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.
Have you ever noticed that the first three letters in "Godzilla" spell "God"? If not, come meet the people who have: the fanatics who gathered at G-fest 2000 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel last weekend to cheer, clap and whistle every time the new "Godzilla 2000" trailer played -- which was about 15 times a day for three consecutive days.
In the off chance that you’re not one of the radioactive reptile's many followers, G-Fest is an annual three-day convention about anything Godzilla. There are panel discussions (like, the talk on "body suit" acting), special guest appearances (among many, actress Megumi Odaka, who played a Godzilla-tracking psychic in six films), dealer rooms (selling all kinds of Godzilla paraphernalia) and a five-film retrospective (including the 1954 Japanese original version of "Godzilla").
But it was that three-minute "Godzilla 2000" trailer, signaling the return of the old-school, bonafide, man-in-a-rubber-suit Godzilla, that had the fans panting. The flick, slated to bow stateside Aug. 18, is No. 23 in the 46-year-old franchise spawned by Japan’s Toho Co. (the monster's corporate godfather).
And, make no mistake, this new Godzilla ain't nothin' like that overblown, computer-generated knockoff foisted on the moviegoing populace in 1998 by a certain U.S. studio.
"The Tri-Star movie -- their version of Godzilla -- made a lot of money, but it definitely wasn’t one of the films that is going to stand out. There were a lot of things that happened in it that were unoriginal, and there were several scenes that looked like they were directly ripped off from ‘Jurassic Park,’" G-Fester Aaron Conway told Hollywood.com.
"They made him a weakling. They basically just made him an animal. Godzilla has always been known as a force of nature. He’s not something that can just be stopped by bullets or missiles or anything like that. They tend to bounce off of him, and if they hurt him, he heals pretty fast."
Like others here, Conway isn't kidding when it comes to Godzilla. The 22-year-old college student withstood a 1,700-mile, 72-hour Greyhound bus ride from Texas to Hollywood in order to attend the fest. So, when we implied that Godzilla is, y’know, sorta campy, Cooper wouldn't play that.
"The movies themselves are well-made," he insists. "Things that tend to make them campy are when they’re released over here in the United States and they dubbed them with American voices. That’s where the biggest problem comes in."
Surveying the crowd, it might seem the "G" in G-Fest stands for "geek." After all, these are self-proclaimed Godzilla fanatics who have watched all 22 films (some have even seen "Godzilla 2000" before its official U.S. release), who know all the titles, storylines, actors, trivia and release dates by heart, and who eagerly ask weird questions (like, "besides playing Godzilla in a body suit, is it true that you also played other parts in the 1954 film?") in public.
To these folks, Godzilla is not just a three-days-a-year thing. It is a full-time job, a part-time hobby and a sort of secular religion all its own.
G-Fan as O.G. organizer
Take for instance, J.D. Lees, the founder of G-Fest and president of G-Fan Magazine (www.g-fan.com), the biggest and longest-running Godzilla fan publication.
G-Fan's J.D. Lees Started in 1992 as a photocopied fanzine, G-Fan assumed its professionally printed, bi-monthly format in 1994. Lees' circulation is now 6,000 per issue, but he says G-Fan magazine retains its D.I.Y. ethic: Every two months, Lees collect material sent to him by fans, collates it all into an issue and sends it to a printer.
A full-time high school teacher by profession, Lees has been interested in Godzilla since he was a little kid (first film: "Godzilla, King of the Monsters!"). And the idea of doing a Godzilla convention was to him a natural progression.
"The people who contributed to the fanzine had never seen each other, they lived in various parts of the country. And in the summer of ’94, we thought, ‘Why don’t we just meet in a hotel and actually see each other?’ We had a great time and said, ‘Why don’t we invite the whole readership next time and see what happens?’"
So, how does Lees characterize the typical G-Fan?
"Male, for starters," said Lees. "I would estimate that more than 95 percent of people interested in Godzilla are boys -- big boys and little boys."
G-Fan as G-collectibles vendor
Then there’s guys like Sean Linkenback, owner of Showcase Collectibles in Atlanta (the largest Godzilla specialist dealer in the United States, so he says) and author of "The Unauthorized Guide to Godzilla Collectibles." He makes buying, selling and collecting G-stuff his livelihood.
The G-Fest Dealer's Room "The first toy I got was a Godzilla model kit. It was one of the only American toys you can get and that was the first Godzilla toy I’ve ever bought. That’s what started me collecting," Linkenback, 31, told us. "I bought whatever Godzilla things I could find. And somehow I just got more and more. And at some point in time, I quit my job and said this is going to be the only thing I do."
Linkenback -- whose definitive Godzilla moment was when he first saw "King Kong vs. Godzilla" on TV some 26 years ago -- said his biggest sale this weekend was a poster for the American release of the 1954 "Godzilla," which went for $1,000.
And while on the subject of prices, there is at least one thing Linkenback would never, ever think of selling. What is it? The original Japanese poster for the 1954 "Godzilla."
G-Fan as … just a fan
We searched and searched and finally came upon a Godzilla fan who was not a boy but a woman.
Caroline Martinez, a 28-year-old in film production and living in Los Angeles, is as big a Godzilla fan as any. She has liked Godzilla for as long as she can remember, and unlike most of the boys, her fascination has nothing whatsoever to do with dinosaurs.
"For me, I think it was when you first see the movie, it’s nothing like what you’ve ever seen before," said Martinez.
And in so many words, that about sums it all up.