May, 2011, Thriller



 After several months on the sidelines, JakesTakes returns with this examination of the latest offering from the vaults of Marvel Comics, whose summer offerings also include the upcoming Captain America. (More serious productions will be next on my agenda.)

 Sporting a cast comprised of an Oscar-winning A-list actress, (Black Swan’s Natalie Portman) a fine example of Hollywood beefcake, (Chris Hemsworth) and a supporting cast which includes a pair of serious actors doing the work for lunch money rather than artistic satisfaction, (Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard) Thor emerges as an rather unusual entry in the superhero genre - - a frankly commercial piece of entertainment targeting the teenage audience that manages to slip bits of sly humor into the thundering action sequences which make up the principal reason for Marvel Studio’s stunning financial success. Directed by Shakespearean actor/director Kenneth Branagh, (Henry V, Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing) and sporting a reported 150 million dollar production budget, Thor  manages to be both blockbuster and clever rip-off- - not a bad combination for this genre. Hollywood’s summer season of mindless entertainment has been launched with a winner.

 It took 8 credited screenwriters to come up with this fable of another universe which contains not only 8 separate worlds, but the ability to move from one to another via a “time bridge”, an idea brazenly stolen from the Star Trek television series. On the planet Asgard, Thor has won the competition to succeed his aging father, King Odin, (Hopkins) despite the conniving treachery of his brother Loki, (Tom Hiddleston). But the heir apparent ego sparks the revival of an ongoing war between Asgard´s citizens and those of a nearby planet populated by a race of oversized behemoths with battleship-grey skin and eyes that glow like the tail-lights on an old Edsel. For the arrogance he’s displayed in triggering a fresh round of hostilities, Thor’s hurled, (along with his mighty hammer) across the time bridge to the western United States, arriving in the desert late at night at the feet of astral-scientist Jane Forster (Portman) in a maelstrom of swirling dust and debris reminiscent of Judy Garland’s return to Kansas in The Wizard of Oz

 Now bereft of his super powers and chastened by the grief he’s caused his father, Thor manages to fall in love with the dewy-eyed Jane while convincing her skeptical scientific colleague (Skarsgard) there’s really no difference between science and magic. But once Thor recovers his powers, he’s off to Asgard to save Odin’s life and battle Loki for Asgard’s top job, in the process destroying the time bridge which would have made it possible for our hero to return to earth and claim Jane as his own…

 Stealing nearly every cliché from previous entries in this genre with brazen chutzpah, Branagh employs his supporting cast (especially Kat Denning’s as Portman’s hip grad-student assistant Darcy) to spoof the film’s seriously overt tone with a knowing nod to the audience’s intelligence.

 The director’s fortunate to be working in the new 3-D format, which has done so much to amplify the visual impact of the action scenes which remain the centerpiece of this type of movie and thanks to the genuinely intriguing depth of field which Cyprian-born cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos brings to the battle scenes on Asgard and depictions of life there as well as on the high, barren plains of Utah, the movie manages to be both visually impressive genuinely entertaining.  

 Thor goes on for nearly 2 hours, interspersing violent but bloodless intergalactic battles with Branagh’s running visual and auditory gags (watch Thor being subdued in an ER and listen to the soundtrack playing behind mere human efforts to pick up his hammer) all presented in ostensible homage to the cinematic transformation of kid’s comic books into high-tech, high-profit action movies. Who would have thought that the decades-old heroes of 10 cent comic books from previous generations could produce Hollywood’s latest cash machine? Go figure…

 The Verdict? Silly nonsense, cleverly presented by a director slumming in this category… but worth a look if you’ve not yet seen a film in the greatly enhanced 3-D process - - and the glasses you’ll have to wear are quite comfortable.  







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