Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Thor (2011)

Ye gods.  Now that was a popcorn movie.  "Thor" is not a ground-breaking film: it is neither at the vanguard nor the pinnacle of a cinematic genre. It is exactly what it set out to be: an origin story for a superhero, a bridge between the science-fiction and the fantasy elements of the Marvel universe, and a film-length teaser for the coming 2012 blockbuster "The Avengers." Above all, it is an exceptionally entertaining example of sheer spectacle.

Rated PG-13 for stylized violence. This may be the mildest PG-13 I've ever seen.
"Thor" begins with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), a film-scientist with a specialization in atmospheric astrophysics. Please, don't ask. Along with her hapless political-science intern Darcy (Kat Dennings) and her bemused mentor Eric Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), Jane is in hot pursuit of an Einsten-Rosen Tornado, because apparently wormholes look like giant wind funnels. When they finally see one developing, they drive straight into the cloud and nearly run over a man.

From this in media res opening, we are launched into another world, the immortal city of Asgard. Odin (Anthony Hopkins) narrates to his sons Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) a brief history of the wars between Asgard and Jotunheim, and the defeat of the Frost Giants. Skip forward several years to Thor's coronation as Odin's successor, and we see that Frost Giants have penetrated Asgard's outer defenses and found their way into the Weapon's Vault to retrieve their lost spoils of war. Thor, outraged, summons his friends Sif (Jamie Alexander) and the Warriors Three for a reckless attack on Jotunheim itself. But Odin had forbidden this expedition, and had banished Thor to Earth to learn humility.

The next several sequences depict Thor getting used to life as a mortal. It seems there is a contractual obligation for reviewers of this movie to use the phrase "fish out of water" at least once, but I am a rebel at heart: I shall not mention the phrase, not even by oblique paralipsis.

It turns out that Thor's hammer, Mjolner, has also fallen to earth, and is now in the hands of Shield Agent Coulson (or, as Thor prefers it, "son of Coul"). Chris Hemsworth is generally hilarious as the deadpan Thor, especially with such lines as "I require sustenance!" or "I need a horse!" There is a delightful Shakespearean vibe to the film, thanks to the director Kenneth Branagh (himself the veteran of "Much Ado About Nothing," Hamlet," and other classic adaptations). Incidentally, some critics found fault with the rushed romance between Thor and Jane, but I wasn't bothered. While these sequences could have used a more leisurely pace, as well as the steady hand of a more experienced rom-com director, but I found that the Shakespearean culture of Asgard and of Thor generally resolves many of these issues.

The film follows a standard Hero's Journey -- Thor is tested by his inability to retrieve the hammer, until he finally learns the lesson Odin sought to teach him, regains his power, and saves the world. Along the way, we encounter love, rainbow bridges, dastardly plots, a new villain, his impressive "henchman," mortal peril, self-sacrifice, and awesome special effects.

The film ends on an open cadence. The credits tell us "Thor will return in The Avengers," and the post-credits scene hint at the plot for that film, but Loki is missing and Thor is stuck in Asgard. It will be interesting to see how The Avengers bridges that gap, since Thor is one of the founding members of the team and must be present early on. But I digress.

"Thor" is the first film for the 2011 summer season, and truly it is a worthy herald.  After so long a hiatus, films are starting to feel like decent entertainment again.

To pre-order this film, check out Amazon.com:
Thor (2011), dir. Kenneth Branagh

Many thanks to The HomeScholar blog for the link!

1 comment:

  1. Watching this film again after many years, I cannot help but compare it to the stale and formulaic films that have dominated the box office in recent years. In a world crammed with media, much of the spontaneity that once used to characterize American life seems to have quietly disappeared.