Wednesday, June 29, 2011

It Came From The Cineplex: Thor

Thor is the latest movie from Marvel Studios, and in my opinion their best since the first Iron Man.

The fact that a Thor movie turned out so well is surprising to say the least. Marvel Studios has done their best to ground their recent superhero movies in a sort of reality. Sure, they're preposterous, but you can almost believe that if a person was rich and smart enough, they could construct a flying suit of armor. But adding a superhero who’s really a supernatural Norse god into the mix... that seemed like pushing things a bit too far.

Fortunately director Kenneth Brannagh found a way to do it. Thor introduces us to Asgard, the cosmic otherworldy realm where an entire race of god-like beings dwell. There, the head god Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is preparing to step down and crown his son Thor (Chris Hemsworth) king. An attack on Asgard by the Frost Giants interrupts the proceedings, prompting the head-strong Thor to retaliate, breaking a decades-old truce. Odin punishes Thor by stripping him of his powers and banishing him to backwards ol' Earth until he learns humility and responsibility.

Once on Earth, Thor is befriended by Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who naturally assumes his tales of godhood are homeless delusions. When Thor’s half-brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) sends a giant robot called the Destroyer to Earth to eliminate him, he sacrifices himself for the good of the planet, thereby regaining his powers and saving both Earth and Asgard.

The film impressively and effortlessly moves between scenes on Earth and Asgard, which is quite a feat. There are tons of exposition as there’s a lot to know about Asgard and its inhabitants, but it’s all presented clearly and simply. Would-be directors would be wise to study how this was done.

The battle scenes are well done for the most part, especially between Thor and the Frost Giants (although it is a bit dark in Frost Giant Land).
I was never read Thor as a kid, but I know enough about the character to recognize that the movie's pretty darn faithful to the source material, and includes lot of welcome touches from the comic book. In the comics, Thor's weapon of choice is his mystical hammer Mjolnir, which he swings rapidly in a circle to smite enemies and summon lightning. I actually got chills when he did this in the movie. Less well done, however, were the scenes of Thor flying. In the comics he doesn't actually fly, rather he throws his hammer and then hangs onto it while it soars through the air (yeah, I know). They either portrayed this power badly or dumped the concept as too silly for the movies, because it appeared that he was just flying under his own power.
It was also fun to see the Lady Sif and the Warriors Three brought to life on the screen.

Some of the costumes are a bit different than they were in the comic, but I'm OK with that. Thor had a consistent look for decades, but his father Odin seemed to change in appearance in nearly every issue of the comic, depending on who was drawing him, so who's to say how he really looks? All the characters were recognizable, and that's what counts. They even had Loki wear his famous horned helmet! For the record, the production designers did an awesome job with the Destroyer. It looked exactly as it did in the comics.

The movie even has some comedy relief moments that are actually funny, particularly those involving Thor's fish-out-of-water time on Earth.

My favorite thing about the movie: no origin story! The movie throws us right into the action. No showing us Thor's birth, boyhood and awkward teen years before he became a warrior (although there is a short flashback to his childhood). I can't speak for anyone else, but I've been reading comics for a very long time, and I grow weary of having to sit through boring origin stories. I already know how Spider-Man got his powers and I do not want to sit through it again. Please, filmmakers, if you have to show us a character's origin, do it in a short prologue like Lord of the Rings did.

Once again I love the fact that Marvel Studios is setting all their movies within the same universe, which is one of the things I always liked about Marvel comics. It's fun seeing these characters inhabit the same world and cross paths, rather than existing as separate properties. You guys are making this old geek very happy.

Things to watch for:

• Hawkeye's cameo. For those not in the know, Hawkeye is a superhero who's really good at archery. You'll know him when you see him.

• Agent Coulson. He first appeared in Iron Man, and is sort of the glue that's holding the movie universe together.

• Another Stan Lee cameo.

• The Cosmic Cube even makes an appearance!

The best time I've had at the movies so far this year. I give it an A.

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