Saturday, May 7, 2011

'Thor' hits nail with above average comic book action, dialogue

By Steve Crum

Comic Book 101 states: “In the DC Comics universe, an alien force/superhero is transported to earth (Superman) as a safe haven. In the Marvel Comics cosmos, an alien/superhero (Thor) is banished to earth as punishment.” So the creators of Thor envision our planet, particularly the New Mexico desert where Thor lands, as a galaxial Abu Dhabi.

That pseudo-definition sets the premise for Thor, the latest in an ongoing long line of Marvel hero flicks. Prepare for the onslaught since creator Stan Lee claims there are 5,000 different characters owned by Marvel. For my loose change, Thor was always the clunkiest of all the Marvel characters. This is because Thor is basically a mythological muscle guy who totes a large, planet-shattering hammer.

Thor evidently impressed Kenneth Branagh, who fondly remembers reading the comic books as a boy, and then leaped at the opportunity to direct the film version. The result is an above average comic book-based film with--no surprise--Shakespearean shadings. Branagh’s background has notably been as director-star of several movie versions of Shakespeare’s plays. Thor’s costumes, grandiose sets, and mannered delivery mirror the Bard’s work. This is not saying Thor is another Henry V (also directed by Branagh). After all, Thor’s screenplay (by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stenz and Don Payne) is pretty simplistic, basically good versus evil. The good is symbolized in Thor, the evil are the ice warriors, the scary freeze terrors of deep space.

There is a whole lot of transporting in Thor, from the celestial kingdom located at the top of the universe to the frozen land of Jotunheim (ice warrior central) to planet earth, and back and forth. Thor and his friends are shown as blurry images, hurtling through space at warp speed.

The story opens in the New Mexico desert where fellow astrophysicists Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), and an assistant are driving while investigating strange goings on in the sky. They nearly collide with something that has just exploded just in front of them, and a human-like figure hits the side of their vehicle. It turns out that the explosion, causing a crater, is Thor’s power hammer, Mjolnir. (Yes, the hammer has a moniker. Think King Arthur’s Excalibur.) And that is Thor (Chris Hemsworth) himself, now stripped of his armor and cape after being banished from his outer space home, who runs into the side of the van.

It seems that King Odin (Anthony Hopkins), Thor’s father, was on the verge of bestowing his crown on Thor when Thor broke a treaty and sneaked off to seek vengeance on Odin’s enemy Laufey, who is ruler of the frozen land of Jotunheim. So Odin punishes his son by hurtling him to earth. This leaves Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) as heir apparent, which is where the plot proverbially thickens like a bomb pop. Jealousy and the yearning for power factor in.

Back on Mama Earth, the embedded hammer, Mjolnir, resting in the center of the crater it created, has been sealed off by SHIELD, earth’s super secret intelligence agency. At the same time, Odin has evidently suffered a stroke, and is near death as his wife Frigga (Rene Russo) grieves. This all gives brother Loki, who has ice guy genes, opportunity to act out his dark side with Laufey who wants to rule the galaxy.

It does not take long for Thor to adapt to humans, and his fondness for Jane is reciprocated. Thor re-teams with his homeland pals, and gets to fight a gigantic, laser-zapping robot sent via Laufey. Incidentally, the sequence in which Thor’s friends stroll down the center of the street of the small, New Mexico town just after arriving is a ringer for the memorable scene in Superman II wherein General Zod and his two buds stroll down a small town’s street. However, Thor’s pals are town-friendly.

All said, Thor is above average movie eye candy. It is preferably viewed in 3-D, even though there is no spectacular, out-of-screen imagery. Nonetheless, Bo Welch’s opulent sets and Alexandra Byrne’s costumes dazzle. Branagh’s direction, as well as the writing, which includes an abundance of intelligent dialogue sequences (for a comic book), are a plus--as is the acting overall.

Thor is not as clunky as I recall, not at all.
GRADE On an A to F Scale: B