Monday, May 9, 2011

THOR Movie Review Double Feature!

We interput this broadcast to bring you a special THOR movie review!

This post is not part of the 'Emails' series regularly seen three days a week here on the Redefining Modern Myth blog. A little bit down the road, we'll have a full scale look at Thor and the other Avengers' films which actually precedes THOR's release in the same way that the casting of Chris Evans was actually discussed before and during the real casting. We'll return to the series on Wednesday.

My Mighty Thoughts on The Mighty Thor.
A few thoughts by Rick.

Thor is not part of Captain America's WWII origin. He will show up later with a few pals in a little movie called The Avengers.

Spoilers? I will try not to wreck the movie-going experience of those who have not yet seen THOR. I liked the THOR movie a lot. There is good meat on it's bones and I will try to keep my thoughts focused on what worked and what didn't. I won't go into the plot too much. Thor is arrogant. Loki is a trickster. Odin banishes Thor to Earth. Suffice to say Thor must kick ass before he can return from Earth and kick ass in Asgard. Lots of quality action and destruction. More fighting than I expected from director Kenneth Branagh.

The Clothes Make The God.

I am going to make my first observation an odd one. While the medium shot does not seem to be totally absent from this film, it must have had other commitments. It seems that THOR is filled with expansive vista shots, nosebleed swooshing overhead pan shots and ultra tight closeups. I mention this because I wanted to talk about the costumes first. They are impressive when you are able to catch a glimpse. Almost immediately, I found that the reimagined threads were not too jarring and the characters seemed to wear them as one wears clothing. Perhaps this is a trick of design or directing or acting but the whole cast from Thor, Sif, Hogun, Fandral, Volstagg, Odin, Loki, Heimdall and the humans on earth seem to be pretty comfortable, relaxed in their costumes. Their postures are natural and movements seem to be unencumbered. This might seem like a minor detail but period dramas featuring characters that don't seem comfortable in their own clothes rubs me the wrong way. They got it right here.

Set It and Forget It

The sets for this movie are truly spectacular. From all the exteriors, to the halls, the furniture to the multi-color Rainbow Bridge. A lot of time and careful planning went into the details for these locations. I would have loved to get a much better look at the throne Odin and later Loki sit upon. Thankfully, they can be pressed into service again for the sequel which is already in the works. On a side note, it would have been nice to get more shots of New Mexico. It is truly the land of enchantment and home to natural, spectacular beauty. New Mexico is used sparingly at best in THOR. Overall I would say that the film has a very artistic look which is unique so far in the Marvel movies.

Odin in 3D

I saw this movie in 3D. I don't feel as though this cinematic effect added anything to the experience here. There are debates raging about the use of and the effectiveness of 3D in recent film. This isn't a good place to have that discussion. Perhaps in the future. With THOR in particular, on a very positive note, 3D did not seem to get in the way or ruin this movie. I was pretty thankful. If I see it again, I will shoot for regular 2D so I can make note of the differences.

The Actors

Except for Rene Russo who has absolutely nothing to do here in this testosterone festival, the casting is nothing short of phenomenal. Anthony Hopkins saves his over the top ranting for areas in the script requiring just that. He gives a strong performance as Odin and you can feel the emotion between him and his son Thor. Nicely done. Chris Hemsworth does a very solid turn in the role of Thor. He might have showcased his abilities even better with a tighter script but he is able to show range here nonetheless. Who is that guy who plays Loki? Tom Hiddleston. Awesome. As the tortured villain of the piece, he did a magnificent job often dialing down and being patient for the payoff. Natalie Portman I have usually liked in her films and she is more than serviceable here as Jane Foster. Yet, her character has very little to do except fawn over Thor which she handles well in her few scenes. I have a lot of admiration for the actor playing Agent Coulson. Clark Gregg has the task of being alternately dry, menacing and humorous which enables him to flesh out an otherwise one note character.

The Action

My two complaints with the action are minor yet noteworthy. The setup is not clear enough to understand just what is at stake in the battles. Sure it is life and death but we are talking about CGI life and death so the needle on the meter is barely registering. As the film progresses, so too should the emotional stakes and the risks the heroes take should be greater. Secondly, the sound in the fights was too loud. Each and EVERY crunch, clang, breaking stone or rending steel was amped way over acceptable levels. Instead of saving the loudest stuff for the climaxes, the sound works at virtually only one high level. Very annoying and not of any help developing the urgency needed in the scenes. All told, I was surprised and impressed by the amount, kinds and types of action director Branagh used in this film. I particularly liked the fight with the Destroyer. Very nice. I would have to say that Branagh can safely list "action director" on his resume.

The Dialogue

THOR should have used classic Shakespearean speech as in the comics. I am not sure why they didn't. It would have offered those from Asgaard another opportunity to be regal. Surely a missed opportunity. I would have liked to have sat in on that meeting to hear what the reasoning was for this decision. Hemsworth having an Australian accent doesn't, however, muck up this film at all because all the characters seem to speak with different accents.

Missing the Point of THOR

Maybe I missed the point of THOR. Not based on the mythology. Not based on the comics. So what was the idea? Why? I know this is a lead up to the Avengers but why did they decide to tell this story? Just curious.

The main conflict the filmmakers want to show us is set up fairly early and well. An arrogant Thor is banished to earth. He must become humble in order to be worthy enough to reclaim his hammer, the receptacle of his power. On regular old earth, he makes google eyes with Portman. Now that the main conflict is stated and the movie launched, the filmmakers go out of their way to not show this conflict too seriously again. The fallen Thor tries and fails to lift the hammer and this major driving point for the film gets relegated to a far back burner. Any drama is negated. Thor does not return in humbled triumph to pull the hammer from the stone but Odin instead sends it to him. Thor also shows that he is humbled by serving breakfast to his human friends. Wow. Conflict solved. After strong establishment, this conflict it is treated so weakly that I found myself blinking. Did I miss something? Odin doing a voice over at the end and saying that Thor now was humble and ready to be king was again too subtle and too removed. They needed a big scene in which to resolve this. So, when you look at the fight scenes and Loki being treacherous and all the CGI and Portman having nothing to do but gush, what was this film about? Look at the first fifteen minutes. THAT was what the message of this film was supposed to be. I think I would have like to have watched that movie.

Avengers Hijacks the Movie

I am kinda concerned that there is so much cross contamination with the Marvel heroes. The appearance of Hawkeye for example was weird and totally unneeded. The Hulk gets a nod. Shield and Stark are all over the margins of this one. Sam Jackson as Nick Fury makes another appeal after the credits. Agent Coulson makes mysterious phone calls. Wasn't this supposed to be Thor's origin movie? Why does he have to share it with so many others. Ditto for Wolverine's origin movie. Contaminated with too much cross reference.


Should Marvel and Disney both be taking a more active stance against directly portraying binge drinking? I was a little surprised by the casualness of that scene. Didn't anyone preview the movie for anything other than the special effects?

God of Thunder

Would have been nice to see Thor conjure a whole storm in his own movie. Sure there were lightning bolts and wind funnels. What a tremendous power to have (and the nickname God of Thunder) to be able to bend nature to your will. Despite my previous comments, this film gives a very strong effort with a solid cast, great costumes, effects and fun fight scenes. I am still not convinced that they got the story right. My two choices are to go in another direction entirely (more comic book, more mythic) OR tighten up the conflicts and ramp up the emotional risk in the current script. Choice number three, the Marvel way, involves adding scenes of Scarlett Johannson spinning around in a poured-on catsuit fighting bad guys for S.H.I.E.L.D. Yup. Has nothing to do with Thor but it could be worked in...

Go enjoy the movie and let us know what you think.


Whosoever Watches This Film...

Some thoughts on seeing Thor by Ben.

I just got back from seeing Thor. I went with a party of no less than six fellow adventurers. The theater in downtown St. Petersburg, FL was about half full which is understandable at lunch time on this (American) Mother's Day. Also, although this theater is IMAX 3D equipped, we chose to see it in 2D. My group was comprised of highly savvy movie goer/comic book fans-- the film's key demographic, if older. Did it hit or miss? For the most part, it hit nicely as an enjoyable, highly visually film. A pleasurable thrill ride with some excellent dialog, belly laughs and action. The romance and the key lesson for Thor was some what flat, however. The tragedy of Thor was at times deep and meaningful, but it was most often neglected by the story. The fall of Loki was excellently textured and complex. The acting for the most part was decent with some standout moments from "Odin" Anthony Hopkins (but of course) and some nice moments from the lead Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Tom Hiddleston (Loki). Idris Elba's "Heimdall" was nothing short of EPIC. On the flip side, although the cast sported some excellent talents like Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgård and Rene Russo, they didn't have a whole lot to do.

If I Had a Thor's Hammer

The filmmakers had a LOT to try and cram in and still make a story the audience could follow. There are a lot of characters and locales to keep track of (with Norse names to boot) but, I never felt overwhelmed or frustrated. I just wish some characters had more to do. I really liked how they illustrated the realms for us-- very straight forward and visually stunning. The production design overall was very nice although, the frost giant realm of Jotunheim was a bit too dim to really understand what was happening. I liked the frozen wasteland concept, but the action there was muddy. I really didn't have any feeling for the frost giants and they pretty much became a generic villainous means-to-an-end. Also, I didn't really get a sense of their size as their proportion to the heroes seemed to change. The visual effects involving Asgard or space in general were awesome. Watching Thor, Loki, The Warriors Three and Sif traveling to Jotunheim was great because it gave some human context instead of your standard Stargate wormhole sequence. The only really unfortunate area of the effects were the physics. Thor's hammer effects were great, but adding to the confusion of the size of the frost giants, when Thor tossed a giant, it flopped around like a Jello mold. Also in other shots like a car being pushed aside, the movement was too quick like they were trying to save on render time. This made these heavy objects seem light. Sure, Thor can toss anyone around, but once they're in the air, they need to react in a believable manner. Not doing so makes things look cartoonish and distracts me from the action.

Don't Burn Your Rainbow Bridges

Perhaps the weakest scenes were on Earth. Portman did a decent job as the romantic interest, but her and her companions came off as a bit sedate considering what was happening to or around them. Thor impacts them all in turn, but you don't totally get a feel for them-- which makes them seem generic. S.H.I.E.L.D. shows up as is to be expected as the thread that ties these Marvel films together, but I have to say their involvement was in the way. Sure, they gave Thor and other characters and obstacle, but I would have rather seen something more personally meaningful to our heroes. S.H.I.E.L.D. becomes 'generic shadowy government agency' for Thor to pound on instead of a provider of meaningful conflict. Thor is told his father is dead and it's not something Thor takes lightly, but then again we never really get to identify or commiserate with him because he doesn't confide in any of the other characters. He handles everything exceedingly well and perhaps some folks feel that as a hero, Thor has to be strong, but come on! Why shouldn't he go through the grieving process-- for himself as well as his father? If he doesn't do this very understandable, self-centric thing, how can he truly be selfish? Thor the Arrogant's childishness isn't totally reflected in his reactions following his exile. It's difficult to show redemption when your hero only trips up for a moment. If S.H.I.E.L.D. wasn't there to block his way to Mjölnir, he could have realized the finality of his new circumstance (and later, his arrogance) sooner and the story could be more about what it was set up to be about. I think I would have been much more satisfied had S.H.I.E.L.D. not been in this film but for a cameo. There was just too much awesome to tell.

Hammering It Home

There is a lot to like about Thor, but it's set up as a redemptive coming of age story. Did boy Thor grow up? At the center of the conflict is Thor's respect-- for power, other's lives, mortals, himself. Thor is a prince who has always had everything he could ever want including a band of friends to have fun quests with. EVERYTHING-- his strength, his invulnerability, his station, his title, his possessions, his friends and family-- everything is taken from him in an instant! Still, though Thor's entire world is torn asunder he keeps it cool and collected, confident he just has to collect his hammer and head home. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with that, but it plateaus his character arc for as much as 20 minutes of the film-- from when he arrives on Earth to when he finally realizes he truly is alone and powerless. Wow, a great concept there, but unfortunately in the film, his mourning is comprised of hanging out with the locals and having a sedate good time. It's not like Jane was vaccinating people in Africa and though that Thor learns humility. Jane is a physicist (not knocking that!) who teaches Thor to... be a relaxed American 20-something?

In pockets all over the film there are twists on familiar tropes which makes it much more entertaining. The humor of the piece is probably the best part with excellent timing and delivery. In the end, the film sags in the center and the end conflicts don't have as much tension as they could have. Still,I enjoyed it and encourage other folks to see it. Verily, even with it's failings, it's a worthy viewing!


1 comment:

  1. BEN -

    DAMN! Looks like we saw the same movie... Package as the double feature (Non-Continuity post) in place of the Monday regular post which we can post as #41 on Wednesday. I still owe you a pic for #41 Soap Opera 101 which I might finish tonight.

    It does seem like we make a lot of the same points. When he is banished, Odin is trying to teach him something important about being king. I felt that this actually was the main conflict in the movie. He should have really struggled without his power. Instead he smashes glasses on the floor and is soothingly chastised. When he can't lift his own hammer, he rages and I expected him to say something, anything. No. It would have been great if he realized right then and there that he wasn't going to get what he wants. I would have preferred if he started crying like a baby. Maybe Hawkeye would have shot him then.

    My alternate scene to show him being broken has him fighting his way in the pouring rain and mud through the S.H.I.E.L.D. goons. He must get his hammer back! He is giving and taking a beating. Thor manages to throw them off just long enough to grab his hammer. I see that hand reaching for it through the pile of bodies. He stands at last and does his slow motion, rain and mud dripping off him grab on the handle. A gigantic bolt of lightning flashes in the sky. Then you just see his face contort as he strains - in total anguish. "FFFFFATHER!" He regrips and tries again. Fails. (Quieter) "Fatherrrr." Third attempt. Fails. He slumps to his knees in the mud holding the handle, leaning heavily. (Sobbing now. Voice weak, hoarse) Close-up of bloodied face (I see kind of a Rocky Balboa thing happening here) "Fa - ther...." Now he is just balling. Boom! Goons hit him from all sides and knock him to the ground and he does not resist. You see a close-up of the hammer in the stone with Thor getting the sh&%#t kicked out of him in the middle ground. On the side of the hammer is the inscription...Whoever so is worthy... which fades as if it were never there. A crow lands on the handle ever so briefly and flies off. Thor is still taking his beating.

    Now Thor is totally bloody and broken. His connection with his father is severed. He must learn to live the life of a humble man. We see him next not as smiling chef but broken, withdrawn, depressed and alone - cut off from family and friends..... This is a god who has been exiled to live the life of a man.