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.
This turbo-charged film centers on street racing and the people who live for it. Dominic Toretto (the aptly named Vin Diesel) is one of them rebuilding high performance racecars by day and racing by night. Since the money he makes for winning a race (up to $10 000) barely covers his overhead costs Toretto and his band of staunch followers supplement their incomes by hijacking electronics-filled 18-wheelers. The FBI which has narrowed down the suspects to either Toretto or his arch rival Johnny Tran (Rick Yune) sends in undercover officer Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker) to get the evidence they need and arrest the right guy. O'Connor gets a job at a local high-end auto supply store and soon infiltrates Toretto's gang despite repeated warnings from its leader's steadfast cronies. He wins Toretto's respect and after predictably falling for his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) begins to question his loyalties. It's a stale story line with all the typical elements but who cares? In The Fast and the Furious the story is a mere formality.
Most of the actors in this film have been typecast but for once that's not a limiting thing. It almost seems as though Diesel (Boiler Room Pitch Black) was born to play commandeering ringleader Dominic Toretto. With his gravelly baritone voice and menacing screen presence he dominates every scene he is in. Unfortunately the script calls for him to utter obvious lines like "You break her heart I'll break your neck." Michelle Rodriguez (Girlfight) is in her element as his cagey girlfriend but could almost be mistaken for a rottweiler on a leash. She scowls and glares over the rim of her shades one too many times but demonstrates once again that she can pack a mean punch. There is a small but surprisingly funny performance by Chad Lindberg as Jesse the mechanical genius whose ADD drove him to a life of crime. But Walker (The Skulls) is as bland as his white-bread character O'Connor and the object of his affection Mia (Brewster The Invisible Circus) is equally unimpressive. But as with the story The Fast and the Furious is not about the acting.
Furious makes up for what it lacks intellectually with pure and unadulterated action. The overly choreographed scenes of cars driving in V-formations are eclipsed by the cars themselves which are the highlight of the film. The race sequences alone will practically leave you feeling compressed and the souped-up Nissans Hondas and Toyotas will make this film an instant cult classic within the car culture. Craig Lieberman one of the import car consultants on the film even provided his own 1994 Toyota Supra--complete with Greddy Turbo and NOS nitrous upgrades three TV screens VCR Sony Play Station 19" Dazz wheels and a $7 000 custom paint job. If the car didn't actually belong to a real person it might be too decadent to be believed. All in all Furious is a dizzying frenzy of noise and speed that serves up what films like Gone in 60 Seconds and Driven promise but never come close to delivering. Despite its screeching drag races and hair-raising crashes Furious probably won't appeal to the masses but expect it to fly when it gets released on DVD.