Friday, May 13, 2011

Superhammerman

In the 1960s, Marvel Comics made some really low-rent cartoon series of its major superheroes. Growing up in the 1970s, I got to watch re-runs of those cartoons every day after school. Spiderman, my favorite, was on every day, and was followed by one of five different superheroes, depending on the day of the week: Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man, Sub-Mariner and Thor.

I don’t remember which day Thor was on, but I know that it was my least favorite day. (Although it did have the best theme song!) To me, even as a kid, Thor was kind of ridiculous. He is based on the Norse God of Thunder, and in those cartoons he talked as if he was quoting from the King James Bible, with a lot of “thee’s” and “thou’s” and other archaic terms thrown about.

So when Marvel Studios announced that they were making a Thor movie, I had serious reservations. As Thor was a necessary stepping stone to getting Iron Man, Captain America and Hulk together on the screen in next year’s The Avengers, however, I tried to keep an open mind.

Then I heard that Kenneth Branagh had been brought on board to direct, and I started to see trailers and stills from the set, and I started to get genuinely excited. Now, I have finally seen the film, and I am happy to report that it is good. Not Iron Man good, but pretty close. It is a fun movie from start to finish, and while it requires a heftier than usual suspension of disbelief, it is so good-natured and such a well-told story that you will willingly do so. Best of all, Thor doesn’t say “thee” or “thou” once!

Rating: **** four stars (recommended)

PRO:
  • There is a lot to like about this movie, but what resonates most are the performances. Chris Hemsworth shows outstanding range as the title character, moving from brash arrogance to fish-out-of-water humor to heroic humility with incredible grace. As good as Hensworth is, though, Tom Hiddleston is even better as Thor’s brother Loki, delivering an intelligent, multi-dimensional performance that I hope we’ll get to see more of in future installments. Ditto Idris Elba, who has a small part as Heimdall, but really steals the show in every scene he’s in. And Natalie Portman is great as human Jane Foster, convincingly selling her budding relationship with Thor despite limited screen time. I haven’t even gotten to Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins as Thor’s dad Odin, Colm Feore as the king of the frost giants, or any number of other actors. They were just all good.
  • The sets created for Thor’s home “realm” of Asgard were simply outstanding. I don’t know what the experience was like in 3D (of course), but in 2D it was a wondrous place to visit. The same is true of the realm of the frost giants, and if the New Mexico sets seemed tame by comparison, well, I think that was the point.
  • The action scenes, especially in the beginning, were really well done and engaging.
  • The villains were all cool, too, and all were surprisingly multidimensional and sympathetic. When I heard “frost giants,” I kinda groaned, but they were actually pretty awesome.
  • Finally, the humor was really well done. The movie has some genuine laughs in it, but they feel organic, not forced, and they help move the story forward. Like I said before, it is a fun movie.

CON:
  • Branagh tells too epic of a story, and doesn’t really have time to pull all the threads together properly in the end. As a result, the final scenes feel rushed and fall a little flat. This is not a big complaint, because Branagh really did have his hands full trying to make a successful movie out of this subject matter, but it would have been more enjoyable to me had the final scenes on Earth and in Asgard taken a little longer and had the same depth as the rest of the story.
  • It is possible that there are too many characters in this movie, as many of them do not get nearly enough screen time. The biggest wasted opportunity is Jaimie Alexander as the Asgardian warrior Sif. She does a good job in her limited screen time, and she has great charisma and a chemistry with Hemsworth that I hope we get to see more of in the future.
  • In the fantastical realm of Asgard, a helmet with giant horns and wings coming out of it doesn’t look out of place, but on Earth those costumes look ridiculous. Standing next to Agent Coulson in his black suit, Thor looks like an amusement park caricature. That will be a challenge going forward.


So here is my movie review quote for the back of the Blu-ray packaging: “There is a lot to like about this movie… Chris Hemsworth shows outstanding range… really well done and engaging… a fun movie from start to finish…”

And here is my quote for the haters: “Low-rent cartoon… kind of ridiculous… doesn’t really have time to pull all the threads together… wasted opportunity…”

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