Sunday, May 8, 2011

The God of Thunder Strikes Like Lightning (SPOILERIFIC REVIEW)

So the summer movie season has officially begun, and I have to say it's off to a thunderous (pun intended) good start. Kenneth Branagh's THOR is a true scifi/fantasy epic, blending seamlessly into the Marvel Cinematic Universe while standing on its own at the same time. Now, no film is perfect and THOR is no exception. But it's certainly a movie worth checking out.

THOR plays into the "ancient astronaut" theory very well and believably, portraying the mythic Asgardians as extremely advanced extraterrestrials (but not "alien" in the traditional sense). The titular protagonist, portrayed surprisingly well by relative (but not for long) unknown Chris Hemsworth, is a valiant, courageous yet arrogant warrior, albeit with good intentions. I have to admit, the casting of Hemsworth was my biggest concern about the film, and I am very pleased that those fears were allayed. Hemsworth proved himself capable of handling the God of Thunder's arc on the same level as Robert Downey Jr. did with IRON MAN, and that's saying something. Hemsworth hits all the right notes in this film, from where his arrogance consumes him in the beginning to that pivotal moment when he steps in front of the Destroyer, realizing that true strength stems from humility and self sacrifice. And every moment in between. While this isn't your Shakespearean "thee" and "thou" Thor (try saying that three times fast), the oddity in his speech and his actions compared to his earthly companions is exactly what should be expected, and uproariously funny to watch at times. Not to mention what is probably Branagh's most genius move as director on the project, to have the God of Thunder taken down by a Taser. Irony doesn't get more epic than that!

Of course, a leading man is only as good as the cast around him, and this is one hell of a cast. Not enough can be said for Tom Hiddelston as Loki, who's first minutes of screentime are all played through his eyes. While Loki is indeed the god of mischief, Hiddelston adds gravitas and sympathy to the role, and I can't remember ever really feeling for a villain before. Having been kept from the truth about his origins, one can see why he would go to the lengths that he does, all for the approval of his adoptive father.

Speaking of Anthony Hopkins, he gives Odin Allfather the theatrical credit this film needed for audiences to get their heads into it. While Odin is king of Asgard, his stoic persona can be, and is, shattered by his sons' actions. When it falls to Odin to pass judgment on Thor for his defiance, unlike the trailer which showed him stripping Thor of his powers with authority, in the actual cut Hopkins is shown in apparent physical as well as emotional pain. This gives the character of Odin more substance than I think most people thought he was going to have.

The trio of Natalie Portman--excuse me, Academy Award-winning Natalie Portman, Kat Jennings and Stellan Sarsgaard make up Thor's earthly companions Jane Foster, Darcy Lewis, and Erik Selvig. Researching Einstein-Rosen Bridges (aka wormholes), they encounter Thor in the desert and are soon entangled in the events unfolding as Thor seeks to reclaim his hammer Mjolnir and with it his powers. Dennings is, appropriately enough, mostly comic relief, and Sarsgaard's Selvig is the access character for everyone else in the film to the Norse myths and legends about the Asgardians.

Branagh shows tremendous poise in the Asgardian half of the film, it's only in the earth portions of the film that one can see a few chinks in his directorial armor. Branagh has a natural knack for classically epic filmmaking, as he proved in MARY SHELLY'S FRANKENSTEIN (one of my favorite films). However, he makes up for those flaws with some surprisingly well-placed comedic timing that will definitely appeal to the general audience.

It was great to see Clark Gregg back as Agent Coulson, as a way to tie THOR with the rest of the MCU. And not to mention (SPOILER!!) a cameo from Jeremy Renner as "Barton" (hint hint).

I think the thing that made this movie a real treat was the design. Branagh's sense of scale in this film is beyond anything I've seen in a comic book movie to date, and was really breathtaking to see. I don't know how he did it, but I loved the melding of the seemingly ancient and highly advanced (with a few Futhark runes thrown in for good measure here and there). Asgard, Jotunheim, and earth, how they're all interconnected through the Bifrost (rainbow bridge) but a wholly fascinating way that makes me want to explore it more.

All in all, THOR has successfully kicked off the summer movie season, and is definitely worthy of repeat viewings if anything for all the details that you would've missed on the first go-round. On a scale of "meh" to "epic", THOR is most definitely epic.

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