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.
How many stories are there in one big city? In this unique vision of Paris there are 18 different ones each averaging about five minutes. The short films are related only by the theme of love and the setting. Visiting most of the different arrondissments (neighborhoods) of that sometimes elegant sometimes tawdry locale the short stories range across the board. Beginning with the chance meeting of two lonely people moving through stories of crazy lovers missed opportunities romantic beginnings parents’ relationships with their children and the dissolution of a marriage each one has its own unique vision point of view and cinematic style. But despite so many individual styles and voices the 18 wildly diverse tales deftly blend the magnificent city of Paris with the commonality of the human condition and combine to form a cohesive and extremely satisfying whole. With so many of the world’s most talented actors taking part in these short films there are a plethora of terrific performances to choose from in Paris Je T'aime . Leila Bekhti shines in “Quais de Seine” as a shy young Muslim teen befriended by a handsome French boy while Steve Buscemi uses his bug-eyed looks to perfection in “Tuileries ” a comic segment created by Joel and Ethan Coen. Catalina Sandino Moreno brings an aching reality to a young mother’s life dilemma in “Loin du 16éme ” while Juliette Binoche’s older mom’s agony is heartbreaking in “Place des Victoires.” Miranda Richardson is luminous as a dying wife in “Bastille ” and Natalie Portman’s natural charm ignites the screen in “Faubourg Saint-Denis” as the girlfriend of a blind man. Maggie Gyllenhaal Elijah Wood Emily Mortimer Rufus Sewell Bob Hoskins Fanny Ardant Gena Rowlands Ben Gazzara and Margo Martindale all elevate their segments with fine acting as well but Nick Nolte seems to stumble through his. That minor glitch is just that--a blip in an otherwise seamlessly concocted series of well-acted vignettes. A who’s who of contemporary cinema from around the world the eighteen directors (who for the most part also wrote their segments) of Paris Je T'aime prove their formidable talents here. By limiting each to only five minutes to tell their story producers Emmanuel Benbihy and Claude Ossard (who began the project in 2002) forced each one to distill the essence of their idea into a compact tale with admirable results. From well-known names like the Coen brothers Wes Craven Gus Van Sant Alfonso Cuaron and Alexander Payne to lesser-known auteurs (at least in America that is) such as Tom Tykwer Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas Frederic Auburtin and Gerard Depardieu Olivier Assayas Gurinder Chadha Isabel Coixet Sylvain Chomet Nobuhiro Suwa Christopher Doyle Richard LaGravenese Vincenzo Natali Bruno Podalydes and Olivier Schmitz--the work across the board in the film is exemplary. At turns poignant comical lusty and emotional it’s a collection that will undoubtedly leave you with a longing to be in Paris especially with someone you love.