Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Already Craving More Thor

     It seems that in this great country that we live in, summer blockbusters have been arriving to our cinema screens earlier and earlier every year that passes. This year's first huge hit, Fast Five, was released on the 29th of April, and it's fair to say that its huge opening weekend numbers signified the beginning of a long and prosperous summer blockbuster season. And this means one thing: we're going to be seeing a plethora of previews and clips that show men (or creatures) from comic books (and graphic novels) kicking ass and saying sometimes-cool-usually-lame catchphrases into the (probably 3-D) camera lenses. If you're more niggardly (that word is not a racial slur, my less-intelligent readers) than I am in regards to what films to see in the movie theater, trying to decide what superhero-based film to see can be like wading through a river of shit with the occasional fresh and scrumptious corn kernel. Luckily--I am here to report--Thor, with the title character portrayed in a star-making turn by Australian Chris Hemsworth, is more tasty morsel than piece of shit.
      I was excited to see Thor in the sense that I hadn't been to the theater in about 14 days, which for me is an extremely long time; however, after witnessing the trailers, I wasn't sure how great the movie would be. But what happened is the best thing that can happen when one pays $9.50 to see a film: pleasant surprise. It's all a bit confusing at first if you are not familiar with the mythology of Thor. The film starts out on Earth, where Thor is discovered after he is transported by some sort of Terminator-style portal. Fortunately without Arnold's naked ass. Thor switches gears quickly, after just a few minutes, to show us a long sequence of events that lead to him landing on Earth. You see, Thor is from another realm called Asgard (a porn film title parody in the making), where the Asgardians have been waging war with the Frost Giants for centuries. The Frost Giants are scary, big, badass creatures who can freeze people and things in place and then shatter them, which makes for some extremely cool special effects. Thor's dad, Odin (acted beautifully by Anthony Hopkins), is the king of this realm, and basically sends Thor to Earth in an act of humility (Thor had recently attacked the ice creatures in an act of aggression), to show him that being cocky and aggressive isn't the right way to be King, which Thor is first-in-line to become. He also strips Thor of his legendary weapon, a hammer, as it is also sent to Earth, and Thor must earn the right to wield it again. Rereading this paragraph, I know it sounds kind of lame and corny. But with the Shakespearean themes of love, humility and troubled families, the incredibly cool, loud and original special effects, and the interesting direction of Kenneth Branagh, Thor's quality rises above the poo wave of previous below-average superhero incarnations.
      What Thor is, at it's quickly beating heart, is a fish-out-of-water story that is both humorous and light-hearted. Thor gets banished to Earth, but he has been living in the realm of Asgard, where people talk in a form of arrogant-royal-English. It adds up to great comic relief when he is found by three scientists, the most important of which is played cutely by a pre-preggers Natalie Portman. When Thor's stomach growls, he states, "I need sustenance!" When he's done with a coffee in a diner, he shatters his mug on the floor and states that he needs another. He's a strong and cocky man that thinks he deserves whatever he wants at any given moment, due to the fact that he is royalty in the other realm. That's not to say he can't be sweet and lovely when he wants to be: the film switches back and forth between Thor's family troubles in Asgard and the budding relationship between Thor and the smitten Natalie Portman. It shows that Thor has human qualities that all of us have experienced, and it grounds the film in at least some sort of reality that is relatable.
     I haven't even explored the family drama between Thor and his brother that is the essence of much of the plot, and I won't here. To watch the drama is better than to explain it. Thor is just the fourth movie that Marvel has produced on their own (after the two Iron Man films and the lesser The Incredible Hulk). They have clearly hit their stride. Thor hits you like the blunt head of a hammer: it's interesting, original, and the special effects are unlike anything I have seen recently. Branagh's direction, specifically the friction of family that echoes his previous Shakespeare efforts, works much better than expected in the superhero genre. Above all, it's entertaining, which is the key to creating successful summer blockbusters.     (B+)

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