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May 9, 2011


(2011, Dir. by Kenneth Branagh.)

You guys, I'm just gonna say it up front. I could watch this Thor movie for days.  It could have just kept going, and going, and going, and I'd have been like "We're up to 87 hours man? Eff it, just keep on goin' with it."  I'm a little surprised by this development, but I'm more than willing to give that surprise a big ol' hug and roll forth as a lover of Thor on film.

I've probably told y'all about my history as a comic book hero geek, but if I haven't, here's a recap.  I sooooooooo wish I had grown up a comic book geek.  I tried when I could by buying up six or seven comics that I kept re-reading, not to mention spending some of my time at the local library studying the origin of the Fantastic 4.  That quartet was my favorite of the heroes at the time (along with Iron Man, who had Iowa State Cyclone colors on his suit), but the thing is that I didn't really know the heroes, I just knew of the heroes.  I knew of Thor, but Hulk Hogan and the WWF were a little more shiny and required less reading, so little The Mike took that road instead.  It wasn't long before his Thor action figure was rebranded as a professional wrestler named Cool Daddy Lovin' by little The Mike's best friend and was engaged in a vicious plastic feud with Ravishing Rick Rude. (I wish I was making this up, but here's photographic proof.)
In his college years and beyond, as superhero movies became mainstream blockbusters, The Mike fought to reverse this curse that he had placed upon himself.  Being a Real American like the Hulkster certainly had inspired The Mike greatly, but the stories he kept hearing about these heroes as he moved back into comic hero land were a ton of fun when put on screen.  He soon was immersed in movies and video games about Marvel's heroes while studying Wikipedia pages to learn where these characters came from, but he still....STILL!....never gave much thought to Thor.  He was just the guy Vincent D'Onofrio played in Adventures in Babysitting. (I'm obliged to follow up any reference to Adventures in Babysitting by reminding you that NOBODY gets out of here without singin' the blues.)

Fast forward to 2011, when Thor finally makes his non-Elisabeth Shue film debut on the big screen.  Despite my new found love for all the comic heroes I skipped as a youngling, I just wasn't feeling Thor.  Maybe it was the Norse God stuff, or maybe it was just the fact that I didn't know crud about Thor except that he had a cool helmet and a hammer I couldn't pronounce.  But in the days before the film's premiere, I suddenly realized I needed to see Thor as soon as possible.  If I'm gonna be a whore for the rest of the Marvel hero films - I'll even defend Daredevil, yo! - I couldn't miss one.

If you don't know the background of Thor, Kenneth Branagh's film will give you plenty of chances to catch up.  The first act of the film spends plenty of time showing us the world of Asgard, where King Odin (Anthony Hopkins, hamming it up in his usual manner) and Queen Frigga (Rene Russo, who barely gets a chance to speak) rule in peace despite an ancient war with some Frost Giants.  We also learn about Odin's two sons, the warrior Thor and the manipulative Loki, one of whom shall soon be king.  While Thor - along with his band of friends including the female warrior Sif (Jamie Alexander) and a few other dudes (one of whom is played by former Punisher Ray Stevenson) - like to run off and start battles of their own, Loki is involved in more mischievous games.  In a convoluted turn of events, Thor's temper gets him banished to Earth, Odin falls into a coma-like sleep, and Loki is revealed to be a)the new king and b) kind of evil. Meanwhile, Thor bumbles about Earth under the identity of Dr. Donald Blake, having humorous adventures with a bunch of scientists and trying to find a way to reunite with his trusty hammer Mjolnir.
The Punisher - Now with Thor powers!
All of that sounds pretty silly, and it certainly is.  But the people behind Thor have found the keys to making such a fantastic story interesting to the masses, starting with a fantastic cast.  Chris Hemsworth - formerly a supporting piece in the Star Trek reboot and the criminally cool A Perfect Getaway - gives a star-making performance as the eponymous God, and is one of the few actors to come along in recent years who can appear both imposing and endearing at the same time.  His over-the-top antics - which include some extreme chivalry and the shouting of loud commands - provide for a lot of laughs throughout the film, most notably in a scene where he enters a pet shop looking for transportation.  At the same time, Hemsworth can still turn it up a notch and become the warrior hero who can dominate a scene, and I have to think his combination of size and talent will take him to great heights in Hollywood.
The supporting cast also shines.  Natalie Portman gets the most publicity as the Earth-bound scientist who is Thor's eventual love interest, but Stellan Skarsgard (whose son Alexander was most internet folks' pick to play Thor as casting was occuring) and Kat Dennings provide a lot of fun scenes as the other two-thirds of her team.  Tom Hiddleston is very serviceable as Loki (who promises to have an even bigger role in next summer's The Avengers), and Russo and Hopkins' presence is welcome - even if they are basically there to add to the name factor of the cast. I must also mention how happy I always am to see Clark Gregg show up as Agent Coulson, because he's both a fun actor and the guy who showed up in the final two episodes of Sports Night to save the day.  It tickles me pink to think about the fact that this guy is working with the Universe's greatest heroes AND the best cable sports show in the history of fake television. You go Clark Gregg!
La Forza del Destino....Clark Gregg is a true hero.
With three different "realms" containing the action and so many characters to introduce, it's very possible that Thor could have run for at least three hours under the supervision of Shakespeare-specialist Kenneth Branagh.  But the film makes its trips from one world to another quite easily, and I never found myself lost in the film's complex universe.  Branagh is known for long adaptations - like a 242 minute version of Hamlet - but this 114 minute version of Thor moves quite briskly while covering a lot of ground.  Like I said - I could have watched the story of this Thor go on for some time - but I think mainstream audiences will appreciate how easy it is to get caught up in this escapist origin story.

If I had to quibble a bit about Thor, I do feel like the final 20 minutes were handled a little foolishly.  We've got a main character who has been banished by his father - who takes away all his powers and strips him from his presumed glory - and is betrayed by his brother - who then convinces him his father is dead.  It's quite literally a tale in which the hero has had everything taken from him (Can you see why they'd give the story to a Shakespearean director now?), so when his primary motvation for revenge becomes his budding romance with the Earthly Natalie Portman who he met two days ago, I have to wonder if there aren't bigger issues the film could have tackled.  I know that every movie has to have romance in Hollywood, but there's really no reason the relationship between Thor and this Earth woman couldn't have remained platonic and led to a more epic reason for a final battle.
Still, I'm just nitpicking there, because I really enjoyed the heck out of Thor.  I'm almost sorry for allowing him to be rebranded as Cool Daddy Lovin' in my youth, even though CDL did hold multiple Plastic Wrestling Figures And Friends Federation Championships and went on to become our high school band's mascot on our trip to Disney World.  This has quickly become one of my favorites of the many Marvel adaptations of recent years, and it leaves me with a renewed faith that The Avengers should provide a lot of fun as it brings all these heroes - including one who makes a cameo in the middle of Thor and another who makes a returning cameo after the credits - together.  In the meantime, I'm sure I'll return to this Thor film as soon as possible, because it's a fantastic bit of entertainment that I want to experience again and again.


Jinx said...

That was awesome, Mike. I'm tempted to see it now. I hadn't intended to before because I'm still vaguely mad at it purely on the basis that Brian Blessed isn't playing Odin. Why the heck isn't Brian Blessed playing Odin?!

Box Office Boredom said...

I have been meaning to comment for days, but alas Blogger hates me when I tried and phonternet commenting just goes horribly wrong on my droid.

You are correct sir, it is quite creepy how closely our reviews lined up despite having never talked to each other about this film before writing the movie.

I read this and thought "Did Mike read my mind?" I'm just glad I got this one in first, other wise no one would believe me that I didn't just steal the wise ramblings of The Mike again!

Great review Mike!