Monday 2 May 2011

Review: Thor

Year: 2011
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Screenplay: Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Don Payne
Starring: Chris Hemworth, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Kat Dennings, Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd, Idris Elba

Thor is another Marvel comic book movie that lands us right back into the realm of The Avengers. How Thor, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and the rest of them are all going to fit into a coherent feature is still beyond me (worried about time constraints, a workable villain etc) however, as long as the Marvel output can still bring about singular features that are as mildly entertaining as this, then the future remains bright.

As someone who knows little about Thor comics, I found myself more than a little weary about how even this movie would come off. It’s quite clear that something like Thor may need an origin story to make sure that those who know nothing can enter in and be kept in the loop. It’s clear however in picking up a director like Kenneth Brannah that we are provided with an entry point that strikes enough balance for those in the know and those who know nothing.  In fact, the opening of Thor displays the epic intentions that The Avengers film will need to strive for. The introduction of Asgard is a grandiose one that we would expect from the God of Thunder. This first act however spoils us, as it doesn’t reach such a height again.

It’s an awkward compromise as Thor has a good sense of humour which grounds everything, a study cast who all give enough to be entertaining (if not thin on character) and a father son relationship that provides more than enough backbone to rest a (stronger) plot.  The problem is that when we explore Thor’s time on earth, everything feels scaled down a tad too much. All the time spent with Natalie Portman and friends is sweet but after a while glazes the eyes, while the rest of the film’s second act seems to do all it can to muddle the villainous intentions and keep the conflict and stakes almost to a bare minimum. Despite the first act’s action sequences suffering from the horrible hacky slash editing, that reminds us that this is a PG-13 movie, there was still a build of momentum that came with it. Even all the plot nonsense of different realms and intergalactic races with powers that put Sub Zero’s to shame was watchable, as it felt it was building to something. Unfortunately the weakest aspect of Thor is that from an action point of view it seems to decrease in risk and scope as opposed to the opposite.

Don’t attack me for being too negative yet, as Thor’s charm is what pulls it through the quagmire of a muddied screenplay. Chris Hemsworth is solid as the leading man here, giving Thor the charm, arrogance and swagger needed for such a role. Kat Dennings has little to do (there seems to be no point to her character) but provides the most humour. Anthony Hopkins’ Odin has Gravitas in spades, while Tom Hiddleson’s simmering villainy would have been even better if provided with a clearer arc in the script. Idriss Alba and Skarsgard also need more to do but are still formidable enough. The oddest aspect within the casting (apart from Thor’s four friends) is Natalie Portman, whose bright smile and spunk are nice to watch, but suffers slightly be being the cutest scientist in the world ever.   Her youth and sex appeal feel slightly at odds with her character.

The most attractive element of the film (save Dennings and Portman) however is how all of Thor looks visually. The vision and cinematography put forth by Brannah and his DP Haris Zambarloukos; is not only epic in scale (mostly when we’re not on Earth) but are full of colour and canted angles that seem to have been missing from the mainstream movie scene for some time. I take my early masters of the universe jibe I shot at film back. The amount of times we’ve had to endure that orange/blue colour grading has been unfair and this boarder approach to the visuals make watching Thor so refreshing.

Thor is visually appealing, humorous and neatly grounded considering its subject matter. The Marvel cameos and nods are all present but shouldn’t suffocate like they did with some people in Iron Man 2. And despite its murky plot (minus the father/son subtext) and decrease in energy, Thor keeps the most important factor in its sights: Fun.