CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THOR (2011)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(THE SCENE: A vast bridge made of multi-colored stones. MICHAEL ARRUDA and LL SOARES are walking across it, chatting, when they come across a large man in golden armor resting his hands on the hilt of a giant sword)
LS: Who the hell are you?
HEIMDALL: I am Heimdall, guardian of the Rainbow Bridge. I protect the way into the ancient city of Asgard, home of the Norse Gods.
LS: Oh that’s nice. You know where we can get a drink around here?
MA: Yeah, we’ve developed quite a thirst. We’ve been walking a long time now.
HEIMDALL: You appear to be two creatures from the human world of Midgard. You are not allowed to pass any further.
LS: Oh come on, man. We just saw the movie THOR, and we thought we’d check out Asgard. It looks like a great place to go on vacation.
MA: Yeah, it looks like fun. Do you have any amusement parks here?
HEIMDALL: Turn back, foolish humans. I knowest not how thou hast reached this place, but it is meant for the gods alone. Not for the likes of thee.
LS: What a friggin snob.
MA (to LS): I told you we should have gone to Transylvania.
HEIMDALL: Go back. Thou shalt go no further.
LS: Hey, what’s that? Looks like a bunch of unruly frost giants!
HEIMDALL (looks around): What? Where?
(LS and MA run past)
HEIMDALL: Huh? Where did those mortals go?
(LS and MA are suddenly in downtown Asgard, a city made of gold and jewels)
LS: So here we are, in the heart of the legendary city of Asgard, so we can do our review of the new superhero flick, THOR, in style.
THOR—if you didn’t know already—is the latest in the long line of superhero movies based on characters from Marvel Comics. This includes a multitude of heroes, from Spider-Man and the Hulk, to the Fantastic Four, Daredevil and Elektra. To, of course, the X-Men and Iron Man. Hey, that’s a lot!
MA: To say that Marvel has been on a roll would be an understatement. Not only have there been a lot of these movies over the last decade, but they’ve been high in quality. It’s no accident these movies have done well. They’re made well.
LS: Back when I was a wee lad reading the actual comic books, the most you could hope for was the occasional TV-movie, or television shows like THE INCREDIBLE HULK with Bill Bixby. And, of course, some cartoons. But it was a rare event indeed for there to be an actual theatrical film based on Marvel Comics. And when it did happen, it was something low-budget and pretty awful.
For a long time, DC Comics held the key to big-budget superhero films based on their characters, like Superman and Batman. But Marvel has finally caught up.
In a few months, we’ll be seeing CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, another classic Marvel character. And next year is the much-anticipated superhero team movie, THE AVENGERS, which will feature everyone from Iron Man and Thor, to Captain America and the Hulk.
MA: As long as they keep churning out quality products, I’ll continue to look forward to these movies.
LS: The latest release from Paramount and Marvel Studios is the story of THOR, the mighty Norse God of Thunder, who also happens to be a superhero.
THOR begins in the middle of the action. Scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is studying anomalies of weather, and is pursuing a strange disturbance in the atmosphere with her team: Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) —who I thought at first was her father, but who I guess is her mentor—and her assistant, Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings). They are following a strange tornado in a range rover, when they find a man in the center of it.
We then jump back in time to how he got there.
MA: Yet another movie that begins with a flashback. This is really becoming the trend these days, and I don’t like it. I wish these movies would start AT THE BEGINNING!
LS: I find it annoying too.
We then jump back to the city of Asgard – pretty much a world of its own – populated by gods from Norse mythology. The city is ruled by the one-eyed Odin the All-Father (Anthony Hopkins)— the king of the gods—and at first we see him telling his two young sons the story of how Odin and the warriors of Asgard were able to save the planet of Midgard (Earth) from the wrath of invading Frost Giants, and send them back to their own world. The war lasted for many years, and there is an uneasy truce between them. Odin’s two boys, Thor and Loki, are clearly in awe of their dad and both are being groomed to be his possible successor.
MA: Anthony Hopkins looks like he walked off the set of THE WOLFMAN (2010), put on some royal clothing, and entered Asgard.
LS: We then jump to when they are grown men. Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the cocky, charismatic God of Thunder, is about to be named the new king. His younger brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), watches from the sidelines. The ceremony is interrupted by a breach in the city’s security. Frost Giants were somehow able to get into the city and attempt to steal back the glowing casket that holds their power (a trophy the Asgardians brought back from their long war). The giants are thwarted by the Destroyer – a kind of living robot who is installed in the great hall to protect the casket – but Thor is still outraged that the giants were able to get past the security boundaries at all, and he wants to go to the Frost Giants’ world to punish them for their arrogance.
Odin forbids it. The threat was taken care of, and he is not eager to start another war. He says that Thor is not ready to become king, that his decisions are too rash, and the day’s ceremony is postponed indefinitely.
Thor sneaks off to the Frost Giants’ world anyway, and is joined by his close friends: the warrior woman Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander), and the Warriors Three, which are made up of the dashing swordsman Fandral (Josh Dallas), the Mongol warrior Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) and the mountainous Volstagg (Ray Stevenson). Loki tags along as well. They get there by being transported via a gigantic sphere-like contraption that works similarly to the transporter bridge on STAR TREK.
On the Frost Giants’ world, Thor and his friends almost start a full-blown war, until Odin appears and stops it. He takes his son and his friends back to Asgard, where he decries Thor’s arrogance and banishes him to the world of humans.
Soon afterwards, Odin falls into a long coma called “The Odin Sleep” which seems close to death, and Loki becomes the new King of Asgard. While up to this point, Loki has seemed to be a good guy, in awe of his brother Thor, it is revealed that, upon becoming king, he is not so good after all, and has an agenda of his own. When he finds out the truth of his birth (a story that didn’t make complete sense to me), it makes him even more determined to tear the world of Asgard apart.
MA: You’re sure going into lots of detail here. Maybe you should just let the folks watch the movie.
LS: I actually dreaded reviewing this one because the story is so complex, and involves so many characters, that it’s hard to give a concise synopsis.
MA: Try this on for size: Thor annoys his dad and gets banished to Earth. There you go. Let’s move on now.
LS: When Thor is banished to Earth, he is stripped of his powers and reduced to little more than a human himself. And his ascension to earth is the tornado that Jane Foster sees in the beginning of the movie. In the middle of the storm, her vehicle hits Thor, and she’s afraid she’s hurt an innocent bystander. It is later on that she realizes that Thor was the actual heart of the storm.
Meanwhile, Thor’s sacred weapon, his hammer Mjolnir, has also hurtled to earth. When it is lodged in a stone (much like Excalibur and the King Arthur legend), crowds of bystanders try to pull it out. But no mortal man can move the hammer. Only Thor can, when and if he redeems himself. The rest of the tale involves Thor trying to do just that. Redeem himself and regain his powers and the throne of Asgard. But he has a long way to go. Meanwhile, Loki has started unleashing much chaos on Asgard.
At one point, Sif and the Warriors Three arrive on earth to help Thor. And Loki sends the Destroyer down to kill him. Meanwhile, the clandestine government agency S.H.I.E.L.D, which fans of the IRON MAN movies will be familiar with, are on the scene, under the jurisdiction of Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg, also from the IRON MAN movies). S.H.I.E.L.D. – a kind of special ops CIA-type organization – is trying to determine what the hammer is, and what is the source of its power (energy readings of the weapon are off the map).
Throw in an brief appearance by archer Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), who long-time Marvel fans know better as the future Avenger, Hawkeye, and you’ve got yet another piece of the puzzle leading up to 2012’s big event movie, THE AVENGERS.
MA: Which after this synopsis is tomorrow!
Seriously, that was a very detailed and informative synopsis. You’re obviously a long-time fan of the comic books, so what did you think of the THOR movie? Did it live up to your expectations?
LS: Like most adaptations, there are both good and bad elements to the movie. But I had a good time overall.
MA: I did, too.
LS: First off, it’s got some very talented people involved, from director Kenneth Branagh, who made his name in adapting Shakespeare plays to the big screen, like HENRY V (1989) and HAMLET (1996).
The acting is pretty good too, from Anthony Hopkins to Natalie Portman, and solid actors like Idris Elba, Ray Stevenson and Stellen Skarsgard in smaller roles. But I guess the big question is, how does Chris Hemsworth work out as Thor? Is he able to bring the character to life? I think he does a good job.
In the comics, the character was much more serious, but Hemsworth seems so absorbed in playing Thor, that the times when we get laughs from his behavior in this strange new world actually seem pretty genuine. And not only can he act, of course, but Hemsworth looks the part, being extremely well-muscled for the job.
MA: Yes, I enjoyed Hemsworth as Thor too. I thought he both looked and sounded like Thor, and I especially enjoyed his scenes where he’s getting used to our life on Earth.
(Another armored warrior approaches them. This one is BALDER THE BRAVE)
BALDER: Halt! What art thou humans doing here in Asgard?
LS: BALDER! I have to admit, I was very disappointed you didn’t make it into the movie. Sorry to hear it, chap.
BALDER (lowers head): Yes, they cut me out of the script completely. I guess there were already too many characters.
(BALDER lifts his head again, and finds the two humans are gone)
BALDER: Where didst those rascals go now?
(We suddenly find ourselves in the royal throne room of Asgard)
LS: Where was I? Oh yes, Anthony Hopkins brings his regal bearing once again to the role of a fatherly monarch.
MA: I thought Hopkins just mailed it in here. There really wasn’t much for him to do with this role. I enjoyed him much more in THE RITE (2011) which we saw earlier this year.
LS: Yeah, I guess you’re right. He could have played this role in his sleep – which is ironic, since for a big part of the movie he is asleep.
I also missed some of the fun language from the comics. Thor and the Asgardians speak in flowery ways here, but long gone are the “thees” and “thous” of the old Stan Lee/Jack Kirby comics. And I never got to hear Thor say the immortal line “I Say Thee Nay!”
MA: Yeah, I’m real sad about that (rolls his eyes).
LS: Tom Middleton, the other crucial role here, is okay as Loki. Early on, I didn’t care for him, much. He seemed to be too earnest and actually a good guy – it would have been nice if he’s show potential for evil earlier—but once his darker side finally did come out, he turned out to be an okay villain.
MA: Yeah, if you’re watching SCOOBY DOO! I thought Loki was one of the weakest characters in the movie. I didn’t like him as a villain at all, and that’s major knock I have against the movie, that it doesn’t have much of a villain. I wasn’t that impressed with Middleton’s performance. I thought he made Loki rather wimpy.
LS: Like I said, he was okay, but not terrific. In the comics, Loki is a much more formidable foe. Where Thor is pure brute strength, Loki is one of the most powerful sorcerers in the universe. He is certainly a force to be reckoned with, in the comics. Here—not so much. But even in the comics, Loki always had his weasely side. Although there is a cool fight on the rainbow bridge between the brothers toward the end that’s not too bad. I also didn’t care much for the “secret” of Loki’s birth. I thought it was kind of lame.
The growing romance between Thor and Jane Foster is also a key component of the movie. Natalie Portman seems like an odd choice for a superhero flick, especially when she has been in much more arty fair lately, like last year’s BLACK SWAN, but she was also in the fantasy/comedy YOUR HIGHNESS last month, so she isn’t opposed to being in more mainstream movies.
MA: And don’t forget she was in the three STAR WARS movies, EPISODES I, II, and III as Padme, Anakin Skywalker’s wife and Luke Skywalker’s mom.
LS: She’s good in THOR, but she isn’t given very much to do here, except look at Thor with googly eyes. It’s definitely not one of her better roles.
And while I love Ray Stevenson (he even played another Marvel character – The Punisher – to great effect in 2009’s PUNISHER WAR ZONE), I thought he was a kind of a weak Volstagg. Not that it was his fault at all. His acting was fine. But in the comics, Volstagg is a gigantic, obese glutton of a man (and a hilarious story-teller, where he is always the hero in his stories). Whoever did the work on Stevenson’s costume and make-up did a shoddy job. He looks like Volstagg after a year on Jenny Craig, when he should be mammoth in size. And he could have been given a few more chances to make us laugh.
MA: I thought Natalie Portman did a fine job as Jane Foster, and I can say the same for Stellan Skarsgard who played her mentor Erik Selvig, and Kat Dennings who played their young intern Darcy. Now, none of them delivered what you would call Oscar caliber performances, but they were by far my favorite characters in the movie, and whenever they were on screen, I liked the film that much better. And a lot of this is because of their strong performances. So, I have to give them credit.
LS: I actually found Kat Dennings’ character to be rather irritating as the movie went on. And Portman and Skarsgard –two Oscar-caliber actors –are given pretty one-dimensional roles here. So I don’t agree that the earthbound characters are the best thing in the movie.
MA: Well, they’re a heck of a lot more fun than whiny Low Key— I mean, Loki.
I also enjoyed Idris Elba, who we’ve seen in several horror movies in the past few years, even though he was unrecognizable as Heimdall. It’s still a cool character, and he did a good job with him.
LS: Yeah, Elba is pretty much always reliable, and he’s very good here.
(Another large, armored WARRIOR enters the throne room)
WARRIOR: How darest thou humans enter the throne room of the mighty Odin! Prepare to die!
LS: We’re sorry, mister. We didn’t know this room was off limits.
MA: Yeah, it’s our first time here. We sure could use a brochure or a map. Would you happen to have one handy?
WARRIOR: There is no excuse for such arrogance!
LS: Hey, isn’t that Ulik and his trolls invading the streets of Asgard?
WARRIOR: What! (runs outside) Where are those dastardly trolls?
(LS and MA rush past him unnoticed)
LS: THOR was available in three different versions in theaters. In regular 2D, in 3D, and in IMAX. I saw the 3D version, which meant an extra $5.00 for glasses.
MA: I saw the 3D version as well.
LS: While the 3D effects did seem pretty good when the movie began, after a while, I pretty much stopped noticing. I’m not sure if it was because I just got used to the 3D, or if it was just poorly used here, and I only became aware of it again a few times during fight scenes. Overall, I thought it was a waste of money, and would have been just as happy to see the 2D version.
MA: I agree. To me, the 3D effects were most noticeable during the Asgard scenes. When the story took place on earth, I hardly noticed the 3D at all.
LS: And of course, as Marvel movie fans already know, you need to stick around until the very end – after all the credits – to see a “secret” scene that appears at the very end. Not surprisingly, this scene involves another appearance by Samuel L. Jackson as S.H.I.E.L.D. leader Nick Fury, and more clues about the upcoming AVENGERS movie.
So what did you think of THOR, Michael?
MA: I found THOR likeable enough. I mean, I certainly enjoyed watching it, but I thought it was an uneven film, and this lack of consistency prevented it from reaching the next level.
I thought the scenes on earth worked best. They were humorous, and I liked the pacing to these scenes. I enjoyed the characters—Natalie Portman’s scientist and her mentor and intern—a lot, and it was fun seeing Thor interact with the real world.
The scenes in Asgard, while visually impressive, lacked punch. They reminded me somewhat of the opening scenes on Krypton way back in SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE (1979), only those scenes happened at the beginning of the movie, while these Asgard scenes continue throughout the whole movie. There’s nothing really wrong with these Asgard scenes, but compared to the scenes on Earth, they’re rather flat and nowhere near as fun. It’s almost like two different movies.
The story’s likable enough. I like Thor’s story, and I think screenwriter Ashley Miller did a good job telling it, but again, the earth scenes are so much better. The dialogue is quick and witty, while on Asgard things are just more mundane.
The jumping back and forth between Earth and Asgard didn’t really work for me. I would have preferred an opening scene on Asgard, and then that would be it. I would have enjoyed seeing the rest of the story take place on earth.
LS: I don’t think it was as bad as all that. Asgard is a very important aspect of Thor’s story and belongs here.
MA: Then they should have done a better job writing these scenes. Thor and his Asgard buddies are about as lively as a bunch of Jedi Knights huddled around Yoda, while the Earth scenes have spunk.
LS: I actually liked most of the scenes in Asgard. While I like Portman, I didn’t think Jane Foster was all that compelling a character. So I’m glad it didn’t take place exclusively on Earth.
MA: I wasn’t that impressed by Kenneth Branagh’s direction, either. While the film looked good, I thought it was short on impressive action. I thought the best action sequence was the fight between Thor and the Destroyer, which I found exciting and well-staged. But the rest of the action I thought was average at best.
And while the scenes in Asgard do look good, it’s difficult to come out and state unequivocally that these scenes are “stunning” because as good as they look—and the city and the bridge do look terrific— they still look like CGI animation, and it’s just not the same as looking at a remarkable set built for a movie like this. It’s just not the same.
Still, I thought THOR was fun. It was lively, energetic, and colorful. It’s also fun to watch these Marvel movies as they make their way towards the inevitable AVENGERS film coming out next year.
So, I liked THOR, but it didn’t blow me away. I give it two and a half knives.
LS: I thought it was a good superhero film, at least as good as the IRON MAN movies, and a worthy addition to the Marvel pantheon….
MA: I liked the first IRON MAN better.
LS: …..but I didn’t love it. I thought it was overstuffed at times and would have appreciated more gravitas. I expected something dramatic and powerful from Kenneth Branagh, but this was pretty much his version of a fluff piece.
I give it three knives.
MA: I almost gave it three knives, but I also found the ending and the climactic battle between Thor and Loki lacking. Had it been stronger, I would have rated this one higher.
So, that about wraps things up. Now, what?
LS: Let’s go there! (Points to a restaurant sign that reads, VOLSTAGG’S ALL U CAN EAT BUFFET) I’ve worked up an appetite.
MA: Sounds good. All right, folks, we’ll see you next time with a review of another new movie.
LS: I can’t wait to down a case of that Asgard Ale!
© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
Michael Arruda gives THOR – 2 and a half knives
LL Soares gives THOR – 3 knives