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.
Tom Hanks is turning into Jackie Chan. No, he isn't learning Chinese and studying to become a martial arts master--which I wouldn't put past him. Hanks is accepting everything being offered to him lately, like the hyper-busy Chan, with one exception: Hanks is only doing films with DreamWorks studio. At this moment, Hanks is either working or in negotiations on four films for the studio, having already made Saving Private Ryan, Cast Away and the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers for DreamWorks. Do you think Hanks owns stock in the company?
First up is Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can, where Hanks will star opposite Leonardo DiCaprio as an FBI agent after the notorious Frank Abagnale Jr. (DiCaprio), the youngest man to make the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list. Then comes Sam Mendes' The Road to Perdition, as Hanks plays a Chicago hitman nicknamed "The Angel of Death." (It's about time Hanks plays a bad guy). The two newest films to hit the street: Terminal, with Hanks as a Balkan refugee stuck living in an airport terminal and Comrade Rockstar, based on the life of the late rocker Dean Reed. Hanks is in negotiations to star as Reed, a musician/actor who wasn't able to make it big in the States but was a megastar in the Soviet Union and who died tragically either from suicide or homicide; no one is quite sure.
Rita Wilson sure isn't going to be seeing much of her husband over the next year and a half.
Cindy's second chance
Supermodel Cindy Crawford feels like she didn't give it her all in her 1995 debut Fair Game. Remember that truly spectacular piece of filmmaking? Crawford plays a lawyer (stay with me) who becomes an unwitting target to ex-KGB operatives and Billy Baldwin plays the cop trying to protect her. Coming back to you? Yeah, it stunk up the joint, but that doesn't mean it was Crawford's fault...right?
Six years later, Cindy's older, wiser, and hopefully has taken a few more acting classes. Yup, Cindy will tackle a new role, this time in a romantic drama called The Simian Line. The story revolves around three close-knit couples who are told by a psychic that one of them will break up by New Year's Eve. Oh, goody. At least she'll be joining a stellar cast, including William Hurt, Lynn Redgrave, Eric Stoltz and Harry Connick Jr., and should feel a little more comfortable given the good company.
Lane plays "The Great One"
Broadway/film star Nathan Lane is going to take on the awesome responsibility of portraying the legendary Jackie Gleason in the biopic To the Moon. Many fans will scrutinize Lane's performance, to see if he can pull it off. The good thing is the talent behind the film is as strong as its star. It's being written by Rob Festinger (In the Bedroom) and will be produced by Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella.
Lane told Variety, "Jackie Gleason has been a huge influence on me since I was a child. The thing that gets to me about him is that despite the bravado of his public persona and the broad hilarity of some of his comedy, there remains a tremendous amount of sadness and vulnerability in his eyes. Hopefully we will explore that in the film." I hope so, too.
Cage gets behind the camera
Actor Nicolas Cage has picked a rather edgy topic for his directorial debut. Would you expect anything less? According to the Hollywood Reporter, the film Sonny, which Cage will direct and produce, centers around "a male hustler who joins the Army in an attempt to get out of his family's gigolo lifestyle and get a real job. When he's discharged, Sonny stops by to visit his family in New Orleans and look for work, only to find that his mother is determined to bring him back to the family business." Well, that's sounds uplifting.
James Franco, the young stud who admirably portrayed James Dean in the TNT biopic of the same name, will take on the title role. Cage joins a very long list of actor-turned-directors; as we all know all actors really want to do is direct, and it's only a matter of time before they get the clout to do it.
Murphy is a "Shrinking Man"
Eddie Murphy has decided to take a look at the world from a small person's point of view. A very, very small person. He's going to star in the Keenen Ivory Wayans remake of the 1957 film The Incredible Shrinking Man. Murphy will play Grant Williams, who begins to shrink after being exposed to a strange mist, and must battle for survival the smaller he becomes. The original wasn't a comedy. The poor guy had to battle cats, bugs and all kinds of awful things as he shrank to virtually nothing. Fun.
Lily Tomlin had enough sense to make a comedy about an incredible shrinking woman in 1981. Disney made the comedy Honey, I Shrunk the Kids; a kid fell into bowl of Cheerios. That's just hysterical. I would think with Wayans and Murphy attached, this remake would be the mother of all comedies.