Thursday, May 5, 2011
Last night I took advantage of living in Los Angeles to see a sneak preview of the latest superhero flick Thor. If you are enough of a geek to be following these things (and I am) then perhaps you already know that Marvel Comics is trying something rather cool. Their superhero universe is a complex, interlocked place more grounded in the (so-called) real world than their chief rival, DC. With the success of such films as Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, they began setting up a future project--a film about Marvel's premier superhero team, the Avengers.
Said Avengers movie should start filming any day now, with Joss Whedon at the helm. Squee with me if you like.
Continued effort went into this film, making it part of a greater continuity. We once again see SHIELD (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division) agent Coulson, as well as a shout-out to the Hulk and a funny quip referencing Tony Stark. More, we see another SHIELD operative named Barton whose weapon of choice is a compound bow and arrow. There's also a fun little coda at the end, after the credits.
Kenneth Branaugh (whose Henry V remains one of my favorite Shakespeare films of all time). The look stuns with its gorgeousness, especially an actual translation into physicality the often-outlandish designs iconic to the comic book's Asgard. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) traditionally wears a particularly impressive and unrealistic outfit, with horns extending almost a yard in front of him--yet in the film this looks is recreated just enough. We recognize it. Yet it looks realistic. No small feat. Ditto the regal armor of Odin Allfather, Heimdall, the Destroyer and others.
Very importantly, good actors play all these roles. Relative newcommer Chris Hemsworth plays the lead, and if he seems less accomplished or mature than Tony Stark or Bruce Banner--he is supposed to be. Indeed that makes up much of the story. As a great fighter and heir to the King, he behaves far too much like the star quarterback in high school. Genuine qualities of courage and leadership mix with arrogance, impatience and a certain amount of greed. He needs to grow up, and his father (played splendidly by Sir Anthony Hopkins) forces matters after his son almost single-handedly starts a war. Stripped of his powers, and his enchanted weapon, Thor falls to Earth. He soon hears his hammer fell not far away, but learns the hard way the truth of what his father said before hurling it after him--only one who is worthy may wield the hammer. Unlike Excaliber, having the right genetics means nothing. It all depends upon your character.
Thor himself is found by a scientist named Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), which makes for a nice updating. In the comics she was a nurse. Her function in the tale is as a guide to this stranger in a strange land, as well as a friend/love interest as he realizes how his own folly has led to this personal disaster.
Here frankly is also the film's greatest weakness. For the whole middle of the story, Thor is supposed to be growing up--a lot--as well as falling in love. One doesn't quite believe it. Almost. But not quite. No complaints about the acting. Hemsworth (looking rather like a more boyish, far less sinister Eric from True Blood) conveys a lot of personal shock, sometimes by doing nothing. Not the easiest thing to pull off. The pain in his eyes seems real. But--the film seems to need a few more emotional beats to let that aspect of the story sink in. Ditto the love story. One senses an attraction, but we don't really believe these two have fallen in love (although the idea that they might do so feels totally right).
Please note, these are nuances. What we see remains a riveting tale, with surprising twists throughout. Again, very fine actors in all the roles, including the splendid Colm Feore as King of the Frost Giants (he's also now a regular on the cable series The Borgias). Idris Elba does his usual wonderful job, in this case getting to play a character of great dignity.
But the real revelation is Loki--Thom Hiddleston's take on the God of Mischief proves refreshing beyond words. One can safely say he steals the movie, mostly by successfully concealing his real intentions from virtually everyone--including the audience. He makes for one of the most interesting and compelling "villains" in any superhero film yet--on par with (but nowhere near identical to)Heath Ledger's take on The Joker.
My bottom line--not quite as good as the first Iron Man. Very close, though.