Sunday, April 26, 2015

Review: "Thor"

Do I even need to do the full Review?

First it's like this....

The before pic.
But then it's like this.

The after pic.
But I guess I can elaborate.

Fathers and sons, thrones and exile, etc. This film is basically all of Shakespeare thrown in a blender. There's some of Hamlet's daddy issues, Richard III's jealousy issues of his brother becoming king....

And other themes....
But let's talk about the three major ones.

Nature vs. Nurture
Thor is a boisterous warrior, not a thinker. And that's his nature. And this film explores whether or not such a reckless young man could reign that in enough to become a worthy leader. But at the same time, there's definitely a similar thing going on with Loki. As a natural-born Frost Giant, Odin tried to tame the darker parts of his that were more like his true father, Laufey, thoguh he ultimately failed.

So in a way, the film actually argues for both sides of the Nature vs. Nurture debate, culminating in a final answer of "Maybe."

Pretty ironic for a god to be guilty of hubris, huh? And yet, here we are.

Thor sees himself as better than the Frost Giants ans wiser than Odin, leading to his downfall in classic tragedy. But at the same time, Loki has the same issues. Unaware of his own faults, he keeps trying to prove his own greatness to Thor as well as Odin, ultimately failing.

Nobody's Perfect
In the end, each character had their own faults and merits.

Thor, while headstrong and foolish, was absolutely right. The Frost Giants were mobilizing. Loki, while vain, was right about Thor not being ready for the throne. And Odin, while generally wise, made many mistakes over the years, like the uneasy peace with the Frost Giants as well as how he kept the truth from Loki. It's an interesting situation where no character is entirely in the. That is, until Loki starts attempting genocide.

But there are so many more Shakespearean elements that I could bore you forever with. But long story short, this is probably the richest story in the MCU yet with the most complex (but not hard to follow) character dynamics. I absolutely love it.

As an Adaptation
I don't usually do this, but I feel it's important to note with this film.

Being an adaptation of the comics, the mythology of the film bears little resemblance to the original myths. But in some ways, more than the comics. This movie blends both the myths and the comics together, while reimagining the Norse not as gods, but long-lived humanoids.

Not only does this make it easier to swallow there being "gods" in the same world that Iron Man lives in, but it allows them to write off any inconsistencies as errors in the human myths. In the myths, for example, Odin sleeps around. It's easier to count the gods who aren't the bastard son of Odin. Loki is not Odin's adopted son, either, and everyone knows he's a Frost Giant. But as a point in the movie's favor, it doesn't make Loki a god of fire. A lot of modern interpretations do that because they're mixing up "Loki" with "Logi," a different figure. And most importantly, in the myths, the throne of Asgard, Hlidskjalf, is Odin's. In real life, it's probably Stan Lee's.

It was nice of Stan Lee to let the filmmakers borrow his favorite chair for the film.
But all in all, details like Odin's lance, Gungnir, or his twin ravens appear as background nods to the myths, which actually can make this movie a fun Easter Egg hunt for Norse mythology fans.

Thor might be muscley, but he's not dumb. And that's an important thing to note. When he really tries, he can understand the strange, Earthly customs. He knows that Frost Giants breaching the vault is an act of war, but doesn't know how to react.

Thor acts first and asks questions later. It's only when he learns to slow down, shut up, and think that he becomes a hero. (Ironically becoming a bit more like Loki in the process.) Thor's change is facilitated by finally learning what honor is. It's not simply glory in battle, there has to be compassion. And it's only when he finds something that he would die to protect that he earns the right to fight back.

Thor breaks down when he can't list the hammer. And when Loki tells him that his father's dead, all he can do is stare in shock. Like Iron Man before him, Thor had to lose everything else before he could lose his ego. Basically, Thor has to change from being the hotheaded Thor of the myths to being the heroic Thor from the comics.

And on top of the themes and arc of the character, Chris Hemsworth is enjoyably hammy. He can shout with the best of them and shows that Thor clearly has an eye for theatricality.

Darcy Lewis
I really don't understand all the hate Darcy gets. She gets most of the good lines, Kat Dennings delivers them well, and she's a breath of fresh air. Erik is eager to get rid of Thor, Jane's curiosity keeps getting the best of her, and Darcy acts as the voice of reason for both sides. And as a poli-sci major, she can have the scientific bits explained to her so the audience knows what the more science-oriented characters are talking about.

Sure, she might be everyone's cup of tea, but I thought she was a great addition to the film.

Erik Selvig
Alexander SkarsgÄrd is the "Spock" to Darcy's "McCoy." He's a lot more rational than either of them, but he's also a bit closed-minded. He's the first one to give up on finding the atmospheric phenomena, and he's the naysayer who keeps naysaying on Thor. Which is why Darcy acts as a necessary balance.

Jane Foster
I have... issues with Jane. But they all manifest in the sequel. And I have to be fair to this movie, so I can't judge the character by the sequel. For now.

In the comics, Jane Foster is a nurse. And Thor falls in love with her because his alter ego is Donald Blake, the doctor she works with. But here, there's more of a mutual crush between them instead of any sort of "true love." (Of course, the sequel... will have to wait and be judged.)

Natalie Portman does a fine job. The character as written is a little bland, but Portman infuses Jane with a balance of professional determination and schoolgirl giggliness. And this works in perfect balance to what Erik and Darcy bring to the table. Darcy is full-on emotion, Erik is full-on science, and Jane is the balance between the two.

And I have to say, I love how gung-ho she is about science. What's that? Thor's on the other side of the galaxy with no way to return?

Although, to be fair, she fails. But ssshhhh.... That hasn't happened yet.
In every single frame he's in, Idris Elba shows us why he's Heimdall. Heimdall is the sole guardian of Asgard... and Idris Elba makes you believe that this guy can fend off an army. I honestly believe that if it weren't for a certain green-clad trickster, Heimdall would have been the breakout character. Except perhaps Darcy.

The sanguine one. The "Gimli" of the group, if you will. Unfortunately, lack of screen time means that he's kind of just "the fat one." Still, I don't think Ray Stevenson minds, since the role let him step out of the failure of Punisher: War Zone, somewhat.

The swashbuckler, though lack of screen time, again, reduces Joshua Dallas's character to almost a stereotype. Appropriate, considering he was based on Errol Flynn, who played the same swashbucklers over and over. There's a cut scene where who goes over to some Asgardian maidens and asks which one wants to "polish his sword," if you know what I mean. Alas, that and many other character-building scenes for various characters was cut.

Silent but deadly. He rarely speaks, but every one of his lines is important. And if you thought Tadanobu Asano got the shaft as Hogun in this movie, wait until you see the sequel....

Girl power to the max. Now, in the original source material, this fierce she-warrior is Thor's wife. And seeing as how her character is pretty much just a lady who likes to be one of the guys (although Jaimie Alexander does a fine job), she's pretty much only here just in case the audience dislikes Jane and they need to promote Sif to girlfriend status in a sequel.

Jaimie Alexander: "[...] But there is a reason that we sort of subtly hinted to it in the first film. Just so that there is a door. If we want to go through that door, we can. They like to cover all their bases at Marvel."

But again, like the Warriors Three, she doesn't get much time to really shine as a character in her own right.

But she got ample oppurtunity to gaze at Chris Hemsworth's chest.

Jaimie Alexander: "Oh no, I would always go up to him like, 'Hey what's up how you doing?' slapping him on the chest. Sometimes my hand would linger a little too long, or I would stare at him and they were like, 'That's okay, you’re just in character.' And I was like, 'Yeah...that’s why I'm doing it.'"

Anthony Hopkins was very divisive. A lot of people thought he played the role with little visible effort. But remember, Odin was nearing the Odinsleep for the first part of the movie, growing wearier and wearier. If you think about it, it's probably amazing that Odin stayed awake for as long as he did.

There are very subtle clues that Odin loves his sons. If you watch, it utterly breaks his heart when he has to send Thor into exile. He's forced to watch as his own son disowns him, while still wanting his approval.

Anthony Hopkins plays Odin as an old, universe-weary god. Odin wants a successor. But he doesn't have one just yet, despite about a thousand years of raising his son. And that would take its toll on anyone.

Though she might not be in much of the film, Rene Russo gives a quiet presence that echos Loki, in a certain way. Sure, she might not talk much, but when she wields a blade against the Frost Giants who enter Odins room, you know she means business. It's easy to tell what bits of his personality Loki got from his adopted mother.

Colm Feore plays the role with such quiet menace, that it's easy to think that he'll end up as the main villain of the piece, which helps Loki's backstabbing almost seem like a surprise. And of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Laufey was Loki's mother in the comics. Although, Loki gave birth to an eight-legged horse once, so maybe like father, like son?

Agent Coulson
In the face of the armor of the gods, and even the gods themselves, Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson is still pretty much as unflappable as ever. Best of all, upon realizing that all the Asgardians had named weapons, he decided to name Coulson's Glock 17 "Glockenspiel." Never change, Clark. Never change.

Jasper Sitwell
Maximiliano Hernadez joins Team S.H.I.E.L.D.! And while he's not exactly... memorable, he brings a different vibe to the role of S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent than Clark Gregg does, which workd when you pair them together. It's little wonder the character would return in Marvel One-Shots, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and beyond.

Well, I think that's everybody!


Yeah, I know. I just wanted to rile you all up for a second.

Come on, let's get into it.

Holy. Crap.

No one expected Loki to become so popular. But why wouldn't he? Tom Hiddleston is pretty nice to look at, he gave a charismatic performance, and the character was really sympathetic compared to the myths and comics.

But... I'm sorry, Loki fans. He's a villain. An out-and-out villain.

Not only is this film about Thor becoming a hero, it's about Loki becoming a villain by learning to assert himself and take what he wants (becoming more like Thor).

While letting Frost Giants into the vault to stop Thor from becoming king is a bit dubious, he knew that Odin would stop them. But when Thor ended up banished, he seized his opportunity. Unfortunately, the revelation that he was a Frost Giant kind of... warped his mind. On the commentary, Branagh calls it a "cataclysmic" discovery.

Suddenly, his priorities intensified. Since he wasn't Odin's "real" son, he needed to prove himself even more, which was the motivation for tricking Laufey into his own demise as well as destroying all the Frost Giants to finish what Odin had started. But this means that Loki was completely willing to commit genocide.

He's not a misunderstood hero, or even an anti-villain. He's a genocidal tyrant. And when he returns in The Avengers.... let's just say that his family turning down his attempt to impress them did not mix well with the beautiful horrors he witnessed in the cosmos.

Still, I have to wonder how things would have gone if Thor smashed the Bifrost with, say, the spear Loki was using instead of taking his hammer off of Loki.

"Okay... one, two.."
"...Well, looks like the dungeons for me. Still, at least I'll have my sanity."
But Loki's gradual turn to villainy is very well done. If you watch Loki's face every time somebody talks over him, or shuts him down, you can see the quick flash of boiling resentment that would lead to Loki's turn to villainy.

Though, to be fair, it's not like the other Asgardians are much better. I mean, consider their treatment of humans as primitive creatures. Heck, Odin left the all-powerful Tesseract there, probably because he thought humans were too stupid to ever use it properly. And so what if those primitives created a cargo cult based around the Tesseract? It's not like they're worth a damn. I mean, a hundred years, and they die. They're almost like germs.

It's subtle, but still there.

Beautiful. The architecture draws on a mix of Jack Kirby's artwork and classic Norse runes and symbols, and the abstract visuals of the Bifrost and the realms are based off of images from the Hubble. Or as Thor calls it, the "Hooble."

Should have sent a poet.
And the frozen lighting turning into a representation of Yggdrasil! And the runes left on the ground by the Bifrost so Heimdall knows where he left people!

But more than that, the way New Mexico is shot is brilliant. Kenneth Branagh uses a lot of Dutch angles (read: slanted angles) in order to make the Earthbound parts look like a comic book. (Take notes, Ang Lee.) But more than that, it makes Earth look weird. Which makes sense. Our protagonist is an alien. Seeing the Earth from his point of view allows us to understand his plight.

The level of detail in the shots was very impressive, too. Whether it be Stan Lee's bedless pickup out the window of the diner, or Darcy reloading her taser before they go get Thor, or even Fandral trying to work his charm on Darcy, there's always more to the scenes than you see the first time. I mean, if you watch the first half of the movie only concentrating on Loki's face, you can see that the guy is planning something.

And the cameos! Stan Lee, Walt Simonson, Ralph Macchio (the editor, not the Karate Kid), J. Michael Straczynski.... there's got to be some kind of record for comic writers in this movie.

Also, don't get me started on those costumes. The perfect blend of medieval/futuristic styling, futuristic materials, classic comics designs.... just... perfect. I mean, the level of detail!

Did you notice, for example, that Odin passed on a feature of his helmet to each son? Thor's helmet has Odin's helmet's wings, where Loki has the same horns as his father's helmet. The attention to detail is simply amazing.

God, I wish I could taste this movie.

And as a bonus bit of trivia, the Bifrost bridge was redesigned from being a literal rainbow bridge to Earth into something more akin to the teleportational Boom Tubes of the New Gods from Jack Kirby's work over at DC Comics.

From this...
To such staggering beauty. I mean... wow. Are those Kirby Dots?
S'alright. Foo Fighters' Walk was a nice touch for the bar scene, and Patrick Doyle's half-olden, half-contemporary orchestrations were wonderful, but at no point did I really listen to the music. While the music was good, it was simply overshadowed by the beautiful visuals.

Thor was received much better than Iron Man 2 was, because it actually told a good story on top of setting things up for sequels. The introduction of Loki, one of the most popular MCU characters, didn't hurt, either.

Best Actor: Tom Hiddleston
I hate to be cliche, but yeah, he did a darn good job. Like, seriously.

Best Character: Thor/Loki/Odin
A tie simply because these characters have amazing dynamics with each other. The motivations and actions of each character act in harmony with the actions of the other two to create a rich narrative.

Plus, I didn't think you all wanted me to say Darcy was the best character, and that was my other choice.

Best Line
Fandral: "This isn't like going to Earth, where you summon a little lightning and thunder and the mortals worship you as a god!"

Final Thoughts
What Iron Man 2 was supposed to do, Thor did. While some people will always insist that Iron Man is the best film in the MCU... I think this one just might be my favorite of Phase 1

It's a fun, surprisingly deep romp through magic and mystery and I absolutely love it to death.

Next time, we look at the star-spangled man with a plan. Which may or may not also be spangled in some fashion. See you then!

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