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 Nobel takes the prize for its ingenious blending of dark comedy into an insanely clever thriller. Thaddeus James (Shawn Hatosy) kidnaps Barkeley Michaelson (Bryan Greenberg) the 20-ish son of a chemistry Nobel Prize winner Eli Michaelson (Alan Rickman) demanding the prize money as ransom right on the eve of the prestigious presentation in Stockholm. This being a wicked tale of deception and familial dysfunction in the extreme you can probably guess the father doesn’t want to pay his precious $2 million prize money for the return of his son. But beware not everything in this intricately plotted thriller is always what it appears to be. Always watchable and surprising the wonderful Alan Rickman doesn’t disappoint -- delivering a wickedly funny performance as the woefully repugnant ego-maniacal and self-absorbed father who is more concerned with bedding his university students than in forging a relationship with his very intelligent but neglected son well played by Bryan Greenberg. Rickman dominates every scene he’s in with his amusing boorish behavior. As his deceptively smart wife Mary Steenburgen has one of her best acting outings in years. It’s a shame this Oscar-winning actress doesn’t get choice roles anymore because when she does even in a small independent production like this she shows she still has it. Cameos abound but the crux of the movie belongs to Rickman and the two young actors Greenberg and Hatosy who make his life a wreck. Randall Miller who co-wrote the script with wife Jody Savin directs Nobel Sonwith a visual flair you never would have guessed from his previous films Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School and this summer’s splendid comedy sleeper Bottle Shock. Here he clearly wants to channel Quentin Tarantino with body parts figuring prominently into the plot yet the director doesn’t let the MTV style visual trickery get in the way of the story he’s telling. Nobel Son mixes a lot of filmic influences but the indisputable highlight is an ingenious caper sequence involving Mini-Coopers that puts the recent The Italian Job to shame. It might not win any awards but it’s a highly entertaining way to spend an evening.