A tholid thtart to the thummer movie theathon ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Saturday, April 30, 2011

A tholid thtart to the thummer movie theathon

My rating:

Thusly does the summer of 2011 begin! (Um, the summer movie season that is, Malaysia having an equatorial climate and all.) And thusly too does the Marvel comicbook film franchise continue to build its single interconnected universe, comprising every film they've made since the first Iron Man and culminating in next year's The Avengers, that will star Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Chris Evans as Captain America, and, um, Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk. (Nothing against the guy, but him being the third actor to take on the role really doesn't help, continuity-wise.) It's an unprecedented and massively ambitious gambit they're attempting, dependent on creating not just one successful film franchise - a difficult enough task - but lots of them, all of whose successes depend on each other. They've only started two so far, one already proven much less successful than the other (that'd be the one with all the recasting), and they are only now starting another two.

And the first one, at least, turned out pretty nicely.

Odin Allfather (Anthony Hopkins) is king of the mythical realm of Asgard, which maintains an uneasy peace with its ancient enemy the Frost Giants of Jotunheim. When they attempt to steal an ancient artifact from Asgard, Odin's son and heir Thor (Chris Hemsworth) obtains passage from Heimdall (Idris Elba), guardian of the portal between worlds, to lead an impetuous retaliatory raid into Jotunheim with his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his friends Sif (Jaime Alexander), Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) and Fandral (Joshua Dallas). Thor's arrogance offends Laufey (Colm Feore), the Frost Giants' king, bringing Asgard and Jotunheim to the brink of war - and for this, Odin strips him of his power and banishes him to Earth. There he meets and befriends astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her research team comprising Eric Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and Darcy (Kat Dennings) - whilst his mystical hammer Mjolnir lands somewhere else in the New Mexico desert and attracts the attention of Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) of SHIELD.

No, I'm not familiar with the Thor of the comics (I've always been more of a DC fanboy myself), but I can't imagine any longtime reader of the title being disappointed with this adaptation. It does everything a comicbook movie franchise starter ought to do: establish the world, get the tonality right, develop the main character, have plenty of eye candy and action, and lastly, make audiences eager for more. And no less importantly, be fun; one of the neat things it does is balance the seriousness with humour, nicely timed. It is, in fact, pretty much the exact same formula of Iron Man and its sequel (with none of the messy story issues of the latter), and if this one feels like it's cast out of the same mould, I count that a strength rather than a weakness. It makes its own success look easy.

Which is not to say that it's a carbon copy of Iron Man, of course. It's got a lot of things it needs to get right to carve its own identity, one of which is its own unique look. Asgard is frikkin' gorgeous, capable of evoking an utterance or two of "fwoar!"; the frequent intercutting between the techno-fantasy Asgard, dark and ruined Jotunheim, and plain old Puente Antiguo, New Mexico establishes the galactic (or is that realm-ic?) scale of the story. It's interesting how the popularity of comicbook superhero movies have really broadened the definition of superheroes; Thor does not fight crime, has no secret identity (except for a shout-out to the one he had in the comics), and does not have easily-defined superpowers. And it's primarily the Marvel heroes and their movies that have spearheaded this.

Think about it: X-Men is superheroes-as-allegory-of-racism. Iron Man is superhero-as-weapon-of-mass-destruction. (Fantastic Four should've been celebrities-as-superheroes, but the movies sucked.) And now Thor is mythological-figure-as-superhero, which the film succeeds at bringing to life. Myths of ancient gods have always resembled family soap operas, and the Norse pantheon is no exception. Thus we get the father-son dynamic between Odin and Thor and Odin and Loki, as well as the brotherly love-hate between Thor and Loki, which all work well courtesy of effective dialogue, good performances - including a surprisingly affecting one from newcomer Tom Hiddleston - and smart direction. Kenneth Branagh directing a Thor movie probably surprised everyone, but it turned out the Shakesperean actor-director was just the right choice for this particular superhero.

And while Hiddleston gave unexpected dimension and pathos to the villainous Loki, it's Chris Hemsworth who's the breakout star here. His was a really tricky role, and Thor - the godling who speaks in fancy-shmancy "thee"s and "thou"s - the trickiest Marvel hero to get right. But Hemsworth is immensely charming and likable, even when he's being an arrogant dick. The movie turns into fish-out-of-water comedy after he gets banished to Earth, and Hemsworth plays it up - but he also takes Thor's lesson in humility and nobility seriously. Just as Iron Man found its heart in Tony Stark regaining his humanity, so does this film hinge on the effectiveness of Thor's character arc. It's fleshed out in broad strokes, but there's enough meat to it to make it work. (And to anyone who thinks Thor learns his lesson a little too quickly: number one, he's a god, that's how they do things, and number two, comics.)

It's a pity that the Thor-Jane romance doesn't work nearly as well. It's the film's biggest weakness; it's limp and inert, there's little chemistry between the two actors, and Natalie Portman phones it in (although, to be fair, so do the writers). In fact, has anyone noticed how high it's stacking its deck in terms of casting? It becomes clear when one sees how underused all these actors are; getting Anthony Hopkins to play Odin is almost unfair, Kat Dennings deserves to be more than generic comic relief, there's Rene Russo in, like, two scenes - but at least Stellan Skarsgard gets to do a rare comedic performance. But having an over-ambitious casting agent (or maybe an over-inflated budget for it) can sometimes pay off, in Hemsworth and Hiddleston - and also Idris Elba, who is impressively badass and cool as Heimdall.

In case you haven't already noticed, this is a pretty dense movie, with a lot of backstory and a detailed world and a massive cast of characters; it's inevitable that some of it will get short shrift. (Sif and the Warriors Three were kind of just there.) But Branagh and his writers distill it all into a comprehensible two hours, and keep the proceedings enjoyable and action-packed to boot. And yes, there's a post-credits scene, and yes, there's a cameo by Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye - but while all these may raise anticipation for next year's Avengers movie, this one doesn't need any of it to make audiences look forward to another Thor instalment. Which is the only real brass ring for a franchise-starting comicbook superhero adaptation, and this movie wins it handily. Yay for the summer blockbusters of 2011! May they all be this good.

Expectations: better than the other one, hopefully


mell said...

Can't wait to watch Thor. is it worth is 3D?

oh, and will you be reviewing 'Water for Elephants' anytime soon?

TMBF said...

@MeLL: Didn't watch it in 3D. Rarely do.

Water for Elephants looks interesting, I'll try to catch it.

McGarmott said...

Thor's 3D is by way of conversion, unlike Transformers 3, so avoid like the plague. Meanwhile, I didn't like it as much as you do, prob give it a 4.5/10. Couldn't understand the 94% Tomatometer rating.

I cried at the ending of Water For Elephants, rather surprisingly. (Haven't done that in a cinema in 6 years.) Though that's not to say anyone else will; I'm still not sure why that happened. Anyhow, you should definitely watch it. Excellent film.

TMBF said...

@McGarmott: Ah, therein lies the misleading-ness of the Tomatometer. 94% is the percentage of critics that gave it favourable reviews, but does not indicate how favourable their reviews are. I think the majority of them only pronounced it good but not great.

The Mahablogger said...

The problem is simple. If you never read the comic books or know an inkling of the story and myths of THOR. You wont get it at all. If you have you would notice that this movie HAS given homage to both Newcomers and fans alike.

Yes it wasnt GREAT, but it was really good. The NORSE mythology was explained quite well. But a lot of information regarding certain parts were left out. FANS however would understand it, mainly becoz it wouldve been too long to explain. The point in concern is about the Casket. There is a whole lot of backstory to that.

The origins of thor itself was not said, and the very importance of Vili,Ve and Odin. What started the Frost Giant Wars, Who was THE DESTROYER and who was LOKI.Most important of all WHERE THE HECKS BALDER THE BRAVE ???? He's the Real Knight in Shining Armour and Not Heimdall....

Many of these parts would be known to a true fan. THOR by right wasnt supposed to be THOR to everybody in Midgard anyways...Jane Foster was in love with his alter ego on earth. NOT THOR...hence why the chemistry problem. THOR was always brash and arrogant as it was properly put. Therefore FANS will know why the actors did the way they did, and Newbies well...take my advice start Reading the comic books to get updated on whats going on the screen !!!

TMBF said...

@The Mahablogger: It should not be required to read the source material to understand or appreciate an adaptation.