May 7, 2011

Review: The Magic of 'Thor'

"Magic is just science we don't understand yet."

Thor was pretty good. Much better than it really has any right to be, given the outlandish premise and mixture of genres. Shakespearean actor/director Kenneth Branagh does an admirable job of balancing two markedly different worlds on screen. One is a magical, sci-fi fantasyland in space called Asgard. It's a real world interpretation of Norse myths and mysticism with Gods as its inhabitants. The other is hyper version of our earth in the Marvel Comics universe. That balance serves as a magical setting for another worthy comic book adaptation.

Australian actor Chris Hemsworth (Star Trek) is clearly a star. He brings an affable, likeable quality to this larger than life character. His charisma and screen presence hides any acting faults he may have,  as he shines with his beaming muscles. He's also funny and amusing when required to be. Furthermore, the diverse, international supporting cast around him is strong.

Oscar winner Natalie Portman gives her best girlfriend in peril performance, but still manages to rounded out a full personality. Sometimes, the romance was a little forced as was Thor's quick transformation from arrogant warmonger to selfless hero. However, Anthony Hopkins as Odin the King of Asgard strikes a note grounding the story and characters well. Kat Dennings does comedic relief well without being distracting as Portman's sidekick.

I thought the absolute star of the film was Tom Hiddleston as the somewhat ambiguously villainous brother of Thor, Loki. Hiddleston proves he can bring true nuance and character to his role. His portrayal is the most convincing villain, I've seen in sometime. Loki truly believes he is doing what is right and that's where his villainy comes from. His strong performance makes the film worth watching alone.

Once again, like with Iron Man 2, I found the Marvel and S.H.I.E.L.D. elements distracting and sometimes forced. However, this time around, the larger implications of the Marvel movie franchise was much more streamlined going into the superhero team-up movie, The Avengers, next year. These added on elements throw off any internal momentum built within the film, but not too much.

There is a furious pace to the story with everything unfolding over a couple days. The world of Asgard was beautiful, but it felt cold and sterile at times. I never believed it was a real kingdom with subjects or that anyone lived there. It felt like a massive fortress inhabited by the same eight people.

My adoration for the rich, vibrant tales of comic books and graphic novels continues as with the parallels of the superhero genre. I feel Marvel Studios continues to progress in their storytelling but it's getting too inside baseball. A lot goes wildly unexplained, especially the mystic and magical elements save for throwaway lines about science. The plotting and character unfolds much like a comic book assuming as certain level of background knowledge and familiarity. The storytelling still needs to be more truly cinematic.

Thor replicates the first Iron Man movie formula to a tee. The action, battle, and fight sequences are well choreographed and pop on screen. It's a fun time and the mostly capable writing hides most of the working plot mechanics well enough.

Where Marvel succeeds is in creating the magical feeling of translating these characters from page to screen. Branagh, Marvel, and company have another winner on its hands as Thor proves to be an entertaining action, thrill ride.

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