Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Hunk with a hammer

It's almost laughable, the idea of Kenneth Branagh directing a Marvel movie. After all, Branagh is more often associated with Shakespeare films, not action flicks, and certainly not action flicks featuring costumed, muscle-bound superheroes. But when the Marvel superhero in question is Thor, the god of thunder from Norse mythology, it can work. And forsooth, it does.

I don't know if it's the Branagh treatment, but there's something distinctly Macbethical (Macbethy?) about Thor, not just in the plot (conflict of royal succession, treachery within the palace, exile of rightful heir, etc.) but in the characterization as well. The protagonists are not completely virtuous and noble, and the antagonists are not absolutely evil and cruel. Thor himself is portrayed as arrogant, brash, and not extremely intelligent-- flaws offset by his bravery, loyalty, and strong sense of justice. But it is his arrogance that dissuades his father Odin, king of Asgard, from relinquishing the throne to him, and pushes the wise old ruler to banish his headstrong son from their realm.

Thor crash-lands on Midgard, a.k.a. Earth, stripped of his powers and his mighty hammer Mjolnir, and is promptly hit by a van conveying astrophysicist Jane Foster, her kooky assistant Darcy, and her mentor Dr. Erik Selvig. Thus begins Thor's journey of redemption, to prove himself worthy of wielding Mjolnir and ruling Asgard by learning humility and compassion amongst mere mortals. Meanwhile, back in Asgard, his devious brother Loki, the god of mischief, schemes to take over the kingdom in Thor's absence. Like I said, it's a Marvelized Macbeth-- less tragic, more macho; Shakespeare on steroids, if you will. And it's definitely packs a solid punch in terms of entertainment value.

For me (and undoubtedly legions of other female viewers), the real marvel (pun intended) of the movie was Aussie hottie (really, there should be a word hotter than "hottie" to describe this smokin' specimen of hunkhood) Chris Hemsworth. All twinkly blue eyes and rippling muscles, Hemsworth makes a breakthrough superstar turn as the eponymous hero. The guy whom we last remember playing James Kirk's dad in J.J. Abrams' Star Trek totally owns this far more high-profile role, oozing sex appeal, and more importantly charisma, whether he's bashing in the head of a Frost Giant or making eyes at Jane Foster (the loveliest and luckiest astrophysicist in Midgard). Thank Odin the right Hemsworth brother was cast (otherwise, as my student Jo said, "Thor's ex would've been

Not to be (too) distracted by Hemsworth's hotness, I must give due credit to the supporting cast as well. Tom Hiddleston, who oddly reminds me of both Alan Cumming and Alan Rickman, made a terrific Loki, wily and weasely, almost reptilian in his sly subversiveness. The always-reliable Stellan Skarsgard contributed a reassuringly sensible yet amusingly wry presence as Dr. Selvig, and the always-regal Anthony Hopkins delivered the goods as Odin, managing to be forceful and frail as called for. And it was refreshing to see Natalie Portman in a "light" role after her heavily emotional performance in Black Swan. When her Jane Foster giggles like a schoolgirl, charmed by Thor's old world... errr, charm, it is both delightful and believable (even of a supposed-to-be brilliant astrophysicist).

Props also to the quartet who played Thor's combat buddies: Ray Stevenson as Volstagg, Tadanobu Asano as Hogun, Josh Dallas as Fandral, and Jaimie Alexander as Sif. The posse never seemed like just the requisite sidekick element, nor were they utilized as mere comic relief.
Alexander in particular stood out as the confident, capable warrior woman of the group. Indeed, the only real disappointment among the cast was Rene Russo, who not only seemed out of place, but superfluous, in her role as Frigga, Odin's wife.

All things considered, the first Iron Man movie is still the superior Avenger film, if only because the script was better, the dialogue wittier, and the star, well, bad-asser. However, it will be interesting to see how Hemsworth stacks up against the likes of Robert Downey, Jr. and Chris Evans in next year's Marvel mega-production The Avengers. As far as I can see now, he can definitely hold his own, if not as an actor then certainly as eye candy.

And as promised to my friend Yang, I cannot end my review of Thor without posting this gratuitous screen cap of a shirtless Chris Hemsworth:


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