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.
Skewering the politics of the left--and Michael Moore in particular--is not a terrible idea for comedy but American Carol doesn’t do it very successfully. Using the hackneyed uninspired approach of spoofing Dickens’ A Christmas Carol director David Zucker’s version has the Ghosts of John F. Kennedy (Chriss Anglin) General George S. Patton (Kelsey Grammer) and George Washington (Jon Voight) visiting a liberal documentary filmmaker named Michael Malone (Kevin Farley) in order to set him straight and teach him not to hate America but to embrace it in all its glory. Their goal is to stop him from helping a group of Islamic suicide bombers make a new recruitment film. In a series of gags American Carol presents Malone as a man who uses the medium to bash his country. He is portrayed as sympathetic to Nazis and Hitler responsible for 9/11 in bed with Middle Eastern terrorists--wrong on every possible issue and overweight to boot. After pointing out all his perceived evil the ghosts try to get Moore er Malone to see the light and change his ways. Apparently David Zucker--aware most of Hollywood leans to the left--got a list of actors known to be supporters of the GOP and hired them all. Voight Grammer James Woods Kevin Sorbo Dennis Hopper Robert Davi ET’s Mary Hart country singer Trace Adkins and even Zucker veteran Leslie Nielsen signed up to bash Moore using a sledgehammer approach as a substitute for the lack of a clever script. Occasionally thanks to an inspired casting choice here and there Carol is kind of amusing such as in a scene in which Malone and Rosie O’Connell (get it?) guest on the O’Reilly Factor. With Bill O’Reilly playing himself (and doing it well) actress Vicki Browne really nails Rosie who is presented as so far left she makes Moore look like Ronald Reagan. As Malone Farley (younger brother of the late Chris Farley) looks reasonably like Moore but doesn’t really get the mannerisms right. It’s not enough to try and get by just by putting on a baseball cap and glasses and hoping for the best. Of the rest Grammer comes off well as Patton delivering his lines with a lot more panache than they deserve. You know what kind of movie you’re watching when even Gary Coleman and Paris Hilton turn up for a bit. Zucker--whose films Airplane! and the The Naked Gun series specialize in inspired sight gags--seems to have forgotten how to make this style of throw-it-to-the-wall-and-see-if-it-sticks style of comedy work. Surprisingly the jokes are mostly verbal in this outing and the whole comic soufflé falls flat. Also the events of 9/11 are still too close to serve as a gateway for a few of the gags employed here. The premise is promising but the Michael Malone/Moore character is so far out he doesn’t resemble reality much less the famous Moore. Blaming him for all the ills of the world may be cathartic for the ultra-conservative base Zucker is apparently aiming An American Carol at but there needs to be more than just a kernel of truth to make these jokes zing. Instead what could have been an amusing riff looks more like a propaganda film out to destroy Moore rather than spoof him.