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.
President Bush hosted a White House reception for five artistic legends--Jack Nicholson, Julie Andrews, Van Cliburn, Quincy Jones and Luciano Pavarotti--at the Kennedy Center Honors on Sunday, Reuters reports. In attendance were Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Candice Bergen, Carol Burnett, Michael Douglas, Lorne Michaels and Oprah Winfrey. Bush, who has not had as close a relationship with the entertainment industry as President Clinton, paid tribute to the honorees and teased them: "This year's honorees can carry a tune," he said. "And there's Jack."
Singer Toni Braxton gave birth to a 5-pound, 12-ounce boy at an Atlanta hospital Sunday, The Associated Press reports. Denim Cole Braxton Lewis is the first child for Braxton, 33, and her husband Keri Lewis.
Oscar-winning costume designer Danilo Donati died at his home in Rome Saturday night, the AP reports. The cause of his death is not known. Donati, 75, had been working on Roberto Benigni's Pinocchio, which is expected to be ready in about a year.
Director Budd Boetticher died on Nov. 29 at his home in Ramona, Calif., after a battle with cancer, Variety reports. Boetticher, 85, was best known for his Westerns starring Randolph Scott made between 1956 and 1960, including Seven Men From Now.
U2 ended their Elevation tour on Sunday night at Miami's American Airlines Arena on a poignant note. Lead singer Bono, known his criticism of U.S. government policy, declared the band's affection and sympathy for the United States, Reuters reports. "I'd like to say how much we love this country," Bono said. "We wish you safety and prosperity."
'N Sync has teamed up with Swiss watch maker Audemars Piguet to create 200 limited-edition watches to raise money for children orphaned by the Sept. 11 attacks, the AP reports. Fifty of the men's watches and 150 of women's watches have been engraved with the signatures of all five 'N Sync members and will be priced between $5,900 and $8,500. Buyers will also receive tickets and sound-check passes to an 'N Sync concert.
Cher, Kid Rock, Uncle Kracker, Shaggy, Lenny Kravitz, Brooks & Dunn and Yolanda Adams are set to perform at the 29th annual American Music Awards on Jan. 9, People reports. The event will air live from Los Angeles on ABC.