Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Movie Review: Thor

Hey guys, what's up. It's been a while since our last fandango, but I've been pretty busy -- you know, training for top secret missions in Pakistan, sorting through my fan mail, that sort of thing. Only, totally different. Yet even with my busy schedule, I've still managed to find the time to slip out to the theater and catch this month's biggest superhero blockbuster: Thor.

And I have to say, this film is exceedingly difficult for me to review. That's because Thor is a pretty idiosyncratic comic to begin with and it has become even more idiosyncratic up on the big screen. Though Thor rubs shoulders with his fellow Avengers in the pages of many a superhero comic, the character and the stories in his own title aren't really related to the superhero genre at all. Ever since Stan and Jack introduced Tales of Asgard to the series back in Journey Into Mystery #97, the series has been much more of a combination of high fantasy and epic science fiction than a traditional superhero comic.

All of which makes judging Thor the movie pretty hard to do considering there's not a whole lot to judge it against. As a superhero movie, well, it's downright weird. As an epic fantasy, though, it's almost weirder, because it exists within the framework of Marvel's interconnected superhero universe, meaning film fans will see characters and ideas from the Iron Man franchise pop up right in the middle of what otherwise is a fantasy movie.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say that Thor can only really be judged under one criteria: how good a Thor movie is it?

The answer? Pretty good.

What Thor gets right outweighs for the most part what it gets wrong. Here's a quick overview that isn't much of a spoiler since it's based very closely on comics that came out nearly 50 years ago: Thor (Chris Hemsworth) gets himself in hot water because of his hot head, so Odin banished him to Earth to learn some humility and prove his worthiness. Once he does so, he regains his godly powers, returns to Asgard and fights some monsters.

And all of that is handled pretty well, though there were a few things I thought they could have done differently in terms of pacing. It was wise of director Kenneth Branagh to begin the proceedings with a quick look at Earth, but I think things would have gone better -- especially for newcomers to the Thor milieu -- if the story had just stayed on Earth for the first half instead of immediately jumping up to Asgard for 30 minutes. Not that I minded what was happening in Asgard, but there's no question that the scenes on Earth, where Thor meets Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), contain much more humor and, you know, fun, than the portentous action sequences in Asgard. As a result, I think the film -- which is inherently harder to get into than most superhero or action films anyway -- becomes even more difficult for newbies to get into than it had to be.

Having said that, though, if the film hasn't lost viewers by the time Thor comes to Earth, then they are likely to really enjoy the film, because it picks up in a big way after Thor meets Jane Foster and begins stumbling around New Mexico in search of his hammer, Mjolnir. Sure, Portman doesn't have a whole lot to do, but what she does, she does really well; she and Hemsworth have pretty good chemistry and once Thor returns to Asgard to deal with Loki (the excellent Tom Hiddleston), you do feel a tug at the thought of the two being separated just as they were starting to dig each other.

There were a few other minor concerns I had about the film as well. For instance, though I love the Warrior's Three in the comic, I'm not sure they really came across on the screen for non comics fans as anything more than somewhat goofy sidekicks. And, like Iron Man 2, some of the action sequences came up a bit short, particularly the big throwdown between Thor and The Destroyer, which was okay but not nearly as epic as it could or should have been.

But those are quibbles. For the most part, Thor is an entertaining, occasionally fun and perfectly competent film that any fan of Thor will enjoy.

And if you're not a fan of Thor? Well... give it a try, because if you end up liking it, there's a half century of cool stories waiting to be discovered. But Thor is just so very, very Thor that's there's really no way of knowing if you'll like it until you try.

My Grades: For Thor fans, a solid B+. For everyone else, a random grade somewhere between A- and C-. The film has good acting and solid directing, so it's not going to go below that, but there's no way of really judging this movie outside of the strictures of Thor itself. The bonus scene after the credits gets an A+ for setting up both Captain America and Avengers at the same time while also giving Marvel fans a major woody.

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