Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Film Review: Thor (***)

I remember a few months ago when we were all in discussions about how awful this film was going to be. It's surprising how much negativity it has spawned so prematurely, and it's not even intelligently so. Originally people were worried that it might go for what's been called the Transformers style of humor, which can be more easily categorized as something called comedy. Admittedly, Thor is a particularly tough superhero to bring to the screen, and even more difficult to bring into the same world as Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, and Steve Rogers. Now the complaints about this film are focused around the phrase, "It could have been a lot worse." That's a very backhanded compliment, and it embellishes this film as just barely making it.

In actuality, I would say that Thor counts solidly as an equal superhero origin story as Iron Man was three years ago. The film starts out with a man plummeting to Earth from inter-dimensional vortex, right in front of dorky astrophysicist nut Jane Foster. We then flash back into the sky to find out who the man was, and where he came from. It turns out he's the mighty Thor, next in line for the thrown of Asgard, a Utopian type of realm that protects the other realms from certain annihilation. So when Thor decides seek foolish revenge upon one of the more stubborn realms, his father, Odin, banishes him to Earth.

I actually find it kind of bemusing that people are hoping that this film cuts back on the goofy humor, when that is actually one of the best parts of the film. The opening half hour of the film, action packed though it may be, is filled with a certain lifelessness. Maybe it's the bleak knowledge of what is coming, but for me it was more of the wanting it to happen sooner. So when we're blasted back to Earth, things become much more lively. Jane Foster and her groupies assistants brought such a likable sense of lighthearted criticism to the goofy ways of Thor and his ilk. Natalie Portman has been wandering about different roles that aren't as meaty as her role in Black Swan, and the same applies here. She's not meant to be taken seriously, because she's just a ditsy little nerd who believes in crazy tangents of science fiction. I feel like this role would have been better suited to someone else, but Portman does a good job making sure the audiences sides with her.

Even if the Earthbound segments are the more enjoyable of the film, the performances are much better up in Asgard. Chris Hemsworth pulls off a rare charm to his socially oblivious character, as well as portraying the emotional and moral change in the character well. Hemsworth proved himself dramatically capable with his short but essential performance as George Kirk Sr. in Star Trek, and here he proves that it wasn't a fluke. His persona of Thor is just as entertaining and endearing as Robert Downey Jr.'s of Tony Stark. I can't wait to see these two guys in a room together.

Anthony Hopkins hasn't really devoted himself to a role for a while, and even if he's still on autopilot this time around, he does know how deliver a great disappointed father speech. However, the real winner of the bunch is Tom Hiddleston as Thor's mischievous brother Loki. None of the Marvel universe villains thus far has had as rich a back story or as worthy a cause for villainy as Loki, and Hiddleston brilliantly conveys the emotional heft of the complex dynamic between him, Odin, and Thor. And before I forget to mention her, Kat Dennings is just winning as Jane's even ditsier assistant. Her delivery is perfect on aim, especially her reaction to first seeing a physically ripped Thor. "Does he need CPR? Because I totally know CPR."

There are moments of overly inspirational corn, as to be expected of a fantasy epic like this. As much as I respect the work of scribes Zack Stentz and Ashley Edward Miller, there's far too much predictability on display here. Patrick Doyle's score milks every moment of sentimentality for what it's worth, perhaps too much so. And if the early scenes in Asgard are overly depressing and derivative, the scenes towards are somewhat annoyingly happy. They have an excuse for being such, because it is an overly joyful time in the film. The action does deliver when it's called upon, but it never does anything more than just deliver. It sounds like I'm trying to balance my enthusiasm for so many parts of the film with jabs at the film's weaker moments, but I did really enjoy this film. If nothing else, I can appreciate it for the art direction and costume design miles ahead of any of Marvel's other ventures. Thor has just as many flaws as Iron Man did, so it should be seen as an equal success as its predecessor.


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