Thor (2011)

Even if the Norse gods existed long before Jack Kirby, they needed Jack Kirby to become as superheroic as they are.

Sometimes, a star is born simply through the wattage of their smile.  If anything, Chris Hemsworth will walk away from Marvel Studios’ THOR as a bonafide movie star.  He’s all broad shoulders, impossible abs, pearly whites, and, most importantly, charismatic swagger, recalling Brad Pitt at his most Brad Pittliest.  Natalie Portman, as Jane Foster (re-jiggered from a bland comic book nurse into a capable astrophysicist for the film), is putty in his hands, possibly the most gleefully, innocently lusty female horndog in a mainstream blockbuster since Lorraine McFly.  One look at Hemsworth’s Thor and she can barely keep her panties from flying directly into our faces in Real-D 3D.

I can’t help but be reminded of CROCODILE DUNDEE in an odd way, which has unexpectedly and retroactively grown into one of the greatest fish-out-of-water romantic comedies of all time.  In both films, a rugged charmer from an exotic world (Australia in DUNDEE; Asgard, the mythical home of the Norse gods in THOR) is studied by a sexy but bookish outsider who, attracted to his combination of oddness and machismo, finds him utterly irresistible by the film’s end, forgoing her sensible side to be swept away in a fairytale romance.  The main difference here is that CROCODILE DUNDEE wasn’t created by Jack Kirby, and that man’s fingerprints are all over this thing.

Stan Lee didn’t birth the Marvel Universe alone — his partner in the early days was Jack Kirby, a prolific artist with a distinctly odd design sense.  In the film’s biggest action sequence, The Destroyer (an enchanted suit of Odin’s armor — a fact never explained in the film’s swiss cheese screenplay) is manipulated by Loki into attacking a rinky-dink New Mexico town.  This metal monstrosity doesn’t stray one iota from Kirby’s original vision, not in terms of its look, and certainly not in terms of the sheer destructive magnitude of the power it displays.  Kirby dreamt big, and even if the Norse gods existed long before Jack Kirby, they needed Jack Kirby to become as superheroic as they are.

It’s that Jack Kirby influence that makes THOR so downright comic booky.  Half of the film takes place in a golden world of frost giants and rainbow bridges, and THOR can’t disguise its fantasy elements as sci-fi cool like IRON MAN or as a gutsy thriller like THE DARK KNIGHT.  The earthbound rom-com stuff is easy to like, thanks to a lighter-than-light tone, but for the entire film to work, you have to also take Anthony Hopkins seriously as Odin, despite the Oscar-winner sporting shiny gold armor, a Santa beard, and an eye-patch with no straps.  You have to accept Mjolnir, a hammer, as the greatest weapon ever forged; you have to get on board with Idris Elba playing against type as a Norse god.

Surprisingly, THOR pulls it off.  Half of the story is dedicated to Thor’s arrogance getting him stripped of his godly powers and booted from Asgard by his father Odin, and half of the story is about him living as a mortal on Earth, adjusting with humility to the fact that this former god might never return home.  One false move, and we’d be watching MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, in which the fish-out-of-water stuff becomes an embarrassment and the fantasy elements are reduced to a production design wet fart.  Kenneth Branagh works well within the Marvel Studios style (and believe me, there’s a pulse unique to these things that’s quickly making Marvel as reliable a studio as Pixar), combining the varying elements of THOR into one glossy, family-friendly package, with more humor and a more infectious sense of adventure than many superhero films.

So infectious in fact, that it’s easy to get swept along into a popcorn-munching trance, forgiving the script’s weaknesses like unexplained story elements or some anachronistic one-liners.  Loki (Tom Hiddleston) feels like a great villain that’s not serviced with any great moments of villainy, and he’s involved in too many scenes that don’t make any narrative sense or tangents that don’t provide any kind of significant pay-off.  One gets the feeling that some of Loki’s impact might have been cut short to allow more room in the script for Thor’s earthly interactions with S.H.I.E.L.D. (Gregg Clark returns from the IRON MAN films as Agent Coulson), but, at any rate, it feels like a missed opportunity to slight such a truly iconic heavy.

THOR’s a kinda nutty, kinda sweet kick-off to the 2011 Summer movie season, that coasts by more on its charm than bombastic spectacle.  It’s almost a relief to see a big blockbuster movie that’s willing to look uncool for a laugh or defy expectations by allowing its superhero to go powerless for most of its story (or by dressing Portman up in layers of flannel while Hemsworth walks around shirtless).  Somehow, THOR’s disregard for being cool manages to make Thor actually cool.  That’s quite the trick, and THOR could be the first sign that the tide is turning against darker, grittier cinematic heroes.


Good, I was worried this was gonna suck.

Posted May 05, 2011 03:05 am
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