FILM REVIEW: Thor
- May 5, 2011 7:42 PM |
- By Eli Glasner
I hath travelled many leagues from the darkened tomb of cinematic projection to bring thee the epic tale of my viewing. Let there be much rejoicing as I spin a tale of heroes and maidens.
Okay, so I haven't mastered my Thor speak yet. But that's my way of saying, Thor ain't your average super hero.
The hammer-wielding warrior comes from the Marvel stable of superheroes. The same folks who gave us the Hulk, Spider-Man, X-Men and more. As opposed to its comic competitor DC, Marvel defined itself by creating characters who were human first and heroes second. Each of them had that Everyman quality: Peter Parker, the nerd given his chance to shine; Iron Man, the technological genius/alcoholic playboy.
Chris Hemsworth, left, and Natalie Portman are shown in a scene from Thor. (Zade Rosenthal/Paramount Pictures-Marvel Studios/Associated Press)
But Thor was different. He was no mere mortal. He was a god. The Norse god of Thunder.
Which is why bringing Thor to the silver screen was its own epic struggle. There were scripts based entirely in the heavens and ancient battles with Vikings. But it was the classically trained actor turned director Kenneth Branagh who brought Thor down to Earth, which is why the film works as well as it does.
Much of the beginning of Thor takes place in the realm of Asgard, the home of the gods. Production designer Bo Welch is responsible for the setting and it is, in a word, audacious. Welch gave us the gothic delights of Batman Returns and Edward Scissorhands. But Thor's homeland is far from dark and twisted. It's bold and bright - the building's muscular metallic forms jutting with soaring spires, shining with gold and bronze. It's as if someone saw Frank Gehry's Guggenheim museum in Bilbao and said, "That's great Frank, now how 'bout you do an entire city?"
Presiding over Asgard is Odin the All-father played with a royal timbre by Anthony Hopkins. Odin has two very different sons, the lion-hearted Thor and the slippery trickster Loki. On the day Thor is to be crowned king, he defies his father and travels to another land to battle the frost giants, ending a centuries-old truce. This doesn't sit so well with Papa, who banishes Thor to Earth. Alone. Mortal. No fancy hammer.
Which brings us to the other portion of the story, where in the New Mexico desert a scientist named Jane, played by Natalie Portman, is driving around looking for wormholes when WHAM, she hits Goldilocks with her van. Thor is unharmed but quickly begins spouting gibberish, shouting for Heimdall to return him to Asgard.
On Earth, Thor is a man from another time, another realm. But the script embraces his origins, which effectively humanizes him. Like Princess Giselle from Enchanted, Thor's behaviour is quaint and comedic. He doesn't ask for a refill of coffee, he smashes his mug on the ground and bellows "Another!" The fresh-faced Aussie actor Chris Hemsworth spouts the silly dialogue with a wink and a smile. All in all there isn't much of a weak spot in the cast. Natalie Portman brings much added backbone to her damsel-in-distress role. Kat Dennings steals just about every scene she's in, getting her smirk on as lab assistant Darcy. Back in Asgard, Thor's bothersome brother Loki is played with surprising restraint by Tom Hiddleston. Even the role of Heimdall, the Gatekeeper of Asgard, is anchored by a strong performance by Idris Elba, who you may recognize as Stringer Bell from The Wire.
Chris Hemsworth, left, and Anthony Hopkins are shown amid the gold ceilings of Asgarth. (Zade Rosenthal/Paramount Pictures-Marvel Studios/Associated Press)
Compared to all of this out-of-this-world scenery and storytelling, the actual action sequences are sadly conventional. Thor tussles with ice-covered creatures and metallic monsters. The screen is a mess of dark swooshes, smashes and sub-par CGI. (Thor is also being offered in 3D, but I wouldn't recommend the converted version, which just detracts from the quality of the visuals.)
The best pleasures come from the film's most majestic moments. Boiled down to its basics, Thor is like Shakespeare on steroids, which may be why Branagh was well chosen as director. Behind the histrionics and heroics he kept the focus on the relationships. Plus he had the experience to grasp the scale of these Wagnerian warriors and their world. Accompanied by a soaring score by Patrick Doyle, Thor soars. Verily, thou will have a mighty fun time.
So says Eli!
(Nope, still can't pull it off. Maybe if I try it wearing the hat.)
RATING: Four Mighty Hammers out of Five.
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