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.
There's just something inherently great about old people with guns. Normally I try to stay away from our societal elders lest they suck me into a conversation attempting to regale me with their dreaded wisdom and accrued-over-a-lifetime experience. But if you give an old person a gun, something magical happens: I start to pay attention. Granted, anyone with a gun is going to be worth paying attention to, but an old person with a gun is just a treasure. It's almost priceless when they turn out to be badasses that kick the crap out of a bunch of young whippersnappers.
Such a simple fact is really the only reason RED exists as a movie: It was an excuse to combine a handful of older celebrities with a truckload of firepower. Brilliant. (It doesn't hurt that that movie actually turned out to be pretty rad, a sort of "Why weren't all of the summer action movies this fun?" kind of flick.)
So in honor of RED's Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren and John Malkovich, here is a list of their peers -- and in several cases, elders -- who have proven that they know just about as much about the AARP as they do the NRA.
[Note: For the purposes of this list, only people who are still alive and could thus actually be members of the AARP have been included.]
Kris Kristofferson, born 1936
Kris Kristofferson has shown throughout his career that he can beat the hell out of a lot of people regardless of age (hell, sometimes he doesn't even limit is geriatric rage to humans, as evidenced by him leading the resistance in Planet of the Apes), but it's his role as Whistler in the Blade series that fits in nicely with the RED mantra. The man oozes badass in it by making his own custom guns and dealing out death to vampires left and right without a single shred of remorse. And this was back when vampires did way more than just sparkle and fight werewolves; I can't even imagine how glorious it would be to see Kristofferson's Whistler wander into the woods of Forks, Washington, or to stop off at a bar in Bon Temps, Louisiana, and wait for someone to order a Tru Blood.
Michael Gross, born 1947
As far as I'm concerned, Burt Gummer is a national hero who doesn't get the thanks he deserves. He was just some quiet, reserved, old right-winger who happened to be enjoying his retirement in the town of Perfection, Nevada, when a handful of Graboids decided to start coming up out of the ground and eating his friends. His exploits as a gunsmith, bomb maker and destroyer of all things Pre-Cambrian have been chronicled no less than three times in the documentary film series Tremors. (Yes, I realize that Tremors is not a documentary and that Burt Gummer is really actor Michael Gross; just please let me have this one.)
Clint Eastwood, born 1930 Here's another actor with a fistful of roles that could have landed him on this list, but for the sake of brevity we'll just focus on Clint Eastwood as Bill Munny in Unforgiven. In it he plays a retired gunslinger who is legendary not for his heroic acts but for being a cold-blooded mercenary. Like all old-timers, he just wants to live out his life on his small ranch, but he ends up getting dragged back in for one last assignment. And then what happens? A lot of people get shot in the heart. Judi Dench, born 1934 Okay, so Judi Dench's M in the James Bond series isn't exactly known for popping caps in a bunch of other spies, but don't let that lull you into thinking she's not dangerous. Hers is one of the few roles of its kind considering M actually gets meaner the older she gets. She may not always be on the frontlines, but she's still making decisions that result in the deaths of countless terrorists, which is alright in my book. Sam Elliott, born 1944 Sam Elliott, a man with one of the most distinctive voices in Hollywood, hasn't taken on a ton of action roles in his later years, but even when he is playing a Southern gentlemen, he does it with a kind of extreme confidence you only see from people who know how to throw down. There is one particular role, however, in which Elliott breaks from his softer side and shows why exactly he is such a badass: Sgt. Maj. Basil Plumley in We Were Soldiers. In it he plays a Vietnam soldier whose idea of a pep talk is to say, "Col. Custer was a pussy." Old people don't get much more hardcore than that. Wilford Brimley, born 1934 Wilford Brimley is a killing machine. Yes, he's now the comforting old codger that sells your grandparents life insurance and fiber supplements on TV, but back in the day he was ruthless. You couldn't last a few days at a research station in the Arctic with a Thing running around without having Brimley lose his grip on reality, barricade himself in a science lab and start shooting at his friends. That's a special kind of crazy, and I love him for it. Mel Gibson, born 1956 Edge of Darkness is one of the most ass-kicking movies of the year, which is astounding considering this year also included a movie called Kick-Ass. It's all a testament to how intimidating Mel Gibson is when he's in full-on gruff mode. When most old people get like this, they're simply unpleasant to be around because of all the complaining. When Mel Gibson gets pissed off, though, he shoots people and then pours radiation down their throats. Liam Neeson, born 1952 I love Taken more than I love oxygen, and I need that stuff to live. That is predominantly due to how on-point Liam Neeson is when it comes to, well, dominating people. The man is built like an oak tree and looks perfectly at home whether he's traumatizing someone's trachea or shooting them in the back. He will do anything to get what he wants, including putting a round in the shoulder of an innocent wife just to make a point. Stephen Lang, born 1952 Say what you will about Avatar and how paper-thin the characters and story structure are, but there's no denying that Stephen Lang is great as Col. Quaritch. The man struts around an entire alien planet like he owns the place -- he doesn't even use a gas mask half the time because he can't be bothered by such trivial things as a poisonous atmosphere. He carries himself with a totally convincing ex-military air. And, best yet, he looks like he could break your spine just by shaking your hand. Estelle Getty, born 1923 Okay, I know I'm breaking my own rules by ending the list with a person who is sadly no longer with us, but I just have to give Estelle Getty a spot on here. She may not be as intimidating as some of her cohorts on this list. She may look tiny and frail. She may even be dead. None of that matters, though, because she starred in Stop or My Mom Will Shoot. That's the only title on this list that not only alludes to a character's edge but is an actual threat, to boot.