Monday, May 16, 2011

we see "Thor"

I spent much of yesterday (Saturday) and part of today with my buddy Mike and his lovely family. It was actually something of an unplanned event, but I think we both decided that the time had come to hang.

Mike and I saw "Thor," which won't be in line for any major Oscars, but which was perfectly serviceable as an evening's entertainment. The costumes were over the top, the metaphysics (or was it astrophysics?) were incomprehensible, and I'm pretty sure that Charles would have a thing or two to say about the way Loki, the trickster, was handled.

"Thor" was in some ways too adult for kids: the movie was shot through with long patches of character-establishing dialogue, much of which dealt with matters that kids couldn't relate to (but which I enjoyed for the depth they provided). Stellan Skarsgård, the lone Scandinavian scientist in the motley group of nerds who encounter Thor, was underused: I kept hoping that his character's long familiarity with the stories about Thor would make him some sort of cultural bridge between our world and the world of these beings (who, in the Marvel universe, apparently never refer to themselves as gods, despite their array of godlike powers).

My final complaint is, as Mike put it, that there was a conspicuous absence of "the beauty of the female form." What with the presence of Natalie Portman and Kat Dennings in the film (for more on Kat Dennings, read Skippy here), you'd think the director, Kenneth Branagh, would give us guys a bit more skin. But no: the earthbound sequences in "Thor" take place in a desert, and the female characters wear coats, thereby shrouding all the lovely bits.

I was a bit worried, at first, about having Branagh at the helm. He's the perfect director for Shakespearean dramas-- I worship at the altar of his "Henry V"-- but turn him loose on any other sort of script, and he's very likely to screw the pooch. He certainly did this with the De Niro version of "Frankenstein," which was more of an abomination than the Frankenstein monster itself. (In response to this critique, Mike reminded me that Branagh did fine with "Dead Again.") As it turned out, though, my worries were in vain; "Thor" was indeed over-the-top, but this was for reasons that had little to do with the direction and more to do with set and costume design (too much shoulder-exaggeration for the men; too little ass-exposure for the women; it was easy to expect the cast to burst into operatic song).

The movie had its good points, though. It contained quite a few big-name stars who gamely chew the scenery; the special effects were impressive (Asgard is like Coruscant, but with huge pipe organ-like structures in place of recognizable buildings); and Thor's character arc was more mature than one might expect in a film ostensibly for kids. You do have to get used to the idea of a black Heimdall and an Asian guy in the role of a Norse warrior deity, but since this is the Marvel comics universe and not a strict interpretation of Norse mythology, I suppose anything is allowable. (Oh, yes: Stan Lee's pickup truck cameo is cute.)

I'll recommend "Thor" for a single viewing. I'm not so sure I'd go back to see it again; it didn't wow me in quite that way. It's a fine spectacle, but I'm not its target demographic.


1 comment:

Charles said...

Other friends of mine have said they really enjoyed the way Loki was presented, so I have been quite curious about that. I don't know if it's playing yet over here, or when I will get the chance to see it even if it is, but I do want to check it out at some point.

What I have always loved about Loki is how he embodies both destruction and creation--he reflects a cyclical rather than binary world view, as the destruction that he engineers (i.e., Ragnarök) paves the way for the rebirth of the world. I wonder how much of that comes across in the film.

Comic book tricksters are quite fascinating. I've long thought that the best comic book trickster was the Joker, although there was always something that niggled about him. I finally realized the obvious one day: the Joker defines himself through Batman, so without Batman there is no Joker. He's more like the yin to Batman's yang, rather than a liminal figure who transcends categories and boundaries. I think this is most apparent in The Killing Joke (which is a great work in its own right, of course).

I think at some point in the future I would definitely like to write something about trickster figures found in comic books/graphic novels. There's a lot to do before that happens, though.