Saturday, May 7, 2011
It's almost impossible to watch "Thor" without taking into consideration its inevitable sequel as well as the inevitable Marvel collaboration that will soon be "The Avengers" movie next summer. It gives me a headache just thinking about the saturation of Marvel we've been experiencing because of it.
That being said, here we are at the next installment, "Thor," which is pretty good and self-aware enough where we can have some fun. Take for example the elusive government organization SHIELD led by actor Clark Gregg, the same organization from "Iron Man." When a hulking fire-shooting metal monster beams itself down to Earth, they even ask if this is the work of Tony Stark.
"Thor" doesn't have the "wow" factor the first "Iron Man" did, but director Kenneth Branagh does an admirable job of simply not screwing it up. It's clunky source material to work with anyway. Adapting from a character originally introduced in 1962, Thor is the hammer-wielding Norse god who lives in a realm called Asgard which resembles a gold-plated version of Viking living. The movie opens with a rather unfortunate prologue narrated by the King of Asgard (Anthony Hopkins) and is filled with mythology and special effects that'll have your eyes bugging out of your head. The gist is this: King Odin and his wife Queen Frigga (a haggard-looking Rene Russo) must choose an heir to the throne between their two sons, the hot-headed titular character Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his brother, the squirrelly Loki (Tom Hiddleston).
Thor's blood thirst for revenge takes him to a neighboring planet where the Frost Giants reside. After they breached security in Asgard, Thor goes with his posse against his father's orders to confront the Frost Giants and end the feud once and for all. Due to his reckless behavior, Thor gets banished by his father to the Earth realm where he lands in New Mexico in a swirling storm cloud. And from here the more engaging part of the movie unfolds.
The Norse god fish-out-of-water tale is the most engaging part because Branagh's sharpest tool is an apt sense of humor. Chris Hemsworth as Thor really hams it up speaking in formal King's English declaring he needs sustenance and shattering his cup on the ground when it's empty just for the sake of shattering his cup on the ground. Aussie actor Hemsworth--the blond hunk that he is with rippling muscles and a winning grin--is the perfect fit for Thor combining just the right amount of brawn and self-mockery to make his hero charismatic enough for us to care about.
Accompanying Hemsworth is Oscar winner Natalie Portman who's radiant and charming as an astrophysicist who comes across Thor--and actually hits him with her car...twice. She takes an interest in Thor because she's been studying natural phenomenon, and he was directly involved with one. If only she knew of Thor's true origins, but then comes the weird moment when all the characters on Earth go from flabbergasted and refusing to believe it into submissive acceptance. I guess what other choice did they have? The other members of her scientific team, Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings, are great and funny. There isn't much of a plot on Earth aside from Thor reclaiming his mighty hammer, but I found these sequences to have the most energetic wit and rollicking fun. Back in Asgard, it's about family coming-of-age drama and numbing action sequences in a world that is hardly fully realized. We have swooshing panning shots of the glorious Asgard but never really interact with it.
Taking into consideration Branagh's use of silliness and Hemsworth's effective performance, "Thor" works for what it is; that is, another entertaining stepping stone toward Marvel's plan to completely dominate Hollywood. And looking at this summer's line-up of movies, it looks like they're just about there.