Thursday, May 19, 2011

Thor (2011) Cinema Summer Session 001

Though sweeping and epic in its source material, the film version of Marvel's god of thunder Thor seems to act as a mere reflection of what it could have been. Kenneth Branaugh's summer forray into Marvel's version of norse mythology is bogged down by its inability to define itself and seems to take a step back rather than forward as films like Iron Man (1+2) and The Dark Knight have set out to do. Its really too bad because Chris Hemsworth makes for an impressive, and rather gallant god of thunder.

What could have been a chance to elevate the career of a WWE wrestler or UFC fighting champion, became a casting choice straight from the halls of Asgard itself. Hemsworth is as his father Odin, played with a surprisingly underwhelming performance by Sir Anthony Hopkins, calls a "vain and stupid boy, but one of great power and bravery." This is a guy that audiences want to know and ultimately see change over the course of the film. Although at times this seems like the focal point of Thor, there is just too much going on to really stake a claim in.  The culmination of our hero losing his godly abilities, thus being subjected to mortal life on earth, seems to only find meaning through a humbling and hastened relationship with a human (Natalie Portman). Portman's Jane Foster is instantly likeable but becomes lost in the shuffle when more complicated plot devices are used. By the time we get around to how Sir Thor feels for Lady Jane, well the results aren't quite what you'd expect from two people who literally met 24-hours before. I know that in classical literature this sort of thing, meaning love at first sight, occurred quite often but for a modern audience it might have just been too quick to know if a second date was even on the table.

All is well in the world I suppose, save for a rather convoluted plot involving a race known as the Frost Giant seeking entry into the world of the gods, a dangerous annihilating robot called The Destroyer, and a double crossing silver-tongue who takes advantage of Thor's rather unique predicament. If Director Branagh had simply focused on his greatest strength in the film, the rather Shakespearean wordplay among the gods especially that between Thor and his brother Loki, this film might have been able to break free of its sometimes overly silly design. The dialogue is actually quite intriguing and opens up more than one would expect. The scenes between the gods are among the best in the film, and perhaps in a different circumstance might have helped propel the film to a well rounded conclusion.

I suppose with a superhero film involving rainbow bridges, and artifacts containing the all encompassing power of a supernatural race- the exclusion of things like CG worlds and fantasy enemies might have turned fanboys off as being too picky, but perhaps that might have downplayed the often simplistic logic placed on the characters and events occurring around them. Speaking of the CG graphics- the muddied backgrounds and unimpressive creature designs left me wishing that a more authentic and perhaps less grandiose vision had been implemented, if it worked for a film like Lord of the Rings, it could certainly work in a fantasy film like Thor. Although, several of the set pieces and costumes, really did help to promote the films unique style. Having done production design in the past, I could appreciate the detail that went into scenes like the inauguration of Thor, the fight between Thor and Loki, and those involving the transporter room at the end of the rainbow bridge.

Tom Hiddleston is a major standout, who much like Hemsworth, embodies the role of a god with great classicism. Hiddleston's Loki is a villain torn both internally and externally and though we do not see his true intentions straight away- we feel for his pain. I suppose this is something that Hemsworth failed to bring to his Thor, as you never really feel that sorry for the guy. As for Loki, well let's just say spoiler free manifestos could not delve into the inert sense of difference this character feels when compared to his older brother. Idris Elba is a similar standout, whose fervent Heimdall the gatekeeper, keeps life around Asgard rather interesting. Heimdall has the honor of even bettering Thor in both strength and intelligence, which came across perhaps stronger than Brannagh and company might have expected. The lack of scenes showcasing the gods daily life at least allowed for characters like Loki and Heimdell to help guide the film, even if just for a short time.

Thor is a film that doesn't know what it wants to be. Is it a prequel designed merely for the introduction of Thor into the world of the Avengers, due out next summer, or is it a slightly overweight origin story that hastens Thor into existence by sticking 40 years of comic history into a 2-hour film. Either way, Thor feels like it is missing more than it shows and perhaps if sequels do arise, we can get a better understanding of just who this character truly is. 

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