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.
S10E8: I’ll admit, mine and Ryan Seacrest’s buildups to the first Hollywood week episode were a little over the top, but don’t even try and tell me you weren’t the least bit stoked. The first Hollywood episode always goes quickly; it’s the sudden death round. In case you’re an Idol newbie, the sudden death round entails 10 contestants taking the stage together, each singing a few bars of a song of their choice a capella, receiving no feedback and then either getting a thumbs up or a thumbs down. By the end of the episode half of the contestants are let go and this process was made difficult by the fact that this year the kinder, gentler Idol sent double the usual number of contestants to Hollywood. That’s funny, because I’m pretty sure they still only have 12 final spots. Why would they make their job so much more difficult?
That’s all folks; they continue or get cut loose. Unfortunately for us viewers that means the judges’ antics were kept in check this round, which left a few of our contestants to pick up the slack.
“This is where…the men from the boys and the women from the girls.” –JLo
Apparently Jennifer was so excited she forgot part of that sentence, but it’s definitely an exciting time. First up was Brett Lowenstien with the crazy red hair and the newfound self-esteem. Luckily for those of us who were fans from the start, Brett kept it going with a soulful rendition of “Let It Be.” Of course he got to continue and his surprisingly robust voice continued to wow the judges (and me).
Also making it through were a few of my other favorites; fifteen year old Thia Megia with a voice well beyond her years and Casey Abrams (who you may remember as Seth Rogen/Fraggle Rock guy) with voice that skirts a line between jazz and rock. These two and young Rachel Zavia from New York made it through with flying colors, though personally, I was underwhelmed by Zevia’s second audition. She simply didn’t have the strength and presence of the others, but we’ll see if that changes as Hollywood Week continues.
“Maybe people will look at me like I’m looking at these mountains.” –Victoria Huggins
I feel a little bad for this girl, because I feel like she was sort of set up. She’s an alright singer, but her chipmunk voice is frankly a little unpleasant to listen to; not to mention when she’s not singing she’s like a human girl version of SpongeBob Squarepants and I just can’t take it. Couple those winning factors with the girl’s fierce narcissism and her pageant style showboating onstage and we all knew she was going home. Even if she’s got the pipes, there is no way America would have gotten behind her.
“I don’t think there was much hope. You had to have a spectacular voice.” –Stormi Henley
Well, former Miss Teen USA Stormi Henley may not have a spectacular singing voice, but at least she’s got a good enough head on her shoulders to know when to call it a day and move on. She was one of four people who we’ve seen before in the audition round, but she was the only face who didn’t make. She was right though, her voice just wasn’t strong enough.
Those who were strong enough were Paris Tassin (who has a disabled daughter), James Durbin (whose tragic past was explained last night in San Francisco) and Lauren Alaina (who is doing Idol for her ill cousin). All three sang fairly well, though I’m not sure about Paris. She sang “My Heart Will Go On” (yes, really) and to be honest, it wasn’t the best we’ve heard. Meanwhile James hit his crazy high notes again, and while it’s impressive, it’s not exactly pleasant to listen to. The only person I’m getting behind here is Lauren, whose strong bluesy voice reminds me of early Kelly Clarkson, who if you remember correctly was the first ever Idol. This isn’t a prediction, but I’m just saying, it could happen.
“This is where it could all change or it could all stay the same.” – Chris Medina
The saintly Chris Medina came back to improve on his last performance, which was sweet but this one blew it out of the water. We didn’t really get a chance to see the pipes he was rocking, but this time around he proved that he needs to be here.
While some folks were choking under the pressure, three more favorites were hitting it out of the park. Fifteen year old Jacee Badeaux with the voice of an angel kept the magic going, Robbie Rosen from Long Island, New York made Steven break his vow of silence with an involuntary “Yaow!”, and Brit-turned-Texan Hollie Cavanaugh redeemed her so-so performance from the Austin auditions. Needless to say, these three will be returning next week.
“Isn’t it the saddest thing in the world?” –Casey Abrams
On the not-so-lucky side of things, we saw a slew of familiar faces get the boot. Steve Beguhn, the giant accountant with the voice I questioned during auditions didn’t improve on his original shot and was sent home. Also sent packing were Jaqueline Dupree whose voice was alright, but brought her uncle and Randy’s former football coach to tip the scales; Sarah Sellars whose voice was alright, but whose lips were of particular interest to Steven; and Heidi Kazaam who only made it because she was a hot belly dancer with a tiny, adequate voice.
“Are you just washed out emotionally because you’ve been here for 10 years?” –Nick Fink (to Ryan Seacrest)
Oh young love. Idol sure has a way of forcing into an awkward box. They paired exes Rob Bolin and Chelsee Oaks with the unrealistically cheery couple Nick Fink and Jaqueline Dunford when choosing where the contestants would bunk up in the hotel. Can you say cruel?
Both Rob and Chelsee are great singers so they made it through, which means Idol will just continue to put them in situations that make Rob uncomfortable, though Chelsee seems unaware of how awful this proximity is for her ex. This was all in good awkward fun, but the real fireworks flew when Nick and Jaqueline auditioned together in matching outfits and only one of them made it through. Nick’s small range and so-so voice were sent home while Jaqeuline made it through. Instead of, oh I don’t know, supporting his girl’s success, Nick went off the handle continuing to beg the judges and singing as he walked down the aisle before insulting Ryan with that quote about his emotional capacity. Dude, you suck. Truly. How about you stop whining and support your fucking girlfriend. Ass.
“How could this girl from the Bronx, the birthplace of hip hop, fall in love with a country singer?” –JLo
Of course this means that audience favorite Scott McCreery of the crazy deep country voice made it through despite recycling the same tune for audition number two. Also making it through on their old charms were Jackie Wilson (remember, she had the really old boyfriend?) and the babely Jerome Bell.
The Jersey Shore star-bra girl was back, this time dressed appropriately and tooting her own horn. Despite her personality flaws her range can’t really be denied. Jennifer questioned her personality, as did the rest of us, but she still made it through while the sweet kid from the Bronx, Travis Orlando, was sent home with his sweet, but smaller voice.
Lastly, before we move on and prep for next week, Idol gave us a little list of other names who made it through to the end (so your favorite may still make it!). Clint Gamboa, Julie Zorilla, Stefano Langone, and Emily Anne Reed from San Francisco will all be back as will Naima Adedapo and Mary DeWolf Swenson from Milwaukee, crazy Ashley Sullivan from New Jersey and the adorable Gutierrez brothers from the Los Angeles auditions.
Now that these folks have made it, things are only going to get crazier, more emotional, and more heartbreaking as we continue towards finally crowning the top 12.