Monday, December 12, 2011

Thor

Directed by Kenneth Branagh.
2011. Rated PG-13, 114 minutes.
Cast:
Chris Hemsworth
Natalie Portman
Anthony Hopkins
Tom Hiddleston
Idris Elba
Stellan Skarsgard
Colm Feore
Jamie Alexander
Ray Stevenson
Rene Russo
Kat Dennings
Clark Gregg

Jeremy Renner

Though he’s long been one of the more prominent heroes in the Marvel Universe, Thor (Hemsworth) has not been the same type of pop-culture icon as others such as Spider-Man, the Hulk and Captain America. His previous forays into the mainstream have mostly been as a secondary character in multiple hero outings. Even next summer he will appear again on the big screen as part of Marvel’s most beloved team of do-gooders (by me, anyway) the Avengers. Here the god of thunder gets his own time to shine in a full-length feature.

Perhaps Thor has been kept just outside of full blown icon status because the mythology surrounding him makes for a difficult transition. Indeed, its based on Norse mythology and he is a god. It seems rather easy for this to come off hokey. As one familiar with the character, adapting him for widespread consumption seemed to be a challenge going in. The filmmakers met this challenge head on and were better for it. They don’t shy away from the cornier elements of the hero’s world, but add enough weight to them to anchor them in our psyche. They do not let them float away to join the hordes of others who wear strange faux-ancient outfits and speak in a vaguely Shakespearean manner.


The first and probably wisest choice is we get an introduction story not an origin story. When we meet Thor, he is already super. Sure, there is a period where he’s not, but it’s not the long, arduous road we often travel. It’s also more germane to the plot than just filling in some background info. Then, there is the well handled love story. It never feels sappy and doesn’t interfere with Thor’s heroic duties. Yet, it’s still effective and hangs over the story in just the right way.

That story surrounds the safety of Thor’s home realm of Asgard and his father’s efforts to stay out of war with the Frost Giants. They are a particularly ornery group still sore over having lost in a conflict with the Asgardians some years ago. There is also the sibling rivalry of Thor and his brother Loki (Hiddleston) as well as both of their relationships with their dad Odin (Hopkins), the king. Yes, this effects us on this planet because Thor is banished to Earth by the old man because his arrogance and overzealousness causes an intergalactic incident threatening the uneasy peace that has been kept between the two factions. This portion of the tale gives us comedy, redemption and romance.

It’s a small feat that neither the scenes on Earth nor on Asgard feel forced. They work well together. In turn, the movie works well. This makes it a rare comic book, one that tells its story in an appealing manner to both sides of the ledger. It stays true enough to the character for fanboys and doesn’t feel dumbed down for the masses. You don’t have to be a comic book geek to enjoy it. If you are a comic book geek you probably won’t be compelled to rip it to shreds for ruining another hero. Thor is not quite among the very best, but it is one of the better movies in the genre. As such, I can even forgive it for being a blatant setup for that Avengers movie I mentioned.

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