Saturday, April 30, 2011

Great party, got hammered!

Early negative buzz surrounding THOR had me worried. Could this be Marvel’s first real misfire? IRON MAN 2 had not been very good, but it was enjoyable none the less, due to some great casting and the film’s subsequent ability to coast on the actors’ natural on-screen charisma. Still, a missed opportunity after Marvel’s strong debut with the first one.

Pre-release clips had been focusing on Thor’s time on Earth, and the fish-out-of-water comedy scenarios it caused. Did Marvel think the crazy camp of Thor’s heavenly realm of Asgard would turn off audiences? Or that their best chance at crossover success throughout all demographics was Chris Hemsworth’s hunky bodaaay? Most likely, and nerds everywhere gathered they had another FANTASTIC FOUR on their hands, another movie (rather unfairly) maligned in those circles for its silly and slight approach to its subject matter.

Kenneth Branagh had talked this movie up as a “superhero LION IN WINTER” which I can totally see. Hopkins can pretty much do the wise father role in his sleep by now, and he’s serviceable as Odin, with only a few moments of raging bravado before he is put into “Odinsleep” for most of the movie. Hemsworth swaggers into every scene with a big, goofy grin and ten pound balls, making him (to me, at least) an instantly likeable character. Tom Hiddleston as Loki is the Iago of the piece, and the actor does a great job finding layers – what?? – in the silly-helmeted god of mischief. I got the feeling that Loki cared far more about Odin’s approval than ruling Asgard, and he’s even reluctant to hurt Thor at times. Renée Russo as Mama Thor has about two scenes and ten lines, which makes me think a few of her scenes ended up on the cutting room floor.

One of my favorite additions to the movie were the Warriors Three and Lady Sif, Thor’s D&D-looking gang of friends. Broadly sketched, but with exactly the right amount of personality for it to be peripheral characters you immediately like. When one of them gets stabbed, it’s not just some random Asgardian warrior or SHIELD agent, but an actual character you sorta liked. Giving Thor friends he hangs out with and makes bawdy jokes with, goes a long way toward grounding a character that would perhaps be tough to relate to.

The much-maligned New Mexico stuff actually works pretty well, as it serves as a good counterweight to the hammy grandstanding of the Asgardians. Natalie Portman’s astrophysicist Jane Foster and her friends (Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgard) are sketched about as thinly as Thor’s friends, but here too do the actors carry their weight well. If there’s a criticism to be lobbed at this section of the movie, is that you don’t really get a sense of why Thor would fall for Foster besides the fact that she’s beautiful and smart – and he seems to have been surrounded by beautiful, smart and capable women all his life, from what we’ve seen. Which reminds me, I think if Marvel’s non-geek centered marketing worked, a lot of girls are gonna be creaming themselves over Hemsworth after this. The dude is charismatic to a fault, chivalrous with a sense of humor and has a couple of TWILIGHTesque pointless beefcake shots.

Kenneth Branagh’s good with actors, but the action stuff got a bit tough to follow sometimes – but even then, there’s quite a few very clear FUCK YEARGH! moments, such as Thor hurtling himself through a dragon’s head, blasting out the back of its skull. Furthermore, Branagh’s weirdly obsessed with Dutch angles, the way Abrams was so enamored with lens flares in STAR TREK. Just like the flares in that film, Branagh’s pot-dealing gay marriage angles didn’t so much annoy as amuse me in THOR. Another minor niggle I had was Asgard’s lack of “normals”. There’s a crowd scene at Thor’s celebration at the start, and another when there’s a feast at the end. I would have liked to see some shots of Asgardians about their normal business, to get more of a sense of a living world. As it is now, it’s mostly the royal family, Thor’s friends, and their guards/servants.

I was apprehensive bout the 3D, but the flying-through-space bits and the Bifrost Bridge were actually a very cool thing to see. Otherwise, not much was added to it, as usual with post-converted stuff.

Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye was cool in his short scene, which indeed feels tacked on, but not as obtrusively HERE ARE MORE MARVEL CHARACTERS REMEMBER GUYS THERE’S A WHOLE OTHER MARVEL UNIVERSE OUT THERE as the SHIELD subplot in Iron Man 2. With a small change, the scene even could have served some plot purpose to the movie.

Stay seated for the post-credits scene, as, again, it isn’t only an announcement for another Marvel movie, but an actual continuation of the movie’s plot.

The audience I saw it with ate it up, and I’m pretty sure others will too. They should have put the “Thor will return in THE AVENGERS!” text at the very front of the credits.

Which brings me to my WotL-exclusive, a screenshot of 2013’s sure-to-be hit blockbuster:

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