Friday, May 6, 2011

Thor [2011]

MPAA (PG-13) CNS/USCCB (A-II) Mike Phillips (3 Stars) Fr Dennis (3 ½ stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB review
Michael Phillips review

Two things to say at the outset about Thor [2011] (directed by Kenneth Branagh, screenplay by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, and Don Payne, story by J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Protosevich), Marvel Comics’ latest comic book (by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby) to be brought to the big screen:

First, Thor is a movie that’d be worth spending the few extra dollars to see in 3D.  With rare exceptions (last year’s Avatar and more recently the documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams), I’ve generally thought 3D to be a gimmicky waste of money.  Five minutes into this movie, however, I was regretting that I let my "cheap Czechoslovakian heritage" ;-) get the best of me and not splurging to get the 3D experience here.  I say this because the scenes from Thor’s realm of Asgard and that of the Frost Giants must have been absolutely awesome to behold in 3D.  (Note to self and others: When a film is about an alternate world filled with sharplined objects like towers/skyscrapers or even icebergs, it’s probably worth the money to see this in 3D where available).

Second, OMG, can one think of _any_ actor or actress at _any_ time who’s had the kind of year that Natalie Portman has had over the last 12 months?  She’s been in FOUR films released over the last six months: Black Swan, No Strings Attached, Your Highness and now Thor.  In the course of the year, she’s gotten married and is about to give birth to her first child.  But what a way to bring the curtain down on one’s “young adult” years!  I don’t think that _anyone_ since Harrison Ford was cast in a relatively short space of time as both Han Solo in the Star Wars series and as Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark has _any_ actor or actress had similar good fortune in casting. 

Wonderful.  Now what’s Thor about?  The movie is inspired by Marvel Comics' Thor (appearing first in 1962), itself inspired by Norse Mythology, with significant updating and adaptations.  Thor, of course, was the Nordic God of Thunder (for whom Thursday or Thor’s Day is named).  The young and still arrogant son of Odin (in German Wotan, for whom Wednesday or Wodin’s Day is named) the King of the Nordic Gods, in the Marvel Comics' imagination, Thor was cast down to earth without his ability to use his prized Hammer until he became “worthy” of its power once again. 

In the comic book series, the period of time between his banishment and his redemption was much longer (10 years) than in the movie (a few earthly days) and the trajectory of his earthly life in between was more complicated.  In the comic he came down to earth as a cripple, who eventually became a medical student where he met his love interest Jane Foster a nurse.

In the movie, Thor (played by Chris Hemsworth) crashes down to earth somewhere in New Mexico, without his powers to be sure, but still as one heck of a hunk; good natured, immature, but certainly with a stop-you-in-your-tracks godly physique.  That’s how (in the movie) _astrophysicist_  Jane Foster (played by Natalie Portman) meets him.  She was out in the New Mexico desert with her team -- grad student (?) Darcy Lewis (played by Kat Dennings) and older, mentor-like scientist Erik Selvig (played by Stellan Skarsgard) -- in a RV-like vehicle searching for tornado-like “wormhole” phenomena, when suddenly such an astrophysical phenomenon does occur and out of the sky crashes, good ole Thor.  And Jane Foster, driving her RV like a tornado chaser, knocks him over with her car.

Knocked-out on the desert floor, this 6', flowing blond haired and bearded, nothing but pecks, biceps and six-pack abs, godlike stranger appears to be in need of help.  And Darcy “self-lessly” ;-) offers to perform CPR on him “I _totally_ know how to do CPR...”  Jane, who had grazed him with her car is there first however and she’s the first person that Thor sees when he wakes up a few moments later. Thus begins the rest of the movie in which Thor needs to be redeemed and then return to his realm of Asgard to help save his father Odin (played by Anthony Hopkins) against a plot perpetrated by Thor’s brother Loki (played by Tom Hiddleston) who set-up Thor for his banishment and then proceeded to try to take aging Odin’s throne for himself. 
And if scenes of Asgard and the battles with the frost giants on their planet of Jotenheim are Epic, indeed, Awesome [TM], the Thor’s time on earth are mostly _just plain fun_.  Afterall, here’s a good natured, but supremely confident (and for good reason, because he _is_ drop your jaw, turn women’s knees into mush studly) Norse God, Thor, strutting around some nameless hamlet in New Mexico (remember Roswell happened in New Mexico) without actually having much of a clue as to what to do.

In one scene, he enters into a pet store asks the attendant: “Get me your finest steed, fine man.”  The gum chewing teenager working in the store responds, “All we have here sir are dogs, birds and cats.” Somewhat bemused but still supremely confident, Thor replies, “Then get me a dog big enough to ride.” Jane catches up to him just before the now _really confused_ teen replies and offers to take him to where he wants to go with her RV.  

Then at one point, a group of Thor’s friends from Asgard come down to earth looking for him.  They look like the Barbarians of the Capital One Credit Card comercials.

All in all, I found the this movie to be _wildly entertaining_ ;-).

Given Thor’s Nordic roots, both the Marvel comic book series and the movie could have been “problematic,” as the Nazis used to be great fans of Norse Mythology and Richard Wagner.  Yet the trajectory of both the comic and the movie was one of Odin teaching Thor a lesson about self-control and, indeed, compassion/humanity (hence why Thor was sent down to earth).

I could count only one possibly racially problematic scene in which the blond and studly Thor wrestled with and defeated a very large African American U.S. Service-man as Thor first tried to recover his Hammer.  Discovering the Hammer, the U.S. army had put up a guarded perimeter around the hammer as it tried to study it.  The scene recalls the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indiana Jones trying to recover the Ark of the Covenant from the Nazis is confronted by a large brutish German serviceman who challenges him to a boxing match that Indiana Jones through some trickery and luck was able to win.

Yet, Thor was very well cast, with people of all races cast as various Norse Gods.  Indeed, the Guardian to the portal used by the Norse Gods to travel among the nine “realms” (Earth, Asgard and Jotenheim being three of them) was played by an African American.

Further, it is abundantly clear that Jane Foster of this movie is an independent woman, who’s clearly smarter than Thor but who’s attracted to Thor for his eye-candy physique and somewhat goofy personality rather than his “dominance.”  And the movie leaves open the possibility that _she_ will figure out (_on her own_) how to make it to Thor’s realm of Asgard before Thor figures out how to get back to earth.

While Thor will not be for everyone, I would imagine that teenagers and twenty-somethings as well as _anyone_ who’s ever liked graphic novels and comic books would probably like this movie.  I certainly thought it was an absolute blast ;-).

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