Review: THOR (2011) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Review: THOR (2011)

RATING: 3.5/5

At the first glance, the name of Kenneth Branagh and Marvel comic-book property sounds like an awkward combination. After all, who can blame (most of) the skeptics thinking that Branagh, who usually associated to Shakespeare-related movies (1989's HENRY V, 1993's MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, 1996's HAMLET), able to carry out a big-budget summer blockbuster? Marvel's move of hiring Branagh is certainly a huge gamble but they can rest assured that THOR turns out to be surprisingly a very entertaining movie after all.




The movie opens in the New Mexico desert, where we learn that astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), her assistant Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) and Jane's mentor, Dr. Erik Sevig (Stellan Skarsgaard) are on the pursuit to investigate the strange phenomena that shaped like a twister. Not long after, they discover a sudden whirlwind of storm blasting down onto the ground in which their RV knocks down Thor (Chris Hemsworth), a muscular and bearded stranger appearing out of nowhere.

Soon the movie takes us to a lengthy but hugely captivating flashback, explaining the origin of Thor. He came from a otherworldly floating kingdom of Asgard, which is one of the nine realms in the universe. Thor's father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is a ruler of all nine realms, and for generations the Asgardian warrirors have a bitter feud against their enemies called the Frost Giants of Jotunheim which is led by a reptile-looking creature Laufey (Colm Feore). The Asgardian warriors eventually defeated the Frost Giants, and seize the source of their power, the Casket of Ancient Winters. Back then, Odin's two little sons Thor (Dakota Goyo) and Loki (Ted Allpress) have long admired their father's success and wish they can follow his footsteps to become a ruler. Unfortunately, there can be only one ruler and the throne is nevertheless goes to the now grown-up Thor who is so delighted for becoming a king. But the throne ceremony is cut short when the Frost Giants attempt to retrieve the Casket. Thor feels upset over the matter and demands to wage war against the Frost Giants, only to be objected by his father because a wise king would never solve a matter by launching a war attack. However, being a stubborn person he is, Thor ignores his father's order and he travels to Jotunheim accompanied by Loki (Tom Hiddleton), along with childhood friend friend Sif (Jaimie Alexander) and the Warriors Three: Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (Joshua Dallas) and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano). A battle ensues, until Odin appears to save their lives before further damage is caused. Unfortunately Thor's reckless action has eventually broken the truce between the Asgardians and the Frost Giants. Because of that, Odin has no choice but to strip Thor out of his holy power and banish him to the Earth. Thor's hammer weapon, the Mjonir, is banished to the Earth as well along with Odin's spell that only the worthy one able to wield it.

On Earth, we see how Thor comes to learn of adapting his newfound surrounding with the human mortals until he eventually finds out the location of the Mjonir. To make things complicated, he comes across S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg, previously seen in 2010's IRON MAN 2), who is very determined to know about his existence as well as the mighty hammer that stuck in the crater.

With a context this rich, it's easy to see such complexity of an origin story falls prey into heavy-handed narration. Not at all. Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne's screenplay is consistent and fluid enough to keep one into full attention. Kenneth Branagh's direction is fast and furious as he pinballs the three-story arc between the conflict between the Asgardians and the Frost Giants, Loki's devious plan to take over the kingdom, and Thor's redemptive journey on Earth with exciting pace that hardly wears out.

Acting performances are mostly top-notch, with a breakthrough role by Chris Hemsworth (best known for his cameo role as the doomed Kirk's father in 2009's STAR TREK). He's a natural charmer and has a perfectly well-sculpted body ideal enough to become the next leading man status in Hollywood. His dramatic intensity and particularly his comic timing (where he involves in a hilarious fish-out-of-the-water story on Earth) are finely tuned. As a romantic interest, Natalie Portman's role could have been a thankless one but fortunately she carries out her performance with equal charm. Another breakthrough performance is Tom Hiddleton, a relatively unknown in the Stateside, but that would be change forever since his Loki character is a memorable villain worth noting for. Lastly, Anthony Hopkins gives a commanding presence as Odin. Shame that the long-missed Rene Russo (her last movie was the 2005's YOURS, MINE AND OURS) is neglected to thinly-written role as Odin's wife, Frigga.

Technical credits are superb, with Bo Welch's magnificent production design (especially the eye-catching landscape of Asgard), Alexandra Byrne's sumptuous costume design, Haris Zambarloukos's striking cinematography and Patrick Doyle's remarkable music score. Blessed with a $150-million budget, the special effects are feast of an eye (e.g. the suspended, glowing bridge of Bitfrost gateway, and the spectacular power possessed in the Mjonir).

Despite all the good stuff, THOR remains slightly choppy. Action sequences are often shot in frantic motion, and as admirable as the way Branagh constantly moves his camera in creative angles, he needs to restrain himself for not going overboard. The ending, which centers on a supposedly epic fight between Thor and the Destroyer is surprisingly anticlimactic. Let's just say it cuts too short where it could have been more.

Still, THOR is a movie not to be missed. As an official summer movie of the year that kicks off the season, this is by far the most entertaining movie ever seen produced by the Marvel Studios. As a bonus, do pay attention for the brief appearance of Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner, minus the costume) and stick around after the end-credit -- there's a secret ending involving the appearance of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).

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