FlixChatter Review: THOR

Summer blockbuster season has finally arrived with a thunderous bang. I can tell you right off the bat that Kenneth Branagh has set the bar for a highly entertaining superhero flick, not bad for a director known mostly for his Shakespearean works.

The gist of the story is this: A young warrior is stripped off his power (that is his powerful hammer Mjolnir) by his father for his disobedience and arrogance, and is banished from his home in Asgard to earth as punishment. Right away we’re introduced to three storm-chasing scientists on that fateful night when Thor falls to earth. Then the film swiftly gives us the rundown on the cosmic realm of Asgard, with Anthony Hopkins’ narration as the battle-weary and wise chief Odin, and the relationship of his people with the neighboring enemy, The Frost Giants. It’s a spectacular establishing scenes by Branagh, within a few minutes I’m already invested in their world and wanting for more. Though it may seem cheesy in the trailer, the world of Asgard with its shiny, pipe-organ-like skyscrapers look majestic and impressive in 3D.

The day Thor is about to be crowned king, a security breach prompts a reckless decision by the hotheaded warrior that inevitably re-ignites an ancient war, something Odin’s been trying to prevent. Thor’s impudent confrontation with his father lands him in a far away land we call earth, so the intro comes full circle when the team of scientists find him laying in the middle of the desert, all disheveled and discombobulated (perhaps the fact that he runs forcefully into an oncoming van might have something to do with it).

Total Film’s feature article on the film puts it amusingly enough, “Thor is part RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company), all OMG…” 😀 What a fitting description. Branagh puts his Bard-training to good use — the complicated relationship between Thor and his father and brother Loki, as well as the people on earth, are handled well. He also infuse witty dialog and draw compelling performances from his actors, whilst still delivering satisfying special effects for fans of the superhero genre. All the fight scenes involving the all-powerful Mjolnir are super cool and get people like me to revel in its inherent geekiness.

Branagh decided not to set Thor in ancient Vikings realm, instead opting to inject the comical fish-out-of-water scenarios during his temporary banishment to earth. Not to mention the kind of shenanigans the hammer-stuck-in-a-rock brings about to the sleepy town, which perfectly calls for a gleeful cameo from Stan Lee. It’s a pleasant surprise how well the Shakespearean tone in Asgard actually meshes well with the um, grounded scenes and dialog of the earthly creatures. My favorite part is when he smashes his coffee cup in a small town café while shouting, ‘Bring me another!’ The one-liners from Kat Dennings are a hoot, it doesn’t feel jarring or annoying. Even the usually-serious Stellan Skarsgård drew riotous laughter in much of his scenes.

I was skeptical of Chris Hemsworth in the lead role, having been disappointed by the relative-newcomer leading men in Clash of the Titans and TRON: Legacy. But I’m glad to say Hemsworth doesn’t disappoints here, not only is he more expressive than both Sam Worthington and Garrett Hendlund combined, he’s also got charisma in spades (apart from that shirtless scene, mind you). He’s also got a pretty credible chemistry with Natalie Portman, the workaholic scientist who practically goes ga-ga over Thor the minute she lays eyes on him.

The rest of the performances are great as well. Hopkins’s gravitas as the wise king is to be expected, but it’s Tom Hiddleston who’s the revelation here by infusing the conflicted Loki with the right amount of sinister undercurrent and dejection. He’s not your typical power-hungry villain, in fact, at times I can’t help feeling sorry for his predicament. Idris Elba is also memorable as Hemdall, the loyal guardian of the Bifrost bridge that connects Asgard with the other realms, including earth. If I have to nitpick however, Rene Russo is hugely underused here, and the two out of the four friends of Thor practically weren’t given anything to do.

I also have to mention Patrick Doyle’s affecting music. The classically-trained composer has worked with Branagh before on Henry V and Hamlet and his soundtrack of Sense & Sensibility is one of my all-time favorites. I really enjoyed the glorious-sounding music, definitely worth buying I’d say.

Lesson learned, never judge a movie by its trailers. I felt the same way about Iron Man 2 trailer but ended up really enjoying the film. Alas, the opposite was true for Clash of the Titans. The ending is so satisfying and naturally set up for a sequel. It doesn’t seem forced at all, in fact, Branagh gives us much to look forward to. Alas, I missed the post-credit scene at the theater, but my hubby found it afterward on YouTube. Let’s just say I’m now mildly curious about The Avengers as well.

4 out of 5 reels

If you’ve seen THOR, what do you think of the film? For those who haven’t seen it yet, are you looking forward to it?

This Just In! ET’s Four Minute ‘Thor’ Set-Visit Video

Last week, everybody was all abuzz over this photo of Chris Evans in Captain America costume, but frankly I’m I’ve never been a fan of the show when I was a kid. Well actually, neither was I on this Thor story, in fact I had no idea what the comic book was about. That is until I read that Kenneth Branagh is directing, and a slew of awesome cast is revealed that suddenly I was intrigued (read my Thor flix spotlight post for the plot/cast details).

Click to see the larger version
Chris Hemsworth in THOR costume

I hardly ever watched Entertainment Tonight as it’s mostly full of trashy and gossip-y stuff about pseudo celebs I’d never spend a minute paying attention to. But every once in a while we’ve got something worthwhile, and this one certainly is. WOW, I had no idea Chris Hemsworth was on Australia’s Dancing with the Stars show. Too funny! Natalie Portman herself was bemused, but the Aussie actor was rather proud of that fact, ‘… it’s much more prestigious in Australia…” He..he.. ok, we believe you, Chris! 🙂 Looks like another unknown rugged Aussie actor is plucked out of obscurity the way Sam Worthington was with Avatar.

Anyway, I wish they had shown more than a super brief glimpse of him in costume as the ancient God of Thunder, as well as Anthony Hopkins with his eye patch as his father, Odin. I was a bit baffled by the modern day setting (isn’t he supposed to be in ancient mythology world like Clash of the Titans?). Well, apparently according to this interview with Branagh, the epic will be split between the present day and the ancient world of Asgard.

At the center of the story is The Mighty Thor, a powerful but arrogant warrior whose reckless actions reignite an ancient war. Thor is cast down to Earth and forced to live among humans as punishment. Once here, Thor learns what it takes to be a true hero when the most dangerous villain of his world sends the darkest forces of Asgard to invade Earth.

This is what Branagh said on the subject: “Inspired by the comic book world both pictorially and compositionally at once, we’ve tried to find a way to make a virtue and a celebration of the distinction between the worlds that exist in the film but absolutely make them live in the same world,”

We’ll see how he’ll pull that off come May 6, 2011.