Friday, May 20, 2011

Thor: A lot of thunder, not much lighting...

I've been waiting to see Thor for a few weeks now as my father (who read all the comics when he was a kid in the 50's and 60's) really wanted to head out as a family to see this movie. And so we ventured out last night to see the movie, rushing to the theatre in time to catch the early non-3D show as none of those in attendance (including me) can stand 3D.

The promise of Oscar winners Hopkins, Natalie Portman playing pivotal roles in the film seemed to suggest that this one was going to be good.  What's more, with films like Captain America and The Avengers on the horizon we were sure to get a sneak peak at what was coming next in the Marvel universe.  This intrigues me.  As an avid comic reader myself (though not a Thor fan) I'm always hoping the next comic book adaptation isn't going to be ridiculous and may give rise to a solid franchise.  The X-Men franchise started off solid, as did Iron Man but both seemed to falter around film two and by film three X-Men had completely jumped the shark.  This phenomenon seems to consistently repeat itself with big budget comic book adaptations and for proof we need only look at the original Batman franchise.

The first Tim Burton lead film adaptation was a great success and is still a go to movie that I highly enjoy.  The second, though still enjoyable, was getting into some odd territory but the director reigned it back enough to make it watchable.  With the departure of Michael Keaton in the title role for film three, the producers seem to have decided that stuffing it chock full with as many big names as possible would solve the issue, bringing in Tommy Lee Jones, Chris O'Donnel, Alicia Silverstone, Jim Carrey & Drew Barrymore to round out the cast.  Not to mention replacing Keaton with Val Kilmer in a film that already had Nicole Kidman signed on as the female lead.  And as the franchise progressed it eventually arrived at the govinator himself as Mr. Freeze with poor Uma Thurman in tow (it's okay, she made it up to us with Kill Bill).  And so we reboot.

The first Nolan adaptation by comparison was smart, subtle and attempted to ground itself in a world of reality.  Bruce Wayne was arrogant, sensationalist, and most of all, only out for himself where the Batman was the absolutely picture of a psychotic break come to life but ultimately only wanted to save the world.  By harkening back to the way that writers like Frank Miller (Sin City) and Alan Moore (Watchmen, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) dealt with the darkness that drove this hero, Nolan managed to make a comic book adaptation that wasn't goofy or over the top.  Sure there was action, and there was some romance but neither was allowed to overshadow the story.  And when they had to do it all over again in The Dark Knight, they managed to craft a villain who was both believable and scary as hell (thanks in no small part to the brilliance of Heath Ledger in the role).

So what's a comic book franchise to do?  Many have sought out the Nolan model and are attempting to reboot their own franchises with X-Men: First Class and the new (second) Superman startup, Man of Steel by rooting them in the "real world".  But our titular film chooses to blaze its own way, much like its hero does through pure brute force.  Is that enough?

The film as a whole was fun, light and though the characters spent a good deal of time trying to make us feel the gravity of the situation, I found myself not particularly concerned about the outcome.  Perhaps it is the knowledge that when dealing with immortal characters the 'life or death' of it all is a little redundant.  Or perhaps it was the pacing.  While the film did a solid job of showing that each of the people involved had a character, the storyline itself was not well paced and items which would have explained a good deal of the character choices were simply glossed over or mentioned in passing.  Natalie Portman's character is apparently reeling from a breakup which has left her desperate to find some new breakthrough in her work (she's a physicist) but other than a name tag and a quickly mumbled "my ex" their relationship is never dealt with again.  What's more, by the end of the film, her life's work has quite easily become secondary to her interest in Thor.  Conversely, Helmsworth's Thor goes through an admirable change in character and a believable transformation from arrogant whelp to wary crown prince.  But although his acting makes it believable, the events within the film do not support this transformation.

Ultimately I think the film probably suffered more because of poor pacing and direction than anything else.  There was no subplot to speak of, which may be because in the back of our minds we know that the subplot to this film is the S.H.I.E.L.D. angle and the lead up to the Avengers movie. But what big budget film doesn't have a subplot?  That said, my parents really enjoyed it, so if you're looking for a light and entertaining summer blockbuster perhaps this is the one for you.

My rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars (mostly because of a great line about oversized pets about midway through)

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