Monday, May 28, 2012

Don't Make Him Thor. You Wouldn't Like Him When He's Thor.

Art by Jack Kirby. Dialogue and SFX by me.

That Thor is actually a pretty good movie and, I think, watchable even for non-funnybook types, probably says more about the changing times and tides than it does about anything Kenneth Branagh brought to the table. Mr. Branagh thankfully spared us his intolerably smug onscreen presence for this one, limiting himself to, we assume, coaching Chris Hemsworth in how to speak Stan Lee Faux Medieval whilst keeping a straight face. As a director, Branagh shows us nothing more than that as a director he can learn how to act Hollywood; at the beginning, it says "A Kenneth Branagh Film," but why do I think this would have walked, talked and played much the same if it carried anyone else's name?

Twenty, thirty years ago, I would have told you that Thor was one of the most unfilmable characters in the Marvel Stable (Marble?) -- and, you know what? I would have been right. In the 'Seventies, no one in Hollywood would have taken this stuff seriously -- look what happened when Bill Bixby tried to team up Thor with the TV version of The Hulk all those years ago (P.S. if you didn't see it, it was painful.)

My how times have changed. CGI has been more or less perfected, so the scale can actually be brought up to the standard that Jack Kirby created in his drawings all those years ago. They've even figured out a way to keep the shoulders of Thor's cape all buoyant and pouffy the way Jack drew it. Modern audiences have been so inundated with big-budget comic book style fantasies that Thor no longer seems as, well, goofy as he would have done back then. In other words -- for the first time in history, it's possible to film Thor with a straight face, and Marvel have done it.

I missed this one when it first came out, but as it happened Hemsworth's Thunder God was one of the things I liked best about this Spring's Marvel's The Avengers, despite the shabbily careless way that he was introduced into the story (all the more so, I realize now, because the God of Thunder is left stranded in Asgard at the end of his own movie -- how is he suddenly able to turn up on the roof of SHIELD's aircraft in The Avengers? That's something that made me Mighty Thore!). So, I just had to go back and check this one out.

As modern superhero movies go, this one is remarkably uncomplicated and straightforward. So focussed on moving the plot is it that the supporting characters barely come into focus (it's saying something that Natalie Portman's Jane Foster is so much of a non-entity that Agent Coulsen actually upstages her). It's all setup, setup, setup, then BOOM, get the pieces into place, establish the menace and let Goldilocks deal with it. Very businesslike, is what I'm trying to say. If you were expecting Shakespeare from Branagh, you'd be disappointed.

Everything looks great, even down to the way Hemsworth weilds the hammer. When the Destroyer touches down and starts doing what he was named to do, the only thing that separates him from Kirby is that Kirby would have found a way to get even more tooth-gnashing action in there.

The climactic setpiece is actually very reminiscent of the sequence in Superman II where the three Krytonian villains menace a dustbowl tank town. What differentiates it is the technology to make things bigger and louder and ka-blooier than was possible in the late seventies. Given that, it's nice that The Mighty, thore as he is, doesn't pulverize the Big Guy into little bits and pieces and gears, but instead uses his powers to provide a more intelligent and satisfying end to the brawl.

Anthony Hopkins as Odin? Ehm, okay. I guess. Someone had to strap on the beard and about a thousand pounds of padding and say the words, and it had to be someone who could say those words without making everyone in the audience go "CH-hee-hee-hee!" -- so, you know, Brian Blessed would have been a heckova lot more fun to watch in the part, but I guess you've got to take what you can get.

If I sound dismissive, it's only because this, much like The Avengers, didn't fully engage me emotionally the way that the first Iron Man and Captain America pictures did. Marvel has certainly succeeded here in creating a larger mythology that encompasses more than one movie or even more than one movie franchise. It's bigger, though not necessarily better, than its parts. If I had to stand all the connected Marvel movies side by side and arrange them best to worst, Iron Man would still be at the top of the list, followed distantly by Captain America, then Thor, then The Avengers, then Iron Man II, then the lamentable Incredible Hulk bringing up the rear.

I guess that's okay. I mean, who's going to tell the Hulk to his face that his movie sucked? Maybe Thor.

-- Freder.

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