Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
"LAST OF THE MONSTER KIDS" - Available Now on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019


Even though the “Iron Man” films became huge successes and “The Incredible Hulk” did well enough not to call the whole thing off, people in 2011 still weren't sure if this whole Marvel Cinematic Universe thing was going to work. There was a lot of speculation at the time that Thor was too wacky or weird a character for mainstream success. Or that audiences wouldn't accept a fantasy-based hero interacting with the sci-fi themed heroes Marvel had already established. All of this ended up being idle hubbub, at least from a commercial stand point. “Thor” was another box office success, launched another series, and would easily accepted among his fellow Avengers. From a critical standpoint, things are less certain. It seems “Thor” is the least well liked of Marvel's franchises. How does this initial “Thor” flick hold up now that we're three phases into this Marvel thing?

Marvel's “Thor” presupposes that the gods and beliefs of Norse mythology were based on real extra-dimensional beings and worlds. The Asgardians' magic may actually be sufficiently advanced technology but Thor still wields lightning and a hammer called Mjolnir, Loki is still his mischievous brother, and Odin is still their dad. Just as Thor is about to take over the throne, a group of frost giants, the Asgardians' mortal enemies, break into Odin's vault. Enraged, Thor heads to their realms and starts tearing shit up. This pisses off his dad and Odin banishes Thor to a small town in New Mexico. Unable to lift his hammer, Thor instead befriends astrophysicist Jane Foster and her pals. Loki, assuming his brother's place on the throne, starts to abuse his power wildly, forcing Thor to prove himself worthy once again.

To bring their God of Thunder to the masses, Marvel roped Kenneth Branagh in to direct. Branagh didn't have much experience with big budget action before this point, having primarily directed Shakespeare adaptations and thrillers like “Dead Again.” Yet the “Mary Shelley's Frankenstein” auteur would prove an inspired choice. The broadness of these mythic/comic book archetypes is not that different from Shakespearean drama. In fact, you can see that Branagh really enjoys dipping his toes into high fantasy. He throws in dutch angles when Thor looses his shit and flips tables or when our heroes gravely explain their histories. The tense confrontations between King Laufey of the Frost Giants and Odin Highfather play to Branagh's strengths for melodrama. The film's special effects and set design are pretty cool, visualizing Jack Kirby's far-out visions of Asgard in nifty ways. (Though, I'll admit, Thor and Odin's costumes could've been better. And he should have worn the helmet more!) It's all a little ridiculous but everyone is clearly having fun running around in such a far-out adventure.

Smartly, Branagh and his team do not base “Thor” entirely in the fantastical world of Asgard and the other realms. Instead, for long portions of its run time, “Thor” is a fish-out-of-water comedy about a displaced god bumbling around a small town. And, you know, the movie works pretty well in that regard too! Seeing the de-powered Thor vastly overestimate his own abilities is fun. Watching him get brought down to size by cars, young woman with tasers, or doctors with needles keeps the character from becoming unlikable or haughty. The scene of Thor responding to small town life with a Norse God's enthusiasm – giving his opinions on coffee, pet shops, and drinking contests – is a type of broad humor I can totally get on board with.

What really works for me about “Thor” is how satisfying it is to see the pieces come together. From the moment Thor is introduced as a guy way too eager for action and adventure, hot-headed and short-sighted, we know he's going to be humbled. Obviously, he will prove himself to be worthy to wield Mjolnier by the end. Yet formulas are not bad. The movie perfectly nails Thor's growth from loud-mouthed, war-hungry viking to more even-tempered dude, willing to self-sacrifice to save others. Loki's growth from mischievous little brother to genocidal villain is also well sketched. The film smartly roots his motivation in something universal: The youngest child desperate to earn his father's approval, albeit in a slightly unhinged manner. The scenes of the two brothers warring definitely recalls Branagh's Shakespearean background in the best way.

But maybe what holds this project, with its conflicting tones and melodramatic emotions, together is the cast. Nobody knew who the hell Chris Hemsworth was in 2011. I found him noticeably baby-faced upon this re-watch. Hemsworth has got that winning smile and movie star charisma here, even if he doesn't seem totally comfortable in the part yet. Even better, he has fantastic chemistry with Natalie Portman as Jane. The love story shouldn't work, as it's really underdeveloped, but she's so clearly enamored of this stunning hunk of man that you buy it. Tom Hiddlesworth really sinks his teeth into Loki's tragic background, creating Marvel's first great villain in an outcast desperate to be loved and seen as powerful. The supporting cast is peppered with lovable faces. Kat Dennings is hilarious, Idris Elba is fittingly grand, the Warriors Three are fun to hang around. Stellan Skarsgard makes barking exposition look easy and Jamie Alexnader has such a natural command of action that I don't know why she isn't a huge star by now.

Really, “Thor” works well for me in every way but as an action movie. The action is simply serviceable here. The scenes devoted to Thor and his buddies whooping a bunch of Frost Giant ass are overly dependent on slightly silly looking CGI. Despite the versatility of Mjolnier as a weapon, the film can't think of more creative things for Thor to do with it besides hammering and spinning. Too many of the action scenes boil down to characters shooting beams of energy at each other, which is slightly boring to watch. This makes the more hand-to-hand moments, such as Thor's mud wrestling his way through a pack of SHIELD agents, or Loki spinning around his staff, seem memorable. Even then, some tacky slow-motion is tossed in, making the scenes come off as slightly cheesy. The Destroyer is a pretty cool obstacle though and the scenes revolving around it are my favorite moments of action.

The dislike people have for “Thor” is really baffling to me. This is a good-natured and likable movie that never shies away from its comic book roots. Is it a little cheesy, in its comedy and mythic themes? Undeniably. Is the whole thing so smoothly entertaining that we hardly notice these factors? I mean, that's what I think. The characters are fun, the world is fantastical, and the cast is obviously having a great time. The pacing is zippy, the score is uplifting, the production design is eye-catching. What's not to like? [7/10]

No comments: