by NIR SHALEV
Comic book (or graphic novels or what have you) film adaptations are popping up quicker than good new comics can be written. Therefore, it was a good idea to look back at the famous, or just plain good comics that their fans love, to try one’s best to adapt them into film, and to please everyone in the end. Most adaptations of Marvel Comics materials are plain terrible (Daredevil, Elektra, Hulk and The Incredible Hulk, etc.…), but some work terrifically. Thor is part of the new wave of comic book film adaptations that are terrific; films like Hellboy and Hellboy 2, Spider-Man 2, Batman Begins, Iron Man, and The Dark Knight.
Kenneth Branagh directs this film adaptation of Marvel Comic’s The Mighty Thor, and indeed he is mighty. Dressed in armor, a winged helmet, and a hammer that is stronger than any other weapon in most of the known realms, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the son of Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins), is the god of Thunder. But unlike the original Norse myths, this comic book version portrays a character with a personality and an ego that’s even bigger than his own realm.
At the start of the film, we are shown a battle that took place a very long time ago between Odin and his army and the Ice Giants, who’d lost the war and were banished to another realm for eternity. When Thor comes of age, he is crowned King of the realm of Asgard but just before receiving the crown, intruding Ice Giants appear in Asgard. Their arrival is a mystery and Thor, his massive ego, and his posse travel to the realm of the Ice Giants in order to destroy them once and for all. A short but immense battle ensues and upon their return, Odin is so furious at Thor’s complete lack of respect and ability to obey orders that he appropriates all of Thor’s powers and statues as king and banishes him from Asgard, dropping him down to Earth in a thunder storm.
Once on Earth, Thor is befriended by a group of scientists led by Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) and who are accompanied by their intern Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings). Thor also quickly figures out that his powers of super strength and flight are gone and as he tries to find his hammer and a way back to his realm, comedic undertones take over the overall feel of this epic actioner.
The reason why the comedic undertones appear after Thor lands in New Mexico is because the first act of the film is directed and acted like a Shakespearean tragedy; a hallmark of actor/director Kenneth Branagh’s. Branagh allows the Gods to appear as mere men and women with moral dilemmas similar to ours and in turn, we are treated to a terrifically acted piece of fantasy that we are drawn into from very early in the film.
The main attraction of the film is the story of a God who’s so full of himself that he must (literally) fall from grace in order to learn humiliation. But he has the capacity learn humiliation because he’s worthy of being a god after all. No matter what side stories arise (it’s inevitable there’d be some mention of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers Protocol), the main concept is what the film’s all about and it works very well.
All of the performances in the film are excellent save for Natalie Portman’s, who I don’t believe had managed to pull off a normal, boring character without seeming boring in general. Also Kat Dennings was pure comic relief, which doesn’t take a lot nowadays to pull off. Chris Hemsworth is terrific in the lead role and will surely be trusted to star in other films. His charisma shines in every scene, along with his tall height and enormous bulging muscles, and he pulls off Thor as expected. He pulls off the ego and attitude with great panache, worthy of a Viking God, and physically fits the role of an action star. Hopkins is allowed to overact in a Shakespearean actor sort of way and delivers a powerful performance (especially in the scene where he removed his son’s powers).
And how could I forget Loki (Tom Hiddleston)?! Loki is Thor’s half brother, always quiet and obedient, but is also a skilled warrior that can fend for himself rather well. He is crafty and sneaky, just like the mythical Loki, and Tom Hiddleston performs the character mostly with his eyes, which is very hard to pull off. One can tell that Loki is always jealous of Thor, and his temporary status of King of Asgard, but Loki knows how to hide what he really feels. That performance is also excellent.
When Jon Favreau’s Iron Man (2008) came out, it felt like that distant cousin we have that visits every few years but is always welcome because they’re fun and exciting. It was relatively flawless as an action film and as a comedy and every aspect of it made it great. Thor is another Iron Man of comic book film adaptations. Old school in its approach of a three act story structure, it has the great look and feel of a Shakespearean tragedy, a great cast, and it has magnificent special effects. Whenever in Asgard, I felt like I was actually on another plane of existence. The costume and set designs are of a fantastic realm but they work in the way of convincing us that we’re on Asgard. Nothing ever looks, feels, or sounds silly throughout the duration of the film and this is one film that I could easily watch again simply for the scenes that take place on Asgard.
Branagh was indeed the perfect choice as the director and he managed to get the most out of the actors that he’d worked with. This is top notch, beautiful looking and sounding filmmaking and this is a terrific way to spend one’s weekend. I can’t wait to revisit it on Blu-ray.
3 1/2 stars
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