Thoron May 7, 2011 at 6:52 pm
I went to see “Thor” as much as a fan of Kenneth Branagh as a fan of Marvel Comics. I admit I was a little concerned – but not because I was worried that Branagh could not handle the material, far from it. I thought that Branagh’s penchant for ‘over the top romanticism’ would be a perfect fit for adapting the work of Jack Kirby. It was just that, as a fan of Branagh’s work, I am fully aware his occasional fumbles. So while I went to the theater fully expecting to have a good time, I was also bracing myself for another “Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein”.
I am happy to say I was not disappointed. The film did not pretend to be anything more than a fun summer blockbuster, and in the process it became much, much, more. While I do go to the movies for a good story, I am also so closely observing the directing, acting, cinematography, and concept design, that it is almost like I am watching several different films, each with a different set of expectations. Inevitably, because of this, I end up not being able to see the film as a whole. In the case of “Thor” I am happy to say I was drawn in completely during the first fifteen minutes.
The biggest problem with superhero films is convincing us – even us fans – that a blatantly fantastic figure can exist in a version of our mundane existence. With Thor, a character that for all practical purposes just walked out of a Wagnerian opera, this problem is multiplied exponentially.
Again, Branagh does not disappoint. His Asgard is a beautiful setting, merging mythic fantasy with futuristic technology (Clarke’s Third Law is quoted by one of the characters) and provides a wonderful contrast to the mundane world that the impetuous Thor is, literally, thrown down to.
The “real world” is just as fascinating. Marvel Studios has done a wonderful job of slowly, piece-by-piece, creating a film version of the Marvel universe. Thor is no exception; with nice little throwaway references to the presumably-benevolent conspiracy that is S.H.E.I.L.D (more intimidating than it was in previous films – unlike Tony Stark the protagonists do not start able to stand up to it). The cameos include a reference to “a researcher in gamma radiation” who disappeared, and an un-credited Hawkeye cameo.
For me, what really worked best in the film were Loki and Heimdall. I was a fan of the mythology long before I was a fan of the comic book and consequently never liked the Marvel version of Loki. He always came off as a boilerplate schemer, not the magnificent bastard of the original material. Later creators, most notably Walter Simonson, were able to improve on him, but in my view the damage was done.
The film version is much better. I had not been familiar with Tom Hiddleston’s work before seeing “Thor” but I look forward to following his career from now on. His Loki is subtle, sometimes an Iago figure, pulling the strings of everyone around him; and sometimes, in his own way, still loyal to Asgard and his adopted family. It is never entirely clear just what his motive is. Sibling rivalry? A quest for power? Loki gives us varying explanations for his actions, but we can never safely take him at his word…this is Loki, after all. Whatever it may be I am fairly certain that his long game changes throughout the film as he gradually learns things about his past.
Heimdall is another thing all together. While waiting the long months for this film to come out I had a good laugh listening to the apoplexy of various White supremacists about the casting of Indris Elba. I am a fan of the man’s work (liked him in “Ultraviolet”, loved him in “The Wire”), but Elba’s Heimdall stands alone as the immovable omniscient guardian of the Rainbow Bridge, separate from the rest of the Aesir, Odin’s equal in power, bound only by his word. Indris Elba was an inspired choice.
All in all, this was my favorite of the Marvel self-produced movies. It entertains with a solid cast, nice action, and humor. And I look forward to watching it again so that I can hammer down every detail of this latest Branagh film.