Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Like Superman in Middle Earth

directed by Kenneth Branagh
starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston and Anthony Hopkins

At the beginning of this movie, the famous warrior Thor enters Odin's great hall in Asgaard, and, I swear to God, all the elves who stood by the Rohirrim at the battle of the Hornburg in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers have gotten cast as extras for this film. They're probably computer-generated, but it sure looks like the same group, surrounded by all the same Gaelo-Norse frippery and martial d├ęcor. Well, one could do worse than honour that masterful cinematic achievement. 

But if this film hoped to be compared favourably to that, or any other, great action movie, then it would have been well to treat the characters as what they were in legend, rather than as what they became in the care of Marvel Comics. This movie attempts to tell an epic saga in half a movie, the other half being devoted to a love story involving one mortal and one immortal. (Gee, where have I seen that before?) In the end, it succeeds in telling the story in a sort of outline form that any 20th-Century college student will be familiar with from their note-taking. That's fine if all you want to do is be reminded of the ideas and themes to be studied, but it leaves the movie viewer dissatisfied.

So consider this movie as just an action flick. There are plenty of computer-generated special effects, and they run the full gamut from exciting to clever to ordinary to cheesy. The "Destroyer," a sort of cyborg come to do its master's bidding, is sometimes 30 feet tall, sometimes 12. The discrepancy rankles, as do some of the non-computer-generated special effects, with model buildings and cars succumbing to destruction in footage that would have been astounding in the 1960s, but today seem almost laughable.

Overall, Thor is something of a disappointment. The plot is well-imagined but unevenly realized, and the movie's makers' inability to develope the substance of either story line, the classic or the contrived, means that the greatest disappointment of the show comes at the end, when the names of the director and stars come on the screen. To think that the man who gave such brilliance to Shakespeare could produce such a frivolous, half-assed film, using to modest effect the great talents of such bright stars as Hopkins and Portman (who do their best, with some success, to avoid out-shining their co-stars), was the saddest part of this failure of a film.

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