Sunday, May 8, 2011

Signal Watch Watches: THOR

There are going to be plenty of straight-up reviews out there of the first really big offering of the Summer Movie Season, so I'll spare you an attempt at all that.

1) Like many Marvel movies, I've only a cursory knowledge of Thor as he exists in comics. As a kid, the character just didn't work for me at all (I thought the same thing about Superman, so, natch), and never really grew interested in Thor. I'm not much of a swords'n'sorcery guy, and I just wasn't interested in the mix of faux-Shakespearean dialect and modern interpretation of myth. I would look at Thor in Avengers, and he always seemed oddly out of place, like seeing Chewbacca show up in an X-Files episode because it's all sci-fi.

2) I think my Kirby-adoration has given me a better understanding of Thor these days, and I've spoken some with CanadianSimon about Thor, and, frankly, I am trying to free up my budget to get my hands on some of the Walt Simonson Thor. It just sounds too good.



To cut to the chase, I generally liked the movie. Its the first superhero movie I think I've seen outside of the first two Spider-Man movies since the 00's-era CGI-fueled resurgence of comicbook movies that very clearly saw how super-heroics are supposed to look and work, even moreso than Iron Man or Iron Man 2.  I credit director Kenneth Brannagh with knowing how to embrace the scope of epic superhero battles as well as the smaller (and often funnier) moments.

We're here to chew bubblegum and scenery, and we're all outta bubblegum..!
Once you get past the visuals, the challenge of the movies is that there's a tremendous amount of information to convey and a lot of proper names, etc... have to get repeated so you'll know what they're talking about later in the movie.  Its maybe not as fluid as Lucas's "oh, let's just dump them in there and they'll adjust" method of dealing with exposition, but its all nifty enough that I think its fairly easy to get with the program.

The movie operates (a) in a realm of make-believe that is going to turn off a lot of the same kinds of movie-goers who look at movies like Lord of the Rings and roll their eyes. (b) It also isn't shy about wanting to present the characters as deities, and thus there's a sort of operatic, over-the-top craziness to how important all of this family infighting and falling in love, etc... might be to the world at large. The sets, dialog, big capes on major characters and general tone of the movie convey all of the grandiosity pretty well. And it certainly makes the contrast between Asgard and Nowhere's-Ville, New Mexico all the more stark.

Thou shalt not hate yon playa, thou shalt RUE THE GAME!!!
Now, keep in mind:  I like Superman.  I like Jack Kirby's New Gods.  I am totally happy with grand-opera set-ups with characters having larger-than-life motivations and talking about crazy-made up things and basically behaving as icons more than characters.  This sort of thing isn't going to sit well with everybody, and I get that.  I suppose you see this sort of thing in sandals-and-swords epics, but it plays very, very large rather than the sort of Machiavellian, character-based stuff you might see in, say, Game of Thrones, which is also concerned with rights of ascension, etc...  At any moment, a lady in a golden bra and winged helmet could have wandered out and started belting out riffs from Der Ring des Nibelungen, and I would love that, so...  you know, your mileage will vary.

The plot itself worked just fine for me, but occasionally I had issues with pacing and would have liked to have seen certain portions of the script less rushed (ie: Odin's decision to send Thor to Earth).  Really, that's going to be what keeps Thor from jumping to a certain level for me.  The script needed characters to be in one of three places throughout the film, and it didn't always handle the transitions gracefully, nor did it (despite the insistence on the grand scale) seem to really want to take the royal family and the pomp and majesty with which it was suggested Asgard operates and manage it in a way that I thought might have made a greater impact. I don't disagree with family squabbles having cosmic consequences, but it seems like there should have simply been more, uh...  throne room talk, exiling ceremonies and whatnot.

As I mentioned, I'm not a Thor reader, but I liked the casting.  I think this is the first time in years it looked as if Natalie Portman was enjoying herself in a movie, Kat Denning took up the appropriate amount of space as her unenthused research assistant, and Sif and the Warriors Three all seemed well suited.

Anthony Hopkins as Odin is a bit of "well, who else are you going to hire for this?" bit of casting, and, hey...  I liked him.  After staying up way, way too late to watch the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair on basic cable last night, Rene Russo as Frigga was criminally underused (but isn't she in general?). But as a movie-goer, I was not familiar with Thor actor Chris Hemsworth, nor did I know Tom Hiddleston who more than ably plays Loki and makes him surprisingly sympathetic.

In many ways, this is going to be the first real test for how a Superman movie can fly (pun intended) with audiences when the next Superman movie supposedly hits theaters by December 2012.

Although called "The Warrior's Three",  they didn't count the beard nor the ever-present Sif

Thor may draw upon some different mythology from Superman, but both feature:
1) Flying guys in blue with red capes
2) Heroes who are supposed to smile easily and often (with no mask)
3) A lack of street vigilantism, ie - the issues at play are going to be on a sort of cosmic scale
4) Action sequences that are just going to have to be 95% CGI to get anywhere close to the fight sequences from the comics
5) Love interests intended to keep their god-like protagonists grounded and tied to humanity
6) Space-Father Issues
7) Asking the audience to suspend their disbelief more than saying "the cool thing is that Batman could be anyone",* and really accept a character with powers that don't come from technology or money or an accidental twist of fate (ie: radioactive spiders) as the core of the premise
8)  A character who isn't particularly driven by DARK VENGEANCE

While not doing as well as, say, the latest Fast and the Furious installment**, thanks to the fact that there isn't endless pop culture navel-gazing about Thor, its interesting to see that people were willing to turn up in respectable numbers.

On the scale of Marvel movies, I've seen some reviews that said "this is the best one" and some saying "this is the worst one".  Look, I'm not sure I've actually missed any Marvel movies except for the recent edition of Punisher.  Its probably not as good as Iron Man or Spider-Man 1 or 2.  But its not the visual toxin that was the first two Fantastic Four movies, nor the "I have no idea how this got made" so-bad-its-good Nic Cage-fest of Ghost Rider.  Its a solid entry into the Marvel Universe of movies, and likely as good a Thor movie as we were likely to get.

Oh, and, yes, this fits very neatly into the sprawling movie universe being established for the the upcoming Avengers movie.  And a first appearance of a fan-favorite character in something slightly larger than a cameo.  Lots of SHIELD related stuff, and callbacks to Iron Man, etc...  and, of course, stay for the post-credits Avengers tie-in.

I'd have been okay if the movie had been all about Thor's stabby pal, Sif
*This argument always seems to boil down to the person making the argument that they are under the impression that if they put down the Cheetos and game controller for an hour a day and went to Gold's gym (you know, and they would if they really wanted to), their keen-mind, natural athleticism and sense of justice would make them pretty much the same as Batman.   I have read and watched literally thousands of Batman stories.  Frankly, I find the idea that an alien would look like a human defensive end and wear a red cape more plausible than anything having to do with Batman.

**seriously, humanity?  AGAIN?
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