THOR! Huh! Yeah! What is it good for?

May 8, 2011

 

Get it? It’s a spoiler.

Ok, so you should take that as a warning that I might say some stuff that could spoil some aspects of this Summer blockbuster. And when I say “might,” I mean probably. And when I say “probably,” I mean most assuredly.

So when the studio execs were sitting around the office trying to decide who could possibly helm a Summer movie tie-in with the following Summer’s The Avengers, how did Kenneth Branagh end up on the short list of guys you would think of to helm a special effects laden, fight scene coreographed, hammy acted, comic book movie? Sure, he’s the first guy I think of, but we’re talkin’ studio hacks here. These are the guys that keep giving M. Night Shymalan money to piss away. The only thing that I can think of that would sway these guys to choose Kenny, is that he would be cheap. I mean, c’mon, when is the last time he made a film the masses went and saw? Better still, when’s the last time he directed anything good? Now, don’t get me wrong. I like Ken – as an actor. As a director he doesn’t impress me.

 

What?! But what about those Shakespeare movies?

Exactly. Shakespeare is the auteur on those pieces. Ken’s just a conduit. I’ve mentioned elsewhere about my feelings on constantly bringing Shakespeare to the screen.

 

 

Now, all that aside. What’s my initial reaction to Thor? It was OK. Nothin’ extra special. Coulda been a lot worse (Fantastic Four anyone?). We’re dropped right into some action as Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgård, and Kat Dennings are chill-axing in their truck out in the middle of  the New Mexican desert. Ya see, they’re scientists, and Nat is trying to show Stel some evidence of wacky atmospheric readings she’s come across. Just when Stellan is giving Natalie the obligatory “You so crazy, Natty” talk, our plucky comic relief, Kat Dennings, spots some goings on in the sky. So like any responsible scientist from a Discovery Channel show, they race towards the unknown dangerous looking atmospheric disturbance in their regular, un-reinforced, SUV. Out of nowhere (well, the Bifröst, or Rainbow Bright Bridge) appears a pedestrian walking on the wrong side of the road. And like any distracted LA Celebutante, Natalie hits him with her car. However, unlike a distracted LA Celebutante, she stops and gets out of the car to make sure she didn’t kill anyone. And so we are introduced to the mythological god of thunder, Thor.

Now, instead of continuing from this “meet cute” moment, the movie relies on the old narrative standby, the flashback. Like the first Iron Man we go back in time to see how we got to this point. We get a history lesson in Asgard’s war with the Frost Giants, and we meet a bunch of our supporting God characters. Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Hogun (Tadanobu Asano), Fandral (Josh Dallas. LOUISVILLE REPRESENT!!), and Sif (Jaimie Alexander).

 

 

Now, I could talk about how CGI the CGI looked and how I felt Asgard looked like George Lucas leftovers from those war crimes he committed several years ago (also with Natalie Portman. hmmm).

 

Instead of that barrel of fish, I want to offer my opinion on the slight controversy that arose when the movie was in production. Apparently there was a small nerd contingent who were outraged at the casting of British actor, Idris Elba as Heimdall. Why the outrage you may ask? Apparently Idris Elba is black (actually, there’s no “apparently” about it), and his casting was an affront to Asgardian purists.

 

You see, the fictional Norse Gods were white, with flowing manes of flaxen hair (I heard no complaints about Sif being a brunette, but since they did that to her in the comics, I guess it was ok. Stan the Man apparently gets a pass. Excelsior!).

 

Is this casting along the same racist lines as hiring white actors to portray Native Americans (Boris Karloff as Seneca chief Guyasuta, in Unconquered), or getting Chinese actors to play Japanese characters (Memoirs of a Geisha)? I don’t think so. For one, Native Americans and the Japanese actually exist outside of mythology and comic books. Were people up in arms when Jim Caviezel played a mythological character from Nazareth? No. And he’s from fucking Mount Vernon, Washington. Hell, the only Scandinavian in the movie (Stellan Skarsgård) is the one not playing a Scandinavian God. You didn’t cry when a Welshman played Odin.

Here’s another question for you purists. Would Asgardian Gods have the technology for cosmetic embellishments, or gender reassignment? Can’t they be as vain and self-centered as Midgardians? If this were an attempt at making an honest telling of Norse legends, then yes, I would want accuracy. As it is, this is based on characters from the Marvel Age of Comics.

Ok, I think I’ve sufficiently shellacked the idiots, so let’s get on with my feelings about the movie itself.

Like I said, I thought the movie was ok. However, it felt kind of small. We were pretty much locked into a few locations. A street in New Mexico. A desert set in New Mexico. And the blue screen studio from any Zach Snyder POS (piece of shit).

 

 

I liked the actors in their roles. I especially liked Colm Feore as the frost giant King Laufey. I didn’t recognize him, but he’s always trustworthy to deliver the goods.

 

 

 

Ray Stevenson as Volstagg was also unrecognizable (I thought it was Danny Huston for a minute), but amusing.

 

 

I thought the standout in the cast was Tom Hiddleston as Loki. I’ve never seen him before but he had a real presence and depth. Rene Russo was completely wasted in her role as Thor’s mommy, Frigga. They probably coulda saved themselves some money and just cast an unknown from a community theater in Gloucester. Oh, and Chris Hemsworth was perfectly serviceable as the God of Thunder.

Now, here’s some stuff that annoyed me (apart from the CGI looking CGI):

1. Wormholes. I am sick to death of lazy hack “writers” throwing wormholes into their science fiction and/or fantasy stories. It’s as tired and lazy as using the phrase “off the grid,” or “…from Hell (RV from Hell. Grandma from Hell).” Stop it. Think of something new, or even better, just say you don’t know. Star Trek: Next Generation gave us all this useless technobabble bullshit that every American sci-fi tv/movie hack thinks they need to throw in their scripts to make them sound plausible (actually, it started before that when sci-fi writers wrote sequels to their novels and tried to explain the awesome tech in the original book). Ya know, if you explain how the magic trick is done, it ceases to be a magic trick. Only Penn & Teller are good at that.

2. Dutch angles. Did you watch Battlefield Earth one too many times, Ken? What’s with all the Dutch angles? Even when you had the shot composed in a level plane, you still would tilt it during the take. They became annoying.

 

3. Obvious ADR.Ok, this is really minor, but annoyed the crap outta me. There’s a scene where some awesome stuff is happening in the little New Mexican town and we see a mother and child walking down the street. The kid is pointing at the awesomeness and we pan up to the mother. Off screen we hear the kid say “mommy.” As if to say “look at that awesome thing.” First, that voice sounded too old for that little kid.

Second, they were both looking at the awesome thing, and the kid was pointing at it. It felt like what it probably was; a studio note to have the kid say something to emphasize that we should pay attention to the awesome thing. Bullshit.

4. End credit song. WTF was this. Why are the Foo Fighters in a comic book movie about Norse Gods? I highly doubt Kenneth Branagh was sitting at a table with his creative team and said:

Ya know what would put a cherry on this Sundae? The Foo Fighters.

This is the same studio crap that TV shows have been pulling for the last few years by inserting songs into their shows in the hopes of selling a tie-in album. I actually fast forward through most of these scenes because they feel tacked on an out of place. Ok, sometimes the songs are amusing.

Now if those are my biggest complaints, then the majority of movie goers will probably have a swell time. You could certainly do a lot worse (like almost anything with Kate Hudson in it, or a movie about Mel Gibson putting his hand up someone’s beaver). One more thing you should know is, skip the 3D version. It wasn’t shot in 3D, it wasn’t meant for 3D, and personally 3D still looks like crap to me. It still looks artificial and they’re a ways off from perfecting it. If you really wanna see a 3D movie, hunt down Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams.

Oh yeah, make sure you stick around for the least interesting epilogue from all these Marvel comic book movies.

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