Friday, May 6, 2011

Thor Review

Of all the Marvel characters that needed an introduction to the existing movie canon before the assembling of the legendary Avengers, Thor is by far the easiest to get wrong. I mean, his shoehorning into the comic world was already a stretch, as one has to do a mental leap to accept the conceit that Thor is in an alien from a different plane of existence, and all of the metaphysical flim-flam that goes along with that.

Get your inhalers ready kids, there is some 'splainen to do.

What flim-flam you say? Well imagine that the expanding universe is actually a cosmic tree, with new branches shooting off every billions of light years to form different planes, or "realms" of existence. Thor exists in one of the oldest planes, Asgard, in a time and space far removed from the small and newer plane of existence that Earth resides in. Thor's people, the beings that exist in the Utopian-like Asgard, are so technologically and physically advanced that they can actually cross over into other realms and space using a big worm hole gun that can connect these beings to anything in the universe.

This ability to cross over into other realms beget a whole Norse mythology at one point; some Vikings around 900AD had the misfortune of being caught on an interstellar battleground between the Asgardian  and the Frost Giants,  a different race of beings from another realms called Ylaksaiujsejeim  (or some shit like that), as the Norse homeland was used like a frozen paintball course between these two races. You see, Christianity had it wrong all this time. It was actually Vikings that had the right answer - well, except for all the raping and pillaging. OoooooDin! *uses inhaler*

So scientifically: who are what are gods but beings with technology beyond our mortal comprehension? See Mom and Dad, those philosophy classes at that private institution DID pay off.

I AM the Philosoraptor

OK, so given everything I have told you - try to imagine how insane a movie like that would be, and how difficult it would be to execute. Well, Marvel Studios tried - and knocked it out of the park.

I'm still blown away myself. All of the early snippets from this film hinted at the non-stop goofiness of Thor becoming a mortal after falling to Earth, some of it being eye-rollingly bad. I can now say that those same deflating scenes, taken in context, have the complete opposite effect.

Perhaps only a Shakespearean actor  of Kenneth Branagh's renown could have pulled something like Thor  off as a director. The bulk of the film plays out in Asgard, where beings act like they are in a cheesy Shakespearean time warp themselves, with all the pomp of a Royal Theater production of Macbeth (though I'll take Anthony Hopkins as Odin any day). Hell even some of the character arcs are deliberate and predictable, as its nothing someone didn't have to sit through in high school English studying Greek tragedies about how emotionally crippled some of the gods on Olympus were. There is enough campyness at the beginning ( I am looking at you, young Thor) that it's almost impossible not to roll your eyes at these "people."

Oedipus is the one where he stabs his eye out after watching his own colonoscopy, right?

Once Thor falls to Earth, though, that's where Kenneth Branagh's brilliance really kicks in. As someone who had spent a bulk of their life imitating Shakespearean characters, it probably wasn't hard for him to imagine how ridiculous it would be for any of those characters to exist in our modern world, much less a Princely God of Thunder. The people of "Earthrealm" are played completely straight. Natalie Portman (listen I am not complaining, but is she in every  movie?) and her "team" of scientists, as well as the SHIELD team that was shoehorned in for Avengers purposes, act like any other sensible people would when confronted with a Shakespearean-spewing, Viking-looking dude : like he is insane.

I didn't think it was possible, but I enjoyed the "fish out of water" Earth-realm story way more than I thought I would, with most of the kudos going to the casting of Chris Hemsworth as Thor; Hemsworth is pretty damn note perfect, and the range he gives Thor really has me anticipating his future interactions with other superheroes.  The humor of Thor's exile to Earth and his growth as a mortal is really what grounds this movie in the same physical and emotional "reality" as other Avengers, which had to be this film's ultimate goal for the sake of both the Thor  franchise, and the Avengers .

Yet, the scientific and metaphysical ideas presented in this film also serves to expand the scope of the Marvel film universe to the point at which we can accept the forthcoming Avengers  vs. alien invasion story.  Once again, credit has to go to Branagh for effectively and seamlessly laying so much interstellar groundwork, not just for Thor, but for the Marvel film universe as whole.

Thor is by no means perfect. There is so much going on, so many different tracks running through this film, that some aspects suffer. The love story between Natalie Portman's "Jane" and Thor feels about as rushed as Padme and Anakin Skywalker, but at least with 1000% more chemistry. Thor is on Earth for what amounts to an extended weekend, but I guess those rock hard abs could seal the deal with Natalie Portman in that amount of time.

Fact: Natalie Portman is no bigger than Thor's left bicep

Also, the action was a little up and down and times. I didn't see it in 3D, but some scenes in Asgard and in other realms that aren't Earth came off as super cartoonish, Clash of the Titans-like in its diminishing quality; the film was not natively shot in 3D, so I would not shell out the extra money to see it - it won't change anything but your pocket book. Also, the characters and performances more than make up for a weak and predictable story.

All in all, these are pretty minor quibbles. I had absolutely no expectations going in, so I was pleasantly surprised at all Thor  managed to accomplish in its two hours. The fact that Marvel studios pulled off Thor  is minor miracle; I am now 100% confident that the forthcoming Joss Whedon directed Avengers movie could be the superhero opus - the biggest film of all time.



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