Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Thor (2011)

If there were any doubt before, let this movie stand as conclusive proof that I don't know what the fuck I am talking about. Back in my Iron Man 2 review, I said that this was the one part of the Avengers franchise most likely to go tits up. Kenny Branagh has never had great success as a commercial director and Thor's outsized universe of Norse space-gods seems like the kind of Silver Age silliness doomed to epic failure. Yet somehow they turned a pretty good movie out it, grabbing bits and pieces from the comics that worked and grinding down the sharp edges that might make the Thor mythos a little difficult to swallow.

Like in the comics, the pantheon of Norse mythology are more like space-aliens than gods and the realm of Asgard is a glorious kingdom at the nexus of the galaxy where science and magic are "one and the same". Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is soon to be crowned king by his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) but in a reckless act of war he spoils the truce between the Asgardians and the Frost Giants of Jotunheim. Thor is banished to Earth and robbed of the ability to wield the mightly Mjolnir until he is deemed worthy. With Thor stranded on Earth, his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) engineers a plan to steal the throne from their dying father. You know, they probably should have seen this coming. He is the god of tricks and deception.

The movie is pretty funny, but it lacks the easy-going affability of an Iron Man. Most of the humour comes from the kind of fish-out-of-water bullshit that they used to like so much back in the 80s (see Masters of the Universe or Beastmaster 2 - The Portal of Time for examples, but it's probably best if you don't) e.g. Thor smashing a mug while demanding more drink or wandering into a pet shop looking for a horse. I chuckled, but part of me resents that kind of nudging and winking. Thankfully there's not too much of it and they don't use it to make any half-assed observations about modern society. More importantly, the parts on Asgard are played completely straight, with all the huge red capes and ridiculous horned helmets intact.

I was skeptical when I heard that Home and Away alumni Chris Hemsworth was playing the God of Thunder, but I've got to admit that he's pretty good in this. As far as blockbuster movie stars go, he's a far more worthy Australian export than, say, Sam Worthington. There's also Natalie Portman, in what seems like her millionth role in the past year, as an astro-physicist named Jane Foster. She's never particularly convincing as a brilliant scientist, and the romance between her and Thor even less so. After seeing her in Black Swan it's kind of disheartening to see her cast as this kind of underdeveloped, action-movie love interest, but I guess Nat's gotta eat. No seriously, she needs to eat. She's lost a lot of weight.

Most of the other actors are pretty good and their characters aren't too annoying. Kat Dennings as grad-student Darcy Lewis had the most potential to be ear-gratingly awful, being a youth-identification character who makes sarcastic quips and references to iPods and facebooks, but she's not in it long enough to fuck it all up. Stellan SkarsgÄrd is good as Jane's colleague and obligatory Scandinavian Erik Selvig. I did like that although he was the first to recognise Thor's story as Norse mythology, but the last one to believe it. Usually this kind of character would be the superstitious foreigner who buys his story straight away. I guess that's because he's a white guy.

Speaking of racism, after all that stupid business with the white supremacists, Idis Elba doesn't get that much to do as Heimdall. Most of the time he's just standing there motionless with a big sword. Hell, when he finally does spring into action he gets frozen into a statue. I liked him, though. By the end of the film it appears he's out of the job so maybe we can get a spin-off movie where he gets a job as a security guard or something. Heimdall: Mall Cop. Jaimie Alexander's Sif adds a female to Thor's bffs The Warriors Three (Volstann, Holgun and Fandral, see imdb for actor's credits) lest we all die of testosterone poisoning, but they mostly hang around in the background until they are needed for the big action sequence at the end.

Far more than Iron Man 2, you can tell that this film was built with the Avengers franchise in mind. The S.H.I.E.L.D. stuff is integrated a lot more seamlessly and all of the little nods and references to other Marvel characters seem more like world-building than obligatory product placement. Having a shared universe is one of the main attractions of superhero comics, so it's pretty exciting to see people tapping that resource for the film adaptations. I'm actually looking forward to the Avengers movie now.

It's got the usual origin story teething problems that accompany any superhero franchise and some of the dialog is pretty bad, but as far as superhero movies go this is one of the better ones. It should feel no shame in clambering over the corpses of your Fantastic Fours, Catwomen and Elektrae, and taking it's rightful place in the pantheon of good superhero movies. I don't know where exactly. Somewhere below Iron Man but above Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk. And that ain't bad.

PS - There is a post-credits Easter egg with Nick Fury, but don't get too excited. It's not particularly surprising or interesting.

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