Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Hammer To Fall: Arturo vs. Thor!

It's going to be tough to really judge Thor until Marvel completes the franchise it's been building over the past few years - and that won't happen until we get through both Captain America: The First Avenger and, of course, the whole Avengers enchilada, mostly because this is as much a set-up piece as its' own story, something made very clear by the scenes both right before and right after the credits roll.

What we do get prior to that, though, isn't too shabby, and Thor succeeds in carving out its' own story. It's not as flashy as Iron Man and, thank goodness, not as self-indulgent as Iron Man 2, but most of the time, director Kenneth Branagh and the trio of writers behind the screenplay give just enough time to the title character, a man stuck between two worlds by his own forceful hand.


One key similarity, though, between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and the aforementioned Tony Stark, is that they're both Alpha Males at heart who are forced to learn how to dial that back - more bluntly, they have to stop being jackasses long enough to fully realize their potential.

But whereas Stark learns his lesson (sorta) trapped in the relative isolation of a cave, Thor has his power and rank stripped by a mournful father Odin (Anthony Hopkins, getting his Jor-El on) and is banished not just out of Asgard, but to ... New Mexico.

Like many an overconfident jock before him, Hemsworth's Thor goes from being the Golden Boy in his small community to literally being a man with no (accepted) name, a very small fish in a bigger "realm." The early scenes of Thor getting knocked unconscious drive Odin's point home as much as his ill-advised raid on the Frost Giants: without his privilege or his otherworldly gift, Thor is ill-equipped to handle life on its' own terms. At least, not without help.

Luckily for Thor, such help does arrive, in the form of Jane Foster, a scientist who stumbles onto - well, more like runs into him during his arrival. As Foster, Natalie Portman seems to do nothing but be stressing out most of the time. She's not bad at it, but it's never quite made clear why she's interested in the big blond, besides his pecs.

Oddly enough, the viewer gets to see more of Thor's gradual smartening-up than does the love interest. Give Hemsworth credit for conveying the appropriate importance to Thor's crucial encounters with both Jane's protective co-worker Erik ("I've seen how she looks at you") and his sibling Loki. When Thor is called upon to really become a hero, the moment is authentic. But most of his actual interaction with Jane involves vaguely-cheesy flirtations. Here's to hoping their relationship is really fleshed out over the course of future films.

Speaking of Loki, give the writers and Branagh credit for letting Tom Hiddleston ride this role across the Rainbow Bridge and beyond. The character's growth is just as steady as Thor's, but Hiddleston accomplishes his in an appropriately subtle fashion for the Trickster of Asgard. His Loki is all knowing looks and proper things to say, and, we come to find out, a set of motives more plausible than your average villain's.

So even if the whole isn't quite as much as the sum of its' parts, Thor manages to create interest for an eventual sequel. That is, unless it's rendered anti-climactic after the Avengers assemble.

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