Arts and Culture

'Thor'

No need to get hammered before going, this turns into a pretty good action flick.

By Steve Burgess 6 May 2011 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess writes about the screen, big and small, every other Friday.

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Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman as Thor and Jane Foster.

Theatre security and airport security are different. At theatres, security personnel look for cameras and recording devices -- not really an issue on planes. Meanwhile at the Wednesday preview screening of Thor, people in shiny metal helmets wandered around carrying battle axes and broadswords. That kind of thing rarely gets by in carry-on luggage, but a little movie mayhem is allowed as long as copyright law is respected.

Many a geek is ready to get hammered as Thor swings into wide release today. The latest from the Marvel movie factory, Thor is intended to lay the groundwork for a future Avengers film that will co-star the imprint's current bull-goose superhero Iron Man, as well as Captain America and the Hulk. Direction of this crucial commercial enterprise has been entrusted to Hollywood Shakespearean Kenneth Branagh, while the biceps of the Norse thunder god are embodied by Chris Hemsworth. Prestige rental Anthony Hopkins takes role of Thor's pappy Odin, while Natalie Portman continues her "you'll-never-guess-where-I'll-pop-up-next" career progression as scientist Jane Foster, Thor's mortal hottie.

The results are rather hard to describe. Over 114 minutes, Thor goes from risible to rousing. For the first 45 minutes or so it looks to be a cheese-fest that will live on as long as men recall the immortal bombs of the silver screen. Then lightning strikes and the Son of Odin turns into a fun date after all.

Heavy Metal

Most of the first part happens in the realm of Asgard, where Odin dwells with his sons Thor and Loki (Tom Hiddleston, looking alternately like Star Trek's Data and Data's evil brother Lor). Odin is preparing to crown Thor as the new king of Asgard. The coronation is interrupted when an attack is launched by the Frost Kings. Egged on by Loki, Thor wants to wage war. Odin is displeased. Thor is cast out, and his shiny hammer too. Falling to Earth, he is found by Portman's Jane Foster and her mentor Erik (Stellan Skarsgard). Understandably, the transition from God of Thunder to powerless earthling is discombobulating -- for about five on-screen minutes. Then Thor slides smoothly into his new persona as a sort of long-haired, kick-ass country boy. As for his new scientist friend, in about two claps of thunder it's "Me Thor, You Jane." Meanwhile the magical hammer has been sequestered by SHIELD, the government agency previously best known for ineffectually trailing along after Iron Man.

But let's go back to Asgard. How do you portray the Realm of the Norse Gods onscreen? Begin by asking yourself -- how would Iron Maiden do it? We're not even talking Zeppelin album covers here -- more like Pantera and Stryker. Considering that Norse mythology has been a playground for headbangers and brown shirts alike, perhaps it's no surprise that Thor's celestial vision resembles a cross between an Albert Speer development and an air-brushed Dodge van circa 1975. 
Worse, the initial Asgard segment of Thor is as self-serious as all those old leather-clad hair-band photos. Clash of the Titans took a lot of crap but at least it seems to have a sense of its campy origins. The 3-D effects don't help -- this version offers essentially the holographic postcard look.

Full axes

The first half of Thor desperately needs a visit from Why, the Norse God of Exposition. Events race along with all the depth and subtlety of tic-tac-toe. Why is Thor going to be king when Odin is perfectly healthy (not to mention immortal)? What exactly were Portman and Skarsgard seeking in the desert when they find our hero? Why did SHIELD seem to be unsurprised by the arrival of this mysterious hammer? What do they think it is? Why is there a completely egregious reference to a particular airline flying past, an airline that later appears on a big illuminated billboard? Skip that last question. That one I get.

But as in every screenplay, things are always darkest before the dawn. On Earth the tone of the movie lightens considerably. And when Thor the dude finally gets humility, Thor the movie finally lifts off. The last portion of the movie is a solid super-hero epic as the Thunder God demonstrates what any curler knows: it's great to be coming home with the hammer. Fans of the Marvel franchise are likely to leave satisfied. But those who would think twice about entering a theatre carrying a shield and battle axe might best seek other entertainments.  [Tyee]

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