The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
Jonathan Mostow is a man who brings his affinity for sci-fi action to the hungry masses – too bad he can’t seem to get it right! You would think that after the Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines fiasco studio heads would’ve learned to keep him working in more “practical” settings (though the events of his past works like Breakdown and U-571 are far from realistic). It’s ironic that the only thing that kind of works in Surrogates his first film since the underwhelming Terminator threequel are the practical effects which is of course a must when you’re dealing with cyborgs.
Adapted by his T3 writers John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris from the graphic novel of the same name by Robert Vendetti and Brett Weldele the movie is a 90 minute marathon of acting as artificial as the mechanical subjects that drive its story which is as predictable as its one-dimensional characters. It is set in a semingly utopian future where there is virtually no violent crime since 99% of the human population lives life almost entirely through the use of life-like (and swimsuit-model-like) robots controlled remotely from the comfort of your own home. The plot centers on the murder of a two of these robots known as Surrogates and the rabbit-hole of a conspiracy that unravels when two Federal agents are assigned to the case.
Those agents are played stiffly by Bruce Willis and Radha Mitchell who lead a cast that looks okay on paper including James Cromwell (basically reprising his role from I Robot) Rosamund Pike (a Bond girl is a believable look in a world populated by perfect robots) and Ving Rhames (if it’s a Pulp Fiction reunion you were hoping for abandon hope all ye who venture here) but falls painfully short of its expectations. There are a few brief displays of emotion that the actors reveal at the most obvious points in the narrative namely when we see their characters reflect upon their own perverted lifestyles.
As previously stated what makes the film watchable in the slightest is its use of practical effects like genuine explosions & crashes and convincing make-up. The colorful photography snaps crackles and pops especially in this Blu-ray convert. Unfortunately every set piece in every contemporary action film requires a mix of these more traditional techniques and computer generated imagery which is noticeably sub par in Surrogates. The car-chase sequence at the climax of the movie is a perfect example of how terrible CG and bad film editing can ruin the experience.
The Blu-ray experience wasn’t enhanced at all by the discs Special Features which include a peek at the cutting edge scientific research and development that is bringing society closer to Surrogacy a music video (whatever) some meaningless deleted scenes a look at how the graphic novel informed the filmmakers and a commentary from director Mostow that is regretfully about as interesting as the film itself.