Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Thor: Hammering Home a Winner

After a storm of speculation, and a queasy feeling that Marvel Studios was a one-hit-wonder production house, the 2011 flurry of summer hero movies explodes onto the silver screen with the debut of the Mighty Thor.

*Spoiler Alert!* As of the posting of this blog, Thor has been out for a good three weeks so we aren't withholding any details in this post. Sorry.

Continuity with the Marvel (Comic Book) Universe

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): The mythos of Thor transcends the single point of view seen in Marvel Comics. In fact, I remember seeing “Thor” in a few issues of All-Star Squadron and a few issues of Supreme (DC Comics and Image Comics respectively). The Thor mythos can appear anywhere, but the best known and greatest rendition of him comes from Marvel Comics, where Thor has become a well established and pivotal part of the Marvel Universe. With over forty years of material to build from, I found it interesting that the writers were able to incorporate enough of the history to make the movie true to the character, even if it wasn’t exactly true to the comic book.

ARTH VADER (AV): You know it's kind of fitting that our first-ever posting is this movie. Thor is a first, in many ways. A first for a movie of Marvel's lesser-known heroes. The first obscure hero film to showcase mythology and the first Marvel 3D effort. Marvel (super-hero) movies have produced a mixed bag of results for an array of reasons but I will say I was pleasantly surprised with Thor overall.

TP: I too was pleasantly surprised Arth. Very few movies remain an absolute mirror of the comic it’s made after and Thor is certainly no exception. There were enough of the main elements of the book present that not following the comic exactly wasn’t an issue and didn’t take away from the entertainment value of the movie, from a fanboy point of view. The Warriors Three and Sif made appearances, although I personally missed Balder, it didn’t detract from the story. Thor not transforming into Donald Blake actually worked for the silver screen as we were being asked to take in so much, that having to swallow that would have been too much.

AV: Initial thoughts were this movie was going to be a train wreck and while I highly doubt we will be talking about it when the Academy awards come around, Thor did do an admirable job of inserting itself into the new Marvel on-screen continuum. This movie was fun! Additionally, seeing other soon-to-be known heroes, like Hawkeye participate with the story was cool. It was a lot like Iron Man 2's sporting Scarlett Johansson's leather-clad Black Widow, the Thor story is thick with implications. Even the hints of S.H.I.E.L.D. "... carting away a brilliant Gamma Scientist..." whets the appetite nicely, don't you think, Mr.P?

TP: Yes...and I’m hungry for more! The movie stayed true enough to the source material that it didn’t need to be an exact replica of the source. Being cast down to Earth to learn humility while Loki was left to his machinations and schemes of ruling was a perfect “nutshell” of how Thor came to be known as a hero of Earth, as well as what he regularly has to face in dealing with his half brother in the comics...made into his adopted brother in the movie.

Casting, Directing and Acting

ARTH VADER: It's hard to dispute the casting in this movie. While I never tire of seeing V for Vendetta's Evey, ...uh,I mean Padmé Amidala, ... uh I mean Natalie Portman, I didn't quite "get" her role. There is real chemistry between the Black Swan and Thor actor Chris Hemsworth (yes, I'm going back to the gym after this post!), but I don't really grasp her story significance much past that of "love interest." That said, I thought the casting was solid. Hey, let's face it, if you had Reneé Russo and Anthony Hopkins as your parents, you'd be pretty bad-ass, too

THE PONTIFICATOR: The casting for Thor was superb and Chris Helmsworth was a perfect choice for Thor as he was able to play into the role and deliver a believable performance of the arrogant Thunder God thrust into the modern world, having to come to terms with who he is, without the benefit of having access to all he is. Anthony Hopkins delivered a larger-than-life performance as Odin, bringing serious presence to the character. A surprise screen-stealer was Idris Elba as Heimdall, not because he isn’t a great actor...he is, but because of the incredible presence he had on screen was, by all accounts, minor but came through with major force. It wasn’t even worth contending that Heimdall isn’t black in the source material.

Thor, Odin, and Loki
The directing of Thor was excellent and I really had no complaints other than the tight camera angle of some of the action sequences which made it hard to follow exactly what was happening...especially with the dark overtone that some of the sequences took place under. It’s hard enough to focus in a dark room looking at a dark screen without the added challenge of quick, unfocused movements happening in rapid succession.

AV: For me even the casting of Loki worked. A somewhat unknown actor to me, Tom Hiddleston, was a solid God of mischief. That's probably a good thing given his role in coming movies. The casting of Jamie Alexander as the sultry SIF gets a solid ... uh... thumbs up and the comedy relief of the Warriors Three was terrific. Best of all, Stan Lee's cameo is classic!

Special Effects

The special effects for Thor were excellent. I saw the movie in 3D and although I don’t think it took full advantage of all three dimensions, the movie looked visually incredible. I was ducking for cover during the Captain America preview when Cap threw his shield at me (and I suppose the whole audience, but I was too busy ducking) and I expected many such similar experiences when Thor threw his hammer. Oh well..maybe next time.
A high-flying Lady Sif attacks The Destroyer
ARTH VADER: I think I have been waiting since age eight to see THOR spin that hammer into a blinding wheel of churning meteorological frenzy, causing lightening bolts to fly. Or watch as he tosses trusty Mjollnir at a legion of oncoming baddies and seeing it plow through every jaw bone on the battlefield and then come screaming back to it's master, "if he be worthy." There is a certifiable cheese-ball effect moment in the movie; it was Thor flying in a storm. In one sequence he looks like an action figure held on a wire reminiscent of the super-8 movies I made when I made as a kid.

TP: They had comics when you were a kid Arth? After reading hundreds of Thor comic books, I can say, unequivocally, that Asgard looks a million times better on the silver screen than it ever did in the books. The visuals of Asgard are absolutely stunning and positively breathtaking. The realm eternal stood out, and then stood even further when juxtaposed with small town USA. I had some trepidation about the costumes as I pictured them among regular people in the modern setting, but seeing Asgard put everything in perspective as the costumes fit perfectly with the visual cascade of awesomeness that was Asgard. By the time the costumes made their way to Earth, it was too late...they had already garnered a sense of belonging and had gained acceptance despite the setting.

AV: Asgard however, while a bit overdone, was beautifully rendered. The Bi-frost (or Rainbow) bridge looked great. However, the best looking sequence was the battle with the Frost giants early on. Dark, foreboding and saturated with a ton of SFX and a score of action shots, the movie pretty much unloaded it's best scene in the first 30 minutes. The Destroyer and even the fight sequences with S.H.I.E.L.D. were fun but offered little compared to the first battle. Odin's mighty horse, Ygg, appears in the end of the sequence and is masterfully rendered as well. All in all, very impressive VFX.
A frozen Heimdall and two Frost Giants
TP: Thor is full of vibrant colors that stun the senses and enchant the eyes and still comes with a hail of debris from huge encompassing explosions. I was particularly taken with the rainbow bridge and was pleasantly surprised that they were able to pull it off. Although not the “Lucky Charms” rainbow seen in the books, such a look wouldn’t be believable and simply wouldn’t work with the environment created onscreen. The alternative, a solid crystalline bridge with rainbow colored elements woven in and throughout was absolutely perfect.

Taking a deeper look

Thor does have it's shortcomings to be sure. The Hollywood-esque dialogue and ongoing attempts at an implied sense of impending doom is never quite realized, let alone fully explained.

While my esteemed partner in critique may disagree, the witty banter between Thor and the 'Midgardians' (us Earth folk) is entertaining but I kept thinking to myself "this is cute... but so what?" What's more, I never saw Loki's plight as a negative. Me: "Dude, you are the adopted son of the Lord over all in a kingdom of Gods, Warriors and insanely cool technology. What is the problem exactly?" Also, while I want to say I knew what was going on in this movie, I really just didn't. Thor fights Frost giants? Cool! Why? Because they want a little blue box in the palace? Oh, ok... Thor is banished to Earth without his powers? I thought I was tuning into a suer hero movie? Odin slips into the "Odin Sleep'? Is ... is that bad? What's next? Thor slipping into the "Thor sleep?"

THE PONTIFICATOR: I think movies that display a healthy and balanced mix of drama, comedy and action often do the best in theaters since such a movie has something for everyone. It appeals to a broader audience and, if done correctly, makes for a movie that borders on perfection. I think it’s a fabulous formula when applied to a super hero movie. Thor had a great deal of action, especially in the beginning and had a good deal of drama as it explored the relationship between Thor and Jane Foster as well as Thor and the troubled relationship he had with father, Odin. It also was not lacking in the comedy, although none of these were in equal amounts, the comedy was sharp and came at just the right times in the movie to send you off into out-loud laughter and create the illusion of a near perfect movie.That said, yes Vader...I disagree with your misgivings.

AV: Hmm. Well, to each his own, Ponty. While Thor is a solid movie and a much better experience than I would have thought (at least given initial reviews), I did have a hard time following the story. The very transparent movie-studio pacing was a little annoying for me. Also, the lack of anyone else even speaking in Asgard beyond Thor, his family and friends, made the "Realm Eternal" seem like a giant stage for fun and the happy-go-lucky mishaps for him and his buds. This ultimately makes Asgard feel fabricated, cold and not very interesting. I would almost want to horse around with the Frost giants' realm than hang in Asgard.

Looking ahead: Sequels

It’s usually easy to watch a movie and see exactly where there is room for improvement. Those improvements can come by way of story, actor, casting, directing and special effects. With Thor, looking for the flaws and exploring for the gaps that, when filled, would make for a better movie is no easy task. The fanboy in me can look at every single point where the movie diverged from the comic book and say “ah ha”...but making those “corrections” in most cases would detract from the movie, not improve it. The only real improvement that could be made is to lose the tight camera angle for fight sequences...and that goes for all movies, not just this one.

Hammer Buds: Thor & Beta Ray Bill
ARTH VADER: Given the quality of the story and the popularity it seems to have garnered with audiences, it appears likely that Thor will have another installment. Clearly [Marvel] super-do-gooder movies are here to stay. Since I am a sucker for any movie starring someone in a cape or armor, I will be there! That said, I pray Marvel can avoid the 'sophomore slump' of Iron Man 2 and keep Thor 2.0 as light and engaging as the first. It's no secret that once Hollywood writers stray from the comic book source material, unwatch-able movies like Spider-Man 3 emerge to torture starry-eyed movie-goers.

TP: We are told that we will see Thor next in the upcoming Avengers movie...but that will not be my topic of discussion for the next thought on a sequel...I’ll let that movie stand on its own. I will say that with so much comic history and so many stories and characters in the Thor mythos as Marvel Comics has presented it, I would frown upon seeing Loki in a Thor sequel that follows this movie...especially with Loki playing a key role, it seems, in the Avengers movie.

AV:The world (or rather the nine worlds) of Thor are vast. He has not only withstood the test of time (Stan "The man" Lee & Jack ""King" Kirby brought him to life in 1962) but in that nearly half century, Thor has amassed a huge cache of source material (can you say "Beta Ray Bill"?) and is a ripe, rich character with many villains, concurrent story lines and history. If I catch Ulik The Untammed, even in an unofficial script. I'll plotz!

The Executioner and Enchantress
TP: Instead of Ulik the Untammed, I would like for Marvel Studios to explore other villains such as Absorbing Man or the Wrecking Crew. Although these choices of villains might take away from some Asgard screen time, they could always go in the direction of the Enchantress which would set up for a great Executioner versus Thor showdown and they could even explore the realm of Hela...with either cast of villains. What I don’t want to see is what I’ve already seen, either regurgitated from a different angle or presented in the form of a reboot. There simply isn’t any need for it with all the history and material that has already been presented in the comic books.

That all said, it’s become a tradition to see the Stan Lee cameo...and that should continue...:-)

ARTH VADER Rates Thor: Well put, P man! So, final analysis – would I recommend Thor? You bet your Uru hammer I would! Fun story, great casting, decent effects and enough visual and fanboy in-jokes to last until Ragnarok, Thor is a movie for the whole family and delivers the action, even to unfamiliar audiences.

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Thor: Thor is a thoroughly enjoyable movie that took nothing away from the source material and brought much of it to vibrant life in spectacular fashion. The story was fantastic and told with excellent acting and stunning visuals and was presented in a format that mixed well enough to have something for everyone. This makes Thor a movie that has range, re-watchability and mass appeal earning it a healthy rating... of seven and a half, out of ten blocks busted.

AV: An overall colorful and fun – if not a little hokey – movie-going experience, I give Thor a solid eight Busted Blocks.
"Sequels Assemble!"
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