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.
Melissa Rosenberg came from the world of television and graduated to feature screenwriting with Step Up and The Twilight Saga, effectively making her one of the most sought after female screenwriters in Hollywood. A veteran of shows like Birds of Prey and Dexter, she's no stranger to genre entertainment and that makes her an ideal candidate to adapt Marvel's female crime fighter AKA Jessica Jones.
Variety reports that Rosenberg will write and executive produce Marvel Television's first official show, which will precede the company's new take on The Incredible Hulk that Guillermo del Toro is developing. Under the ownership of Disney, ABC is the lucky network that will air the program in fall 2011. Part of Marvel's Max line of more mature comicbook titles, the character is a superhero ("Jewel") who winds up with post-traumatic stress disorder and decides to get out of that racket. She opens her own private detective agency but realizes she still has a drive to help people -- and finds herself assisting other superheroes. Whether or not that means other characters in the larger Marvel Universe will make appearances in the show remains to be seen, but with Marvel TV simultaneously developing Cloak and Dagger and other properties, it certainly seems like a good possibility.
Sources close to the screenwriter said that she was drawn to Jessica Jones because the character is unlike most female leading roles on network TV: deeply flawed but with a biting sense of humor, but I beg to differ. Edie Falco's Nurse Jackie and Toni Collette's Tara Gregson (from United States of Tara) are already changing the way American's view women on television and are being rewarded accordingly. There's still plenty of room for women like that on the tube and there's even more room for superheroes on network television (because between you and me, The Cape and No Ordinary Family aren't cutting it) so I say bring it on, Jessica Jones.
Of course, Rosenberg won't be alone in forging Marvel's attack on television. Comic book vets Jeph Loeb (who serves as Marvel TV's topper and has worked on shows like NBC's Heroes) and Joe Quesada will executive produce with her, ensuring that the essence of the character isn't diluted on the network.
The race to land the coveted role has been a two-year marathon, with many comic book fans urging movie chiefs to sign up Mad Men star Jon Hamm for the lead.
Some critics have slammed the decision to hire Evans, insisting the 28-year-old actor is too young to play Captain America, but the comic giant's editor-in-chief is adamant he's the best man for the job.
Quesada tells Comic Book Resources, "Here you have a guy who absolutely embodies every aspect of Cap (Captain America), including the look and feel of the character. (Producer) Kevin Feige was absolutely beaming after meeting with Chris and seeing what he could do, and I've got to tell you, I think he's perfect as well.
"That to me is the beauty of the movies that we at Marvel produce. We know the characters better than anyone outside of our fans, and we know how important it is to cast just that right person. We aren't a bunch of Hollywood execs who don't understand the source material or its history.
"It's Marvel guys and gals making Marvel movies, and that's a huge difference."