Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Thor is a film based on the character from Marvel Comics based on the character from Norse Mythology. The stories featuring the character are rich with history from both the comics and the mythology, and this film is as wonderful an adaptation as I could've hoped, of both the character I grew up with in the comics and the mythology I was introduced to by the stories of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Sure, in this film Thor's enchanted land of Asgard is another planet (or "realm") and it is hinted that they are not really gods but otherworldly beings, but I'm fine with that because, really, what are gods but otherworldly beings anyway? It served no real purpose to ground the gods from the comics and Norse mythology into a more solid science-fictional setting, but it didn't hurt the story any either. Nor do I care -- as some vocal critics on the internet clearly do -- that one of the Asgardians was Asian while another was an African American, especially not since that African American actor was my boy Idris Elba, who was totally awesome as the stoic gate keeper Heimdal.
The film's depiction of Asgard was mesmerizing. The mythical characters, sprawling castles, and otherworldly backdrop all looked as though they were ripped straight out of a Jack Kirby drawing. After the opening scene in the desert of New Mexico, the film's first twenty minutes or so take place on Asgard, introducing the Odin, Thor, and the rest of the mythical characters, and showcase the ongoing war between them and their enemies the Frost Giants. This opening sequence is so extraordinary, especially the battle pitting Thor, Siff, and the Warriors Three against the Frost Giants, that the later sequences on the planet Earth almost don't live up, and I found myself wanting more Asgard and less New Mexico. Luckily, there was still a lot of Asgard throughout, and the sequences on Earth got better and better as the story went along.
The story concerns a war between the Asgardians and the Frost Giants, as well as the war between Odin's sons Thor and Loki. Loki, the god of mischief (at least, in the comics. Here he was kind of just Loki the Undefined), hatches a Machiavellian scheme to have Odin step down as ruler, have himself placed upon the throne, and Thor banished and exiled to Earth, powerless, mortal, and stripped of his enchanted Uru hammer Mjolnir. If all of that sounds too much, don't worry, since it's actually just a coming of age story about a young man who learns to become an adult, set against the backdrop of a sensational setting full of action and spectacle. You know... just like a Marvel comic.
The cast was great, featuring Antony Hopkins as the main god Odin, who finds the perfect tone in his performance and, again, looks like he walked out of a drawing by Walter Simonson or Jack Kirby. Tom Hiddleston is very good as the main villain Loki, even though his role was underwritten, keeping his motivations and intentions somewhat muddled and hard to follow. Natalie Portman was also fine in the role of the romantic lead, being both very charming and beautiful enough to capture the heart of a God. However, other than wanting to look at her, does anybody really consider themselves a fan of Natalie Portman? Do people go to the movies just because she has a starring role? And does anybody really find her believable as an astrophysicist who lives in a tiny trailer in the middle of the desert in New Mexico? Rounding out the cast was the aforementioned Idris Elba and the always good Stellan Skarsgard. Oh, and I have nothing bad to say about Kat Dennings, other than that she wasn't in this film nearly enough, even though her character served no purpose at all.
Holding the film together was director Kenneth Branagh, who may seem like an odd choice considering he is best known for his Shakespearean adaptations, but the only other writer who compares to Shakespeare is Stan Lee... and I'm only kind of being facetious when I say that. Branagh is a director who has never shied away from histrionics or over the top theatrics, often at the expense of his non genre films, which is why he is so well suited to Shakespeare and, as it turns out, comic book adaptations. This film's story is Shakespearean in nature, and Branagh's experience and sure-handed direction ground the entire production in reality, giving the otherworldly setting a tone we could understand and the actors a sense of bravura that was both dramatic and authentic. This movie worked not only because it had a great story and a good cast, but because director Kenneth Branagh knows how to tell a story like this as well as anybody.
Thor was a nearly perfect film that proved that all you need to adapt a comic book into a great movie is to write a good script, hire a wonderful cast, put a talented, proven director behind the camera, and stay faithful to the source material. All of those things came together, causing lightning to strike, which is fitting because this film is about the Norse god of thunder. I'm just excited that I'm able to geek out about a Thor movie where I can mention things like his hammer Mjolnir, Heimdal, Odin, Siff, and other items and characters from Marvel lore in order to praise how they got it all right, instead of to complain about how they messed it all up. Thor was the real deal, and succeeds as one of the best comic book films of all time. Go see it because I want to watch a sequel.