given his mystical background. Thor opens with a narration by Odin All-Father chronicling Asgard’s war with the Frost Giants, and providing a backstory for the origins of Norse mythology. We next see young Thor and his brother Loki being shown the power source of the Frost Giants (which figures prominently in the film), and then back to the present, where it's time for Odin to pass his rule over to his favored son. But his decision may be premature, as Thor's arrogance and rashness brings Asgard to the brink of war with the Frost Giants, leaving ambitious Loki waiting in the wings.

Chris Hemsworth (Star Trek) delivers what is sure to be his break-out role, successfully making Thor his own as much as Robert Downey Jr. is Iron Man—brash, impetuous, arrogant and noble, while very likable and endearing, and dumbly blind to his brother’s machinations. Meanwhile, Branagh manages to integrate enough Shakespearean elegance to the dialogue that doesn’t sound stilted or out of place at all. Thor makes a believable higher being from another place, but one the audience can totally relate to.

Natalie Portman (Black Swan) also stars as the likable scientist Jane, and Stellan SkarsgÄrd as her mentor (and one who grew up with stories of Norse mythology). Together with their plucky assistant they're investigating the many odd atmospheric disturbances caused by Asgard's realm-breaching wormholes.

But it's the Asgardian cast that really gets a chance to play it up, including Anthony Hopkins delivering his standard great performance (he really only has two roles these days—sage father figure or psychopath). Ray Stevenson (Rome) appears as one of the warrior's three. Tom Hiddleston is Thor's brother, Loki, and the villain of the film (and possibly future movies). Given he works his machinations in the background in secret, he manages to successfully rise to the challenge in playing against Hemsworth's heroics. 

The big challenge for Branagh was to introduce a magical character into the current Marvel movie universe—someone who can fight alongside Captain America and Iron Man without suffering a genre clash. The super-science equals magic equation and the explanation of the nine realms (of which Earth’s universe is one) successfully integrates aspects of Norse mythology into the Marvel universe. Thor is a higher power, interpreted as a god, and the accouterments of his world and weaponry (like the rainbow bridge wormhole) are believable in the context of the movie.

The costuming was brilliant—managing to make the otherworldly fashion look wearable and functional without crossing over into camp. Asgard is rendered in sensory-overloading scope and detail. There was so much set design that it is well worth a few pause screens on the future blu-ray just to check out all the vistas of Asgard and Jotunheim. It all felt like a solid interpretation of Kirbyesque architecture for the big screen. Some of the ice planet scenes did seem overly CGI, but that could be due to the 3D effect.

Another pleasant surprise was the successful blend of a lot of humour into the drama without feeling forced. Thor’s fish-out-of-water situation brought plenty of genuine laughs without taking at all away from the serious, world shattering elements. 

I certainly loved the movie, but I can see where some might have difficulty with it. Fans of romance may be left wanting, given Thor and Jane's flirtation is vastly overshadowed by his quest to return to Asgard and save his realm. There are too brief appearances for some other interesting characters like Heimdall (Idris Elba) and Frigga (Renee Russo). Natalie Portman didn’t particularly have to stretch her acting chops this time around. Most of the cast does fall under Chris Hemsworth’s shadow, as it’s really all about him finding his way back home and settling Asgardian politics rather than an Earth-focused threat (aside from the Destroyer being sent to kill him). 

For Marvel fans, there are several great references (allusions to the Hulk and Tony Stark, as well as a feast for the eyes as far as background details—the relics in Odin’s vault, for example). Agent Coulson pops up to provide continuity with previous films, as he now seems to get all the tough S.H.I.E.L.D. cases. And stick around for the post-credit scene that serves to set up the likely villain and plot device for Avengers.

Perhaps it’s my love of mythology that really sealed the deal for me, but Thor is a fun ride that succeeds in no small part to the combined efforts of Chris Hemsworth, Branagh’s vision, and a unique (sometimes over the top) visual style. The plot might not be for everyone—involving primarily Asgard—but the sequels will surely bring Thor back to Midgard, with hopefully the same supporting cast (and winged helmet).

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...