Archive for May, 2011

You See what a Glass (er . . .Bottle) of Mead gets you?

Posted in Review with tags , , , , on May 18, 2011 by JonH

You don’t need to look further than any of the Transformers’ movies, the Iron Man sequel, or to the third Spiderman to see that when movies based on comic book characters privilege over-the-top action at the expense of plot, storyline, and character development the end result is an incoherent mess.

This, however, is not the case with Thor. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, Thor is loosely based on Nordic mythology, its pantheon of gods, and their all-too human fallibilities. It’s these imperfections which breathe life into the story.

After their security is breached by two frost giants, Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth, declares that Asgard should not tolerate such brazen attempts to infiltrate its defenses again, and to ensure that a message should be sent.

Odin, Thor’s father, played by Anthony Hopkins, outright forbids any retaliation in the hopes of salvaging the fragile truce between the two races, and goes onto suggest that the two frost giants may have been acting on their own without guidance from their King Laufey. Besides, he reminds his son, the invasion was dealt with swiftly by the Destroyer, an animated body of armor that stands guard over that which the invaders sought: the casket of ancient winters. Spoiler: the Destroyer figures prominently into Thor’s future bid at redemption.

Thor’s impetuous nature, lust for battle, and backhanded encouragement from his brother Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston, however, gets the better of him. He convinces his friends Sif, Hogun, Volstagg, and Fandrall to follow him to Jotunheim to confront the frost giants and their King. They set off for the Bifrost Bridge – the portal that enables them to travel between the various worlds of Asgard, Jotunheim, and Midgard (Earth), among others – where Heimdall, the bridge’s guardian, agrees to send them to Jontunheim.

After a tense stand-off, where Thor is convinced by Loki that they should leave without incident, Thor is goaded into battle by a comment calling his manhood into question. The impetuous warrior strikes and the frost giants respond. The ensuing battle injures one of Thor’s compatriots and leaves Jotunheim in terrible devastation. Odin arrives on the Bifrost Bridge to carry the Asgardian warriors back home.

After safely arriving back in Asgard, an argument erupts between father and son. Odin accuses Thor of arrogance, strips him of his power, and casts him down to Earth. As he does so, he utters an incantation into Thor’s hammer Mjolnir telling it that only the noble of heart will be able to possess it.

Thor, I guess you should have let sleeping dogs lie. The scene is set for a tale of redemption.

With almost fifty years of comic book lore to choose from it’s not difficult to imagine that coming up with a cohesive and compelling storyline was one of the biggest challenges for the writers and the film’s director. That said they did a wonderful job of distilling such a dense history into a manageable period of time, and rendering the story basically into a tale of relationships between father and sons. Thor and Loki both do what they think they must do to attain their father’s acceptance: Thor as a worthy successor to Odin as king of Asgard, and Loki as a worthy son.

Sandwiched between the back-story describing Thor’s relegation from Asgard to Earth is the unfolding deception of a plan conceived by Loki, and Thor’s redemption as he begins to develop an affinity for Earth and its inhabitants, especially the scientist Jane Foster, played by Natalie Portman.

The story develops on various levels, moving with equal ease between serious moments, and times which can only be described as comedic, but it pulls everything off to good effect. The light-hearted moments never seem forced, and the more dramatic moments never seem pretentious.

Hemsworth does a great job portraying Thor, both as a banished, deposed, and emasculated hero and as the arrogant and brash son of Odin. Despite his misgivings, you find yourself liking this guy. Hiddleston keeps you guessing as to what Loki’s motivations are, and Hopkins is what you would expect him to be for such a role: powerful and flawless. The rest of the cast, including Academy Award winner Natalie Portman, weren’t necessarily irreplaceable, although most did a fine job.

Even though the film does a good job exploring the relationships between father and son, as well as between siblings, it struggles when exploring romantic relationships. The development of the relationship between Thor and Foster seems about as deep as two people that meet in a bar. It tries to come across as transcendent, but really it lacks the necessary depth to make it seem believable.

One final note, I can’t say I enjoyed the 3D effect much. Perhaps the projector (do they still use projectors in theatres?) was out of focus, or maybe it was my eyes, but certain images on the periphery of the screen seemed to be less resolved than the central point.

Overall, Thor not only supplies you with eye candy, but a decent story of deceit, entitlement, and redemption.