Monday, July 18, 2011

We Disagree (sorta): Thor

2011, Kenneth Branagh -- cinema (sans 3-D)

I look forward to David's review of Thor, because he outright hated it. It's been quite a few weeks since we went to see it but he seemed very passionate in his disdain, and, quite frankly, I don't blame him at all for not enjoying this film, because it is a totally not-good movie.

I've heard others bemoan the Earth/Midgard sequences of the film, those being the ones wherein a cast-down Thor interacts with Peter Sarsgaard, Kat Dennings and love interest Natalie Portman, who are a Professor and research assistants/students out documenting abnormal celestial phenomenon or somesuch. These sequences play out like a romantic action-comedy for the most part, and, as an admirer of the rom-com/chick-flick genre, it does it very well. But I fully understand those people who want none of that cheap, well-trod style of storytelling in their big comic-book action movie.

As a lifelong comic book obsessive, I have to state that I have absolutely no affection for the character of Thor and that I have very little awareness of his published history/histories. Quite frankly, I find the character boring, and the best he's ever been is as a fish-out-of-water punchline in the youth-oriented cartoon "Super Hero Squad". Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of the character in theory takes the character on an arc from self-involved, arrogant, selfish yet heroic and beloved warrior living in the shadow of daddy to a mature, wise, humbled hero, earning the love and respect of his father and ready at any moment to rule his people. I say in theory, because this journey takes precious little time, and the endpoint doesn't necessarily feel earned. It's basically all explained because he found love, spending a scant couple days with a Midgard woman who herself deigns to love a god.

The Asgard sequences, the etherial world in the clouds upon which the gods live, are quite gorgeously rendered, but at the same time bore me as much as any cartoon or comic-book iteration I've encountered in the past. This cinematic version seemed somewhat uninhabited, undeveloped. There's little sense of the Norse mythology the characters are drawn from, there's little sense of any grander scope to it all. The contention and battle with the frost giants is supposed to feel like a big Hollywood action set-piece, but as it's all digitally rendered, there's no tangibility to it, and story wise, it only serves a small role, mainly as a catalyst for the conflict between Thor and his father, and again between Thor and his brother Loki.

The familial matters of this film, the relationship between father and son and between brothers may have leaves, but fruits never grow. These should have been far meatier elements than the romance between Thor and Jane Foster, yet there given only a sliver of the attention.

As a story it's a failure overall, but what it does have going for it, and in spades, is charisma. The acting, universally, is fantastic. Chris Hemsworth one would easily believe is a god, seething charm out of every pore that isn't sprouting gorgeous blond follicles. Yes, despite not being gay, I developed an intense man-crush on Hemsworth in this film. I'm not sure if I was jealous of, impressed by, or simply attracted to him. Natalie Portman, who in any other film would command my attention in any scene here battles Hemsworth in the "who's prettier" battle and doesn't win. Kat Dennings plays the sarcastic Darcy effortlessly, while Tom Hiddleston's Loki pretty much does all the heavy dramatic lifting in the movie. Anthony Hopkins' presence wasn't nearly as distracting as I'd expected, at times he's even appropriately powerful to be considered top god. The Warriors Three, however, proved to be a waste of space in this film, serving no purpose other than to be Thor's buddies, so the minor attempts at including them in the bigger picture felt shoehorned in. Idris Elba's Heimdall, the stoic, imposing guard of the bifrost bridge to other worlds, was like the Boba Fett of the film, oozing cool, and tantalizing by his scant amount of screentime.

While Thor envisions a unique world in Asgard, it's not necessarily any different than those we've seen in Clash of the Titans or any other realm for higher beings. That the Earth setting is a small, middle-of-the-desert town somehow doesn't make the equally sparsely populated other world seem any more impressive. The entire film doesn't build to anything impressive as the big action sequences aren't all that well orchestrated or memorable, and the sword-in-the-stone component which seemed put in place for the Marvel Universe development towards an Avengers movie didn't pay off as well as it intended to.

Thor, as a film, seems to be the harbinger of the status quo for superhero films, where franchises and universe building are put into focus, and stories are put together by a committee to try and homogenize the end product to be as appealing to every film goer making for such a generic and forgettable cinematic experience.

(now read David's Take)