Monthly Archives: May 2011

My Ten Cents On: Thor

Ladies and Gentlemen, the next member of the Marvel Avengers franchise has finally hit the big screen, and he’s got a giant hammer and a sick six-pack. Ever since staying behind to catch the post-credits segment of Iron Man 2, I have been waiting for this blonde, blued-eyed, brutal behemoth to take over the screen. The hype was so strong, in fact, that I was worried that it wouldn’t live up to it, that Iron Man set a bar so high that none of the other movies could match up to it. Well, I saw the movie, and I’m glad to say, my worries are all over.

Thor, for those of you who don’t know, with powers of super-strength, near invincibility, flight, weather manipulation, energy absorption and projection, as well as wielding an awesome hammer, is arguably the most powerful superhero in the Marvel Universe. It was no surprise then, that Marvel would choose to give him a movie. The movie follows the God of Thunder‘s fall from grace, being cast out of Asgard, powerless, and dropped on Earth, and his quest to get back to his former stature. I have to say, I can’t wait to get into the nitty-gritty of this… So I won’t. Let’s dive in.

+ Thor

Ladies, thank me later. He does look a lot like what Thor would look like though.

Allow me to give a bit of a backgrounder on the comic book character. First off, this isn’t the original Thor. With the release of Iron Man, Marvel shifted its movies into what is known in comic books as the “Marvel Ultimate Universe“. the Ultimate Universe is a re-imagining of these classic Marvel superheros (all-new origins, all-new plots). It allows the comics to introduce these characters to a younger generation without having to go through the Marvel canon and all the stories dating back to the 70’s. So for example, you could read the Spiderman without having the baggage of Peter Parker already being married to Mary Jane Watson, or the infamous Gwen Stacy storyline in the 70’s. The Ultimate Universe gave all the superheros a face-lift so that the old characters could be rebooted and re-done to be much more identifiable to the younger generation.

Riding on that, Marvel decided to use these new, updated versions of these characters as the basis for their movies. This is evident in the fact that they’re rebooting Spiderman, they already rebooted the Hulk, and the biggest thing, is that Nick Fury is Samuel L. Jackson. Nick Fury was originally a grizzled, old, white soldier with an eye-patch who led shield after years of working in covert ops along side the likes of Captain America since World War II. In the movies, and in the Ultimate Universe, he’s Samuel L. Jackson… with an eye-patch. I’m not even kidding. When the Ultimate comics came out, in the year 2000, eight years before they released Iron Man, the artists chose to make Nick Fury a total badass by drawing him up based on sketches of Samuel L. Jackson. And the fact that the man himself, Samuel L. Jackson is Nick Fury in the movies, points that simply, this isn’t your daddy’s/30+ year-old comic book geek’s Avengers.

So why did I go on that tirade? Well, simply put… The original Thor is boring as hell. He’s got no personality, and he just flies around helping people. He does it as a servant of Odin (his father), and blindly fights for justice. I never picked up a Thor comic book growing up. The Ultimate Universe revamped him, and basically made him awesome. Of all of the Ultimate characters, he is the best one (and he’s the only Ultimate character who is better than the original. Sad to say, Ultimate Spiderman, Ultimate Fantastic Four, and Ultimate X-Men needed a lot more work.) In the Ultimate Universe, Thor is a rebel. He wants to solve problems with his fist, having a lot of combat skills but absolutely no sense of tact or diplomacy, and eventually that’s what got him kicked out of Asgard.

This is the Thor we see in the movie, the most powerful being in the Marvel Universe being a total bad-ass. the beauty came with a fact that, once this character lost his powers, there was so much room for his character to develop. That was the number one reason for Thor being a plus. You could see his character grow from the grown up equivalent of a kid who throws tantrums when someone takes his juice box, to a guy who realizes the responsibilities he carries with his power. I hate seeing static characters, I always prefer characters who would grow throughout the movies. (that was my biggest problem with Iron Man 2)

That being said, I wouldn’t say that Chris Hemsworth did an amazing job. I mean, the guy looked the part (really well I might add, that is what I would envision Thor looking like), but there were times, especially when he looked angry, where he was just over-acting. Don’t get me wrong, for a virtual unknown to come out and act opposite professionals like Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins is not an easy task. But for a main character, he did tend to over-act once in a while. Thankfully, the movie played out in such a way that his own acting wasn’t such a vital role.

+ Natalie Portman

Guys, sorry about the abs a while ago, here's Natalie from Attack of the Clones, enjoy!

Its no secret that she’s one of my favorite actresses right now. Though I do find those bombshells sexy, I’ve never been fully invested in those “I’m-so-incredibly-hot-I-don’t-need-to-act kind of girls in movies. I’ll blame this on my film buff nature, but if placed side-by-side with girls like Natalie Portman or Charlize Theron, Megan Fox would be the last person I’d gawk after. (Okay, maybe aside from Jessica Alba, she’s a special case. :P)

Anyway, Natalie Portman does a great job in this movie, being given the role of the damsel who isn’t really in distress, Jane Foster. Jane is a head strong, passionate, independent woman, much like Pepper Potts in Iron ManBetty Ross in The Incredible Hulk, and Mary Jane Watson in Spiderman. But unlike them, her character isn’t totally screwed by becoming utterly helpless once the bad guy lays a hand on them. I’ve always been peeved at the writing-up of these women, who appear so strong on the onset, and yet their first instinct when being abducted is to flail and shout and call for their hero. I understand that in the earlier history of superhero comics, these women were meant simply as trophies for the superhero to win. It was a different time back then. But don’t create strong female characters now and then suddenly turn them into the trophy girls at the touch of a villain. Its demeaning, its sad, and it takes away from the credibility of the romance.

That being said, Thor isn’t bothered by that superhero cliche. This is one of the reasons why Thor feels a bit different and refreshing for me. It isn’t a deeply philosophical work (like for example, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight) but it doesn’t feel like a regular old superhero flick. Natalie Portman, plus the writing of her character, Jane Foster, had a big part in that.

+ Story-telling

This is the other big reason. If you really think about it, the movie doesn’t have too many action sequences. There are 3-4 action scenes, and as a whole, they take up relatively small screen time. This movie was so much more focused on the character development of Thor. It was if the movie was saying: “Alright audience, you know the guy’s ultra powerful, we don’t have to show it again and again. Lets just focus on his internal growth, because that’s where the real action is!”

And you know what, its right! Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Norse mythology had deeper meaning, reflecting the values, key characteristics, and the moral, logical, and emotional processes that people went through in those days, and in many ways, superhero comics serve as modern-day mythology. And just as how The Iliad was about Odysseus‘ cunning, Hector‘s familial love, and Achilles‘ courage, rather than simply their fighting prowess, Thor was much more than bashing people’s heads in with a giant hammer (though he does do this a few times).

Thor was centered around the interactions between the different characters, more through dialogue than through fisticuffs. And the cool thing was, aside from a couple of moments, you were never really bored by the dialogue. You know you have a good superhero movie when the plot can still be told without any superpowers being shown.

I have to say that these three successes alone make the film so much worth watching, but I wouldn’t do the movie justice if I didn’t add the person who chose the path the movie would take, and the man responsible for all these decisions on the characters, and the story-telling.

+ The Director

Yes. Gilderoy Lockhart directed Thor. As if you needed another reason for it to be awesome.

The movie is directed by the very amazing Kenneth Branagh. If the name sounds familiar, Kenneth Branagh is an award-winning actor known to most of my generation as playing Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. He also happens to be one of my favorite actors, playing a huge wealth of characters over his career. Being a former member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the founder and head of the Renaissance Theatre Company (whose principal sponsor is none other than Prince Charles), this guy has a great background in acting. that plus his specialization in Shakespeare, and indeed directing and starring in several film adaptations of Shakespearean plays, makes Kenneth Branagh incredibly skilled in making conversations dramatic, interesting, and the high points of his movies.

You could kind of see that Shakespearean quality in Thor as well. Just like how Macbeth‘s big speech before going completely insane is the actual climax of the play, not the major fight (which we mostly just hear about), Thor‘s fight scenes aren’t the focus of this movie, and even with that, Branagh’s direction was able to make the movie comparable in fun and thrill as Iron Man, which has considerably much more screen time devoted to action. Mr. Branagh, I salute you. You did a kick-ass job. There are a few things you could have done better, but you rocked that director’s seat.

– The Fighting

Its a good thing Marvel let Branagh focus on the narrative, because for how good he is there, he isn’t that great in shooting action sequences. The first fight scene you get a taste of is so dark that you can’t really see whats going on. Maybe it was just the 3-D glasses, but I had a hard time following the action sequence. I wouldn’t say the fighting in this movie was bad, rather, I’d say that it was simple and forgettable.

The fight scenes had some crazy angles, half of the fight scenes I had to tilt my head from side to side in order to follow the action, as if I were watching this ping-pong game. I could understand maybe a couple of stylized shots to add emphasis here and there, but if you do it for everything, it just looks weird, like writing WHOLE PARAGRAPHS IN ALL-CAPS AND ENDING THEM IN EXCLAMATION POINTS!!! It just loses its flavor by the fourth word. The action lost a lot of flavor too.

In fact, my favorite action sequence in the movie (which took place in a little town in New Mexico) didn’t have a lot of choreography and actual fighting involved. It was the most entertaining one, since you could piece the fight together pretty well. But as far as action sequences go, it was really pretty simple.

It wasn’t a big part of the narrative, so its not a big problem for the movie, but it was an area for improvement.

– The Subplot

Okay, so to try and weave around any spoilers, I’ll try and make it brief. Asgard, for the longest time, was at war with another group of beings from another world. So long story short, this rivalry keeps popping up throughout the movie, to the point that it actually adds to a twist in the main plot near the middle and end of the movie. the thing is, it actually doesn’t lead anywhere, and seems like such a needless addition. Its like when you’re hungry, and half of your plate in that fine dining restaurant is a floral arrangement for presentation. Its great, pretty even, but it doesn’t have any substance, nor does it help fill up your stomach. The subplot was a decorative flower where the condiments should have been.

*Side note: stay after the credits.

My Cent’s Worth: 8/10

Great movie, fun to watch, and watch again. 3-D not necessary to enjoy this one. Plus Natalie Portman for the guys, and Chris Hemsworth’s abs for the girls. Its got a little something for everyone.