♣♣♣♣♣ out of ♣♣♣♣♣
Marvel Comics has been mining it’s treasure trove of material, at a multi-million dollar level anyway, for over a decade now. It started with their holy grail: The X-Men, the penultimate, be all/end all of superhero flicks, in 2000 and hasn’t
With all of this money spent both behind the camera and in the theater, Marvel and all of the studios, actors, crews, and writers have successfully jump started a genre that was all but dead just a few years ago. (Did YOU see the 1994 version of Fantastic Four? Well no one else did either) Now they can even take comics that seem like horrible ideas, and make excellent movies out of them. Case in point: Thor, a norse god, son of Odin, and just all around reeking of cheese. The brunt of innumerable jokes over the years, Thor and his “magic” hammer burst on to the big screen in Hollywood epic fashion this weekend… kicking off the big summer movie season for 2011.
When I first took Thor seriously was when I realized that Kenneth Branagh was directing it. The Shakespearean actor/writer/director is known more for his 4+ hour depictions of 500 year old plays than an uber-CGI action blockbuster. Then I heard about Natalie Portman and didn’t care how bad it was going to be… cause I’ll sit in a theater seat for 2 hours and watch her drink a Pepsi or something… it doesn’t matter… as long as the camera is on her.
Well I can say I’m extremely happy I was wrong. Thor is a great movie, in the vein of Iron Man (1, not the victim of the writer’s strike that was 2), and nearly as awesome as the immaculate Batman movies from Christopher Nolan (hands-down the best “hero” movies ever made, super or not). Kenneth Branagh hits the nail on the head, pun intended. Thor has everything a superhero movie should, and to tell the God’s (I’ve got a million of ’em) honest truth, I think this is the best Marvel movie yet. As good as the X-Men movies were, I hate Bryan Singer and think he should be banished from Earth, because he did them wronger than wrong.
Thor treads a very fine line between cheesey and cartoony, yet weaves between them like a figure skater.
Thor belongs to a race of beings that live in space, in the city/galaxy (calaxy?) of Asgard, son of Odin and brother to Loki. The movie side-steps the whole “god” issue by telling a backstory where early man worshiped these beings “like gods.”
Anthony Hopkins is… well… Anthony Hopkins as Odin, the King of Asgard, and possibly the Universe. When he was young, a race of aliens called the Frost Giants obtained a very powerful item that allowed them to destroy and take over much of the universe. Odin and the vikings from space vanquished the Frost Giants to their home planet, a frozen wasteland, and peace was known across the galaxy.
Flashforward: when Odin’s sons, Thor and Loki grow older, one of them will be king. Thor, the first born, is of course the first choice, but the subtext needs to be established for the future “struggle for the crown.” So when the coronation day comes, Loki pulls a little prank and opens a back door for a few Frost Giants to sneak into the castle and attempt to steal back the source of all their power- a glowing blue box. Loki didn’t mean to bring about the end of the universe as he knew it, he just wanted to mess with his brother on his big day. This “invasion” gives an arrogant Thor all the reason to chase the Frost Giants back to their homeworld and kill them all for good, but Odin tells him to chill (that one was a reach). You can see where this is going right?
Thor defies his father and takes his team o’ BA’s to the frosty homeworld in search of how and why the creatures had snuck into the palace when the only way into Asgard is through a very, very cool transport system called “the rainbow road” (or the Bifröst Bridge). There is an epic hammer-tossing fight scene, a big-bad nasty thing, and ultimately, a banishment to Earth. Thor’s actions prove him brash, greedy, and unworthy of the crown and the power of Odin… and he doesn’t get it.
Chris Hemsworth (Thor) previously played Tiberius Kirk (James T’s pappy) in the reboot of Star Trek and blew me away. Seriously, try to watch the first 15 minutes of Star Trek without crying, just try. I don’t know what it is about Aussies that makes them the most charismatic and adorable peeps, but Hemsworth is going to be much more well known than he his right this minute, mark my words. He’s about the size of a house, and it looks like he’s benching one too. He manages some of the most silly dialogue in recent memory, but it all comes out with the grace and poise of… well… Shakespeare…
So kudos to Kenneth Branagh and crew for defying the odds and making one of the best “super”hero movies yet. Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings, and the radiant Natalie Portman all give great humanity to the film in it’s Earth scenes. A great contrast against the sheer magnitude of the awesome CGI universe we are shown. This is an important aspect of a great movie, that the setting must be a character in itself. So many times do movies imply, tell, and gloss over settings, especially when they’re as big as the universe in Thor… but in this case Branagh does an excellent job of making the universe of Thor feel like our neighborhood. If you aren’t able to suspend your disbelief, this isn’t the movie for you, a giant floating city in the heavens with cascading waterfalls that spill off into space will seem hoaky and not majestic. A universe where science and magic exist as one. Very good flick, and very, very fun.