Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Where Can I Get A Hammer Like That?

Better late then never, so they say. For a comic book fan, waiting a couple of weeks to see a film about a comic book character like this must be a cardinal sin. Oh well.

My first real exposure to the Marvel version of Thor was picking up a handful of issues on an impulse, which would come to be collected in the Worldengine trade paperback. Incidentally, it's a really good story, with Thor exiled out of Asgard, under attack from an unseen enemy, and trying to turn back the clock on Ragnorak. In between, he gets to spend some quality time between the sheets with Amora the Enchantress, a long time enemy who winds up as something much more.

Where was I? Oh, yes. In between the sheets... no, not there. Anyway, since that introduction to the character, I've followed the adventures of the god of thunder and his people. Most of that has had the distinction of being good writing and art. Small aside here, to those who don't follow the medium: if a fan raves about the outstanding art of Chris Bachalo and Humberto Ramos, turn and run. The fan in question must have rabies, be clinically insane, or something much worse.

For a long while Thor the movie was talked about as Marvel really got underway with some of the concepts from their catalogue of characters and history. While X-Men, Spider-Man, and Fantastic Four got taken up by seperate studios, the Avengers roster has become the focus of the Marvel Studios work in the last few years. Starting with Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, a concerted effort was made to create a shared universe for film fans. This year Thor and Captain America add to that list.

Marvel selected celebrated actor and director Kenneth Branagh, who's best known for his work with Shakespeare, for the task of bringing the film to life. I've thought from the beginning that it was an inspired choice. Thor as a story, both comic and original mythology, always had a very Shakespearean sensibility to it, with sweeping epic themes, family drama and conflict, nobility and cruelty, and rich characterization.

Branagh obviously saw the potential in the premise. Aside from his Shakespearean films such as Henry V, Hamlet, and Much Ado About Nothing, he's done such eclectic films as Dead Again (a personal favourite) and the over the top Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. He understands as a filmmaker how to work with both the intimacy of characters and the epic sweep that a story like this requires. He was the ideal choice for this film, and it shows in every detail, from the cast he chose and their performances, to the production values.
The story plays out in Asgard, in the realm of Jotenheim, and on Earth, all cosmically linked as part of the Nine Realms. Odin (Anthony Hopkins), the lord of Asgard, bears the responsibility of the rule of his realm and the protection of his people. He is a husband to Frigga (Rene Russo), and father to two sons, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki ( Tom Hiddleston). On the day he names Thor as heir to his throne, Asgard is briefly invaded by Frost Giants, longtime enemies.

Thor impulsively and recklessly wants revenge. Odin refuses to allow it. Thor breaks the orders of his father and leads Loki and four friends, Sif (Jaimie Alexander), Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Hogun (Tadanobu Asano), and Fandral (Josh Dallas) into Jotenheim for vengeance. Odin intervenes, and for his arrogance and disregard, Thor is stripped of his powers and exiled to Earth.
Odin and the boys


Hogun, Fandral, and Volstagg
Thor encounters three scientists, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Eric Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings, who steals the show frequently). The film takes on a fish out of water element here, with Thor trying to adjust to life on earth and find a way home, a path that must take him through humility to his lowest point. He also spends a great deal of time bonding with Jane, who is bemused by this stranger with the tight abs and curious way about him. Natalie the actress also seems to look at him on occasion as if she's wondering where he was during the filming of Star Wars. Perhaps if Hemsworth had been cast, she wouldn't have had to put up with a future Darth Vader who didn't seem to constantly be on the verge of breaking out into tears.

Meanwhile, Loki being Loki (he is, after all the god of mischief) is up to all sorts of trouble in Asgard. Inevitably trouble must ensue.

I mentioned Branagh's good taste in casting. Hemsworth, who was previously only known to me for his cameo in the recent Star Trek, embodies Thor. It's easy to believe this guy is the god of thunder. He brings an arrogance and recklessness to the character early on, and his journey of discovery following his downfall is done just right. His low points feel genuine, and his turn to true nobility and self sacrifice fit the performance and the character.

Every hero needs a villain, and Hiddleston inhabits Loki just as I would have imagined him. He's envious, deceitful, ambitious, treacherous, bitter, and tragic. Hiddleston plays him well, and as much of a villain as Loki is, there are moments I truly feel sorry for him.

Hopkins as Odin is another good choice. The character can often seem distant and cold, and he certainly has that here, but he's a king with all of the responsibilities of a just ruler. He seeks to teach his sons the lessons he's had to learn, and his paternal instincts come out full force during the film. Rene Russo as Frigga is younger then I'd picture the character, but brings a sense of grace and warmth to the character.

Natalie Portman also gets well cast here. Jane is updated from a nurse turned doctor in the comics to an astrophysicist for the film, which brings her into contact with Thor. She gives the character spunk and a spark, and she and Hemsworth share an easy chemistry as they get to know each other. I particularly like seeing her get flustered.

The remaining casting choices are well made. Sif feels very true to the character in the comics, as do the Warriors Three and Heimdall, guardian of the Rainbow Bridge. Stevenson's take on Volstagg, while not as large in build as the character appears in the comics, is funny; a bit featuring his appetite midway through the film gave me a laugh, and serves as a nod to the character's history. And Skarsgard, who's one of the great character actors working today, is very welcome as Eric, as is Kat Dennings, who gets a laugh out of us at just the right time.

And there's a nice little Easter egg for those of us who know the characters: the appearance of Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), my favourite Avenger, who will turn up in the Avengers film next year.

The production values are of great benefit for the film too. The costume design for the Asgardians has the right look, as does the set design and special effect work for Asgard, Jotunheim, and the cosmos. It gives the film that epic sweep and an attention to detail that's vital. Asgard looks majestic and beautiful, Jotunheim looks dangerous and foreboding, and the cosmos is achingly gorgeous. The battle in Jotunheim early on (the Frost Giants are particularly menacing, as they should be) and the fight against the Destroyer (a handy bit of Asgardian Weapon of Mass Destruction, by the way) are well rendered, and the Rainbow Bridge fascinated me. And last but not least, Branaghs' frequent collaborator Patrick Doyle gives us a full blooded, sweeping musical score that's heroic, bold, and intimate.

Thor is a film with many themes. A father and his sons. The bond between brothers. The call of duty of a king. The fall and redemption of a hero. The meeting of people from different worlds. An unlikely romance. The fantastic and the impossible. And gods walking the earth and truly finding themselves for the first time.

Oh, and driving the ladies crazy with one scene in particular.

Eye candy for the ladies

What's next for the character? Well, he'll be back for Avengers, and there are certainly more characters and villains to explore in the Thor realm. I'd love to see Surtur, the Midgardian serpent, Malekith, Karnilla, Amora the Enchantress, Hela, or Ulik the troll turn up in a future film.

I think we can skip Thor as a frog though.

Don't believe me?

I told you.

Now, like I asked in the title of this review.... where can I get hold of a hammer like that?


  1. Hey--your review is better than mine!

    But then, I just go on gut reactions. It's a weakness, I know.

    I can't wait for the DVD so I can hit pause every time that shirtless scene appears.

  2. Great review! I don't know a lot about the Marvel characters, especially Thor (Ok, have to admit...I didn't realize he was a Marvel character...oops) but, your review makes me want to go see it.

    Ok, maybe it's just for the shirtless scene...LOL

  3. Great review.
    I haven't seen the movie yet but between yours and Norma's review I will be sure to see it.
    I love reading reviews from people who know the background as you do with the Marvel comics.
    I feel the same when I talk about Hayao Miyazaki movies.

    I really thought Kenneth Branagh was an inspired choice for director.
    I really believed I was the only one that ever saw much less loved "Dead Again" my favorite of all his movies, quite fabulous !
    Henry V is also on my list, must have watched that movie a zillion times, but I always thought Much Ado About Nothing was also one of his best. The last scene when they walk out of the church with the flowers falling make me tear up every time I watch it.

    Love Norma's last comment...

    cheers, parsnip

  4. Such a perfect Thor. And I love the outfits.

  5. Thanks for the great review! I have a limited number of movies I can see and this moves to the top now. My road into geekdom came from a different direction, mostly sci-fi film, Star Trek and historical reenactment, I have only just begun to explore the wondeful world of comics, so totally stoked to hear the film did the story justice. This was the perfect post as I get ready for the Phoenix Comicon starting tomorrow. Can't wait! I wonder how many Thor costumes will be there. May have to ask some of them to cover up.

  6. Getting such a glowing review from someone who knows and appreciates the comics means a lot. I'm waiting for it to come out on DVD, but looking forward to it.

  7. Beautiful writing and nice pics-but no, not even the shirtless thing will lure me.
    Seriously though--this is a very well written review.
    Thor's face reminds me of The Princess Bride guy.LOL.

  8. I still haven't had a chance to see this movie and I really want to.


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