Friday, May 6, 2011

Thor Movie Review: Great Odin's Raven, This is Fun!

The least plausible of all Marvel super heroes hammers home a fun tale full of humor, spectacle, and Frost Giants. Set in the realistic world set up by the Iron Man and Hulk movies, director Kenneth Brandagh does his best to sell Thor as an alien from another spacial plane called Asgard, with technology so advanced it can only be explained to us as magic. There's also a gatekeeper with golden armor, space horses, and a pulsating rainbow bridge that stretches out into the cosmos. If the Asgardians are so advanced, why not abandon all of the superfluous armor and swords for something a little more high tech?

But that might ruin the fun. And fun is the number one trait this movie has going for it. Numerous jokes about Thor's godly abs and Norse mythology stop the movie from taking itself too seriously. If a plot point or character seems ridiculous, Darcy (Kat Dennings) chimes in to help the audience out. As a quirky young college student, she is full of spot-on one-liners that help to sell the more other-worldly ideas to the audience. Just wait until you hear her call Thor's magical hammer Mjlonir "meow-meow" and try not to laugh.

The script becomes a bit bloated with jokes and silly reaction shots that it feels like sometimes even Thor is not taking himself seriously.Which is unfortunate, because the movie is rife with superb performances. Anthony Hopkins's Odin has limited presence in the movie after succumbing to a plot device that takes him out of the action called the Odin Sleep, but every deeply resonating line he utters holds the same perfect balance of authority, seriousness, and fatherly love. Loki is played by Tom Hiddleston and he does a more than capable job of twisting his words to manipulate his friends and foes into helping him achieve a secret goal that strikes an unexpected heart chord. Loki's character arc ends up being multi-layered and much more than it appears to be from the start. Special note must also be given to Idris Elba's unforgettable Heimdall. With such a commanding physical presence and a voice deep enough to give Darth Vader pause, superstar status seems almost guaranteed.

Being surrounded by such stellar actors with much more interesting characters, Chris Hemsworth's Thor barely comes off as interesting. Don't get me wrong, it is entertaining watching him use his raw physicality to take down a base full of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents; quip back and forth with romantic interest Jane Foster (Natalie Portman); and be forced to change from arrogant Asgardian to humble human like a billionaire forced to live as a poor man in order to understand life from the other side. Hemsworth does an adequate job at playing the God of Thunder, and it is not his fault that Thor is not as dynamic, intriguing, and inherently interesting as his supporting cast.

The characters preach and plot and interact in Asgard, a vast city made up of towering structures that look both classical and futuristic - some even float and oscillate in the sky just because - that all pale in comparison to the humongous gaudy golden palace where a good deal of the story takes place. When living in such a beautiful city with unique architecture where every window could open up to a view of spiraling galaxies and dazzling space anomalies, it's a wonder why most of the action had to take place in a sealed off golden room.

The inevitable one-on-one fight between Thor and Loki takes place in the gateway chamber, a wondrous spinning room atop the rainbow bridge. After battling Frost Giants and Gort's cousin The Destroyer, the bar was set high for a dynamic battle making full use of the movie's insanely large special effects budget, but the brawl manages to disappoint. Instead of an epic clash of brother Gods, the brawl feels more like two actors trying hard to sell the fight but not damage the expensive costumes and props.

Anti-climatic ending aside, Thor makes for a solid movie that won't leave the audience wanting when it comes to great summer movie fun. In addition to setting up future adventures in Asgard, it laid important groundwork for the Marvel universe. Blink-and-you-missed it references to Hulk, Iron Man, and Hawkeye satisfyingly tease the upcoming Avengers movie. Stay after the credits for an unusually plot-heavy snippet setting up the premise for the battle Earth's Mightiest Heroes will have to fight next summer.

Rating: 3 out of 5

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