Wednesday, May 11, 2011

You will believe a god can make breakfast

Don't let the glowering poster fool you. Thor is actually a pretty cheery movie, which follows the Iron Man arc of setting up an asshole and then humanizing him--in Thor's case, literally. Is it a believable humanization? Yes and no. The problem, I think, is that Chris Hemsworth plays Asshole Thor so well that, by comparison, his Humanized Thor is kind of boring, almost as if he was channeling Errol Flynn and then replacing him with Robert Taylor. It helps that he plays most of his Humanized Thor scenes opposite Natalie Portman. A Toyota Celica could look human next to Natalie Portman.

Is the movie fun? Yes, but not exhilarating. Marvel still hasn’t managed to duplicate the sheer joy of the original Iron Man, which looks better and better as time passes. The most joyous part of this film is in the opening half hour, when Thor and his friends go off to battle the Frost Giants. It ends up being a hard high point to match, especially since the rest of the film is about how Thor gets humbled and humanized. Compared to the joy of calling down the lightning, serving eggs over easy can’t help but look bland.

Of the two other potential high points, the battle with the Destroyer seems rushed and almost perfunctory, even though -– wow -- best realization of a Jack Kirby visual concept ever. And yet even in its truncated state it’s still strong enough to make the final throw-down with Loki feel a little anti-climactic.

Which is probably the only bad thing associated with Loki in the film, thanks to Tom Hiddleston’s performance in the part. When he’s onscreen, you can’t take your eyes off him, even when he appears to be doing nothing at all except thinking and observing. And no, he’s nowhere near as sly or mischievous as he should be, but then this is his origin story too, and he travels in the exact opposite direction from his brother Thor, from someone who appears thoughtful and sensitive to someone who is full of himself and always has one more trick up his sleeve. Which means that, as Thor gets blander, Loki gets more and more interesting. And to everybody’s credit, he doesn’t do the Obvious Bad Thing, given his father fixation. What he does is a lot more subtle, and is a clear echo of the same flaw in Thor’s character before he’s Humanized.

The other standout performance is Idris Elba as Heimdall. The guy manages the near-impossible feat of being wrapped up in an incredibly Kirbyesque costume and projecting not just authority, but godlike authority. You get the feeling that Kenneth Branagh walked around the set whispering "This is not a comic book movie, this is Shakespeare," to all the Asgardians, and Hiddleston and Elba really stepped up to the analogy.

The film is actually so many different movies rolled into one that it has no business being a consistent whole, so credit Branagh with that as well. It’s a little bit King Lear, with Thor as Edgar and Loki as Edmund; it’s a continuity-based entry in what has become Marvel’s Big Avengers Crossover; and since Thor’s new-found humility is shown when he cooks everybody breakfast, it’s a chick flick as well. (“Oh my God -- he’s a god -- and he can cook!”) The weird thing is, even with all these mismatched parts, the film doesn’t feel like it’s all over the place, like one of those awful productions of Shakespeare you see sometimes where twenty actors are in twenty different plays. Its chief flaw is that it suffers greatly from a near-total absence of script. By which I mean, “Somebody actually wrote this?” There is a noticeable dearth of clever or memorable in the dialogue, and if it weren’t for solid performances from the main actors, this would be a very hard movie to listen to (though a gorgeous one to look at, thanks to the Asgard scenes). I swear to God, there’s a universal law which states that intelligent dialogue exists in inverse proportion to high production values, which explains why the more special effects you have in a movie, the dumber the dialogue sounds.

For the theologically inclined, the whole "Is this guy really a god?" question gets its modern-day science-as-religion based answer (quoting Arthur C Clarke on science and magic, throwing out the "Primitive society would think they were gods" option), but really--if you can believe that Natalie Portman is a scientist, how hard is it to believe in Norse gods? It's the Natalie Portman Premise Law in action. (I mean come on--the only reason everybody believed Black Swan was a serious movie is because it was ten times easier than believing Portman was a ballet dancer.) Me, I had no problem with the Asgard angle. But what I still don't get, and never did about Thor, is how he can be a kid and growing up in Asgard in the relative here and now, and yet have appeared a couple of thousand years ago in Scandinavian legends.

For the visually inclined, skip the 3D version -- the only really cool 3D effect is in the final credits, which says a lot about how this whole 3D thing is just a way to soak an extra ten bucks out of people. For the continuity inclined, there is a cameo that looks forward to next year’s Avengers movie, as well as the now-traditional easter-egg teaser at the end of the credits which looks forward to both Captain America and Avengers. And for the psychologically inclined, it’s worth noting that the humbling of the title character occurs when he realizes he can’t even get it up with a derrick—it being his “hammer,” which is a word I can't hear and not think of that Nathan Fillion line from Dr. Horrible.

I hate it when that happens.

And for all the blissfully non-geek in the audience, the thing in the teaser at the end?  You can read about it here.


Diana Knight said...

Hoozah! I quite agree. But,... Damn! Chris as Thor can make me breakfast anytinme as long as he does it topless!

brother dave said...

yeah, but was it / is it as good as the comic book original?