Monday, May 2, 2011

Film Review: Thor (2011)

Kenneth Branagh's Thor has something to say about science and religion, but that's not what I'm going to write about. I'm glad that the film is friendly to naturalism, explicitly forwarding the view that so-called "magic" is natural phenomena that we don't yet have the science to explain, but this philosophical issue is not what's motivating my review. I just enjoyed the movie and I want to review it on purely cinematic grounds.

First, I'm not a comic book aficionado, and I knew nothing about Marvel's Thor going into the film. My expectations were based only on the fact that this is a well-received film adaptation of a comic book superhero version of Thor, and that it is directed by Kenneth Branagh and features Sir Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman. That said . . .

Thor is gorgeously filmed and well-balanced between action, drama and comedy. It's not flawless, but it is exceptional in many respects--far better than most superhero movies. In fact, I'd say it's an epic fantasy film and not a superhero film at all, though it plays with some superhero tropes and it is well-suited to tie in to superhero films (as it will in the upcoming The Avengers, which I'm thrilled to say is co-scripted and directed by Joss Whedon, of the woefully ill-fated Firefly series and other, more popular things).

Perhaps I was due for a bout of escapism, but I was enthralled by Thor. I had one of those rare movie-watching experiences where I realized that the film was probably about halfway over, and I felt a little sad because I didn't want it to be, and I hoped that the second half would be as good as the first.

It was. I left the theater ready for more.

The acting and directing are excellent. Chris Hemsworth is thoroughly believable as Thor and I can't think of anybody who could have done a better job. Hiddleston and Hopkins are equally perfect as Thor's brother and father, respectively. The whole cast is terrific.

One flaw in the film is Jane (Natalie Portman): She's drawn too shallow. Portman is enjoyable enough, and she and Hemsworth have chemistry, but her character is just not very interesting. In fact, the female characters are mostly weak. Jane's colleague, Darcy (Kat Dennings), is a third wheel, just there for often-forced comic relief (which is unnecessary, since there's plenty of genuine comedy elsewhere in the film). Thor's mom (Rene Russo) should have had a bigger role, too, but at least she's got heft when she's on screen.

Another problem: The antagonist (it's not a great mystery who it is, but I won't say it--I didn't know anything going into the film, which is how I like it) is pretty absurd in his plan and strategy. It's hard to believe any of it worked. More, his motives and emotions are a little confusing, and it's hard to accept that he would do what he did. He must be seriously disturbed, and there are hints at why, but it's not developed. Actually, the entire history of the character is hard to believe, too, but I can't say why without spoiling it a bit. The antagonist is still very interesting and compelling, and acted well enough that I didn't mind the problems so much--though they were noticeable, and they lingered in my mind after I left the theater.


Final, minor qualm: The attempts at scientific legitimacy fail miserably. It's not even clear what Jane's area of scientific expertise is supposed to be, or what her very important research is really about. She is researching meteorological phenomena at the beginning, which is never explained. Then she recognizes worm holes (or thinks she does) . . . by visible patterns in the desert sand. Ridiculous.

All in all, the film captivated me despite its flaws. Result: an enthusiastic thumbs up.