Grow Up, Son
The Marvel Comics characters are burning up the screens with no less than three films offered this summer, all promising of bigger franchises to come. There's X-Men: First Class which I am absolutely looking forward to having been impressed by the trailers thus far together with a first rate ensemble cast, and then there's 2012's Avengers which had just started shooting. Which of course brings us to the origin tales of Captain America and now Thor to introduce these characters to a new generation, and introduce Thor did Kenneth Branagh manage to do, in an unusually functional treatment rather than coming to expect something more epically Shakespearean.
One of the main issues with the ambitious Avengers film is the introduction of the less than scientific, reality based elements of the Marvel films and characters to date, where radiation is root cause for the creation of The Hulk, Fantastic Four and Spider-man, and technology behind the likes of Tony Stark's Iron Man, meaning they're not too far fetched if you're a fan of science fiction. Even gene mutation still falls within the boundaries of believability. But with Thor comes something from the magical and fantasy realm, which undoubtedly will open the door to more powerful villains not bounded by the laws of physics at least, but still with the villain possessing incredible powers, unless the story is compelling, we're going to find ourselves stuck with a massively powerful hero, what more when he's a god?
Which is what made Thor somewhat a refreshing change in the way comic book heroes are portrayed in recent years, whether DC (who will have its hands full with Superman, sharing the same pain points), or Marvel. Enter Kenneth Branagh to try and make Thor more palatable to the reality so far in the Marvel film base, hitting it off where Iron Man 2 had hinted at its ending, before introducing us to a brief history of Asgard and Odin (Anthony Hopkins), together with his sons Thor and Loki and that aged old fued with the Frost Giants. In fact the story by J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Protosevich is already found in the theatrical trailers, with the arrogant Thor (Chris Hemsworth) being cast from his would be throne and onto Earth, and finding himself to be quite the mortal without his mythical hammer Mjolnir which he has to find with the help of scientists Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her friends Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and Darcy (Kate Dennings).
AS I mentioned earlier, the story is purely functional at this stage, going from scene to scene in quite the fish out of water fashion where the Norse god of thunder finds himself caught up in poor slapstick comedy (how many times can he be hit by a vehicle?). Redemption doesn't come easy for the big guy even as he's made to feel guilty for his misdeeds when on Asgard that his brother never failed to remind him of, making Loki (Tom Hiddleston) chief villain just because he's looking toward being the favoured son of Odin. Yes the main villain of the story uses more of his brains than brawn, but is no pushover when the situation calls for a more physical response.
And the battle sequences impressed, which is kind of a surprise since I never associated Branagh as one who can film kinetically charged action for the big screen. With Thor's magical prowess brought about by Mjolnir, the CG here lives up in crafting the kind of extravaganza and incredible spectacle when Thor wields his trusty hammer into battle, twirling, throwing, flying and calling in some mean looking, bad weather associated reinforcements. A film like this couldn't possibly be done years ago, and technology coupled with an artistic team's imagination and reference from Thor's source material, made the big battle sequences interesting. But I will add that one should steer clear of 3D since it's converted in post prodcution, with nothing that truly stood out to justify the viewing in 3D.
Chris Hemsworth was a relatively unknown Australian, but I guess like Hugh Jackman this could be his ticket into the big league, having to look the part of the hero and portray him to a T with that streak of arrogance that required a lesson in humility and about the sanctity of life. Yes although it doesn't call for tremendous acting chops, I suppose looking the part and playing it convincingly with those rippling muscles, is already half the battle won. Anthony Hopkins lends that bucket load of gravitas as Odin (just as how Liam Neeson's Zeus in the Clash of the Titans remake was welcomed), while Tom Hiddleston as Loki provided that conflicting villain who's an excellent liar corrupted by power.
While it has the benefit of Hollywood It Girl Natalie Portman counted amongst its ranks as the main squeeze that Thor falls for, the romance here is a little bit stretched as well, since the two hardly spend quality time together to develop genuine feelings, with Jane sealing the deal just because Thor looks good when he got his groove back, armour, weapon and all, together with that sparkle in those blue eyes surrounded by those golden facial locks. The characterization of Jane Foster is wafer thin, and the love story lacked any real emotional depth, relying on a mere summary of someone else's narration than to come from pure feelings, but I guess having her around lends star appeal to the film.
And as for cameos (look away now if you choose not to be spoilt), well, look out for Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye who saved all nuances of action for Avengers, and Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury making his much ado about nothing appearance in the coda after the film proper, although in Thor's case it turned out to be a little bit weaker since it's supposed to tease into Avengers directly, and well, expecting something really does take the fun out of anything.
Thor the film did what it had to, and successfully introduced the character to film audiences in anticipation of a huge ensemble in The Avengers. It's getting crowded, but here's a feather in the cap for Marvel in having to chalk up another expected blockbuster and hopefully boosting comic book sales as well. Highly recommended, and I can't wait for the rest of the slated Marvel heroes to appear on the big screen in weeks to come!