Friday, June 22, 2012

"Thor" & Co...

Since I started my blog awhile back, from time to time I will express thoughts on films that I have either discovered by chance, or ones that I have looked forward to seeing and…well, have seen.  Silent films have become an interest of mine (as is evident in my “Silent Film” section), and in the last several years film franchises have factored in.  I have been a self-professed Harry Potter fan for years, jumping onto the Hogwarts Express a tad later than my friends with only the first 3 volumes being out at that time, but I would go on to ingest the rest of the books along with the other fans.  The films were all a part of that.  They never quite measured up to the books, but film adaptations rarely do.  In my experience, anyway.  (Blog posts related to my views on the world of HP can be found in the ‘”Movies” section of my blog.) 

There is a film that I am currently jones-ing to see.  “The Avengers”.  You may be thinking, “It’s been out for a bit, so why hasn’t she seen it yet?”  The answer is simple.  My theater experience since moving to Savannah was less than…satisfactory.  While I lived in Los Angeles, I got a tad spoiled.  There was the occasional film I would want to see that I would catch on the big screen.  A theater with state of the art sound, high-backed ‘clean’ seats with double leg room and seat arms that you could fold back, and seating that was on a deeper grade so you wouldn’t have someone’s big head in your way.  Not the case here.  Things were a bit more ‘old school’ here.  Sticky floors, smaller uncomfortable seats…not an experience I felt like shelling out today’s going rate for theater tickets for.  No, I am waiting for “The Avengers” to hit DVD.  I am avoiding the written reviews, etc., so they don’t taint my expectations…which are quite high, I can tell you.

(Scarlett Johansson as
"Black Widow")
As someone who loves the world of comics (big Wolverine fan) I have done my part in priming myself for “The Avengers” by seeing the various movies that have basically acted as set-up.  I started with both of the “Iron Man” films.  Robert Downey Jr. is the perfect Tony Stark.  I have always thought him to be a talented actor, but it’s as if the character were modeled for him.  He looks so much like the comic book character.  He also does a superb job bringing Stark to life.  I had no doubts that he would.  One of my biggest pet peeves about some actors is their proclivity to “scene chewing”.  Downey does a bit of this from time to time, but he’s such a fine and intelligent actor that when he does gnaw a bit, it works.  I did find him nibbling some here and there in the “Iron Man” flicks, but it fit.  As far as other casting choices, Gwyneth Paltrow gives a fine turn as Pepper Potts, and Jeff Bridges is fiendishly good as the two-faced Obadiah Stane (Bridges has never been one to disappoint with any of his acting gigs, either).  We do see an appearance by Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), in film 2.  An “Avengers” reference for the Iron Man flicks.  I recommend both “Iron Man” 1 (released 2008) & 2 (released 2010).

(Dominic Cooper as
"Howard Stark")
Then “Captain America: The First Avenger” (released 2011) came out.  Another great job of casting.  Chris Evans is a perfect Steve Rogers/Captain America, and the effects department definitely earned their pay when making him the scrawny Rogers for the first section of the film.  Hugo Weaving portrays the evil Red Skull, and as always puts in a great performance.  For those of you who have seen the film, you know that Howard Stark (Tony Stark’s father) is a featured character.  When dealing with the parent of a character in another already produced movie, some productions will bring in the actor from the ‘child’ role and make them older to portray the parent.  I am glad they didn’t here.  In my opinion it would have been too predictable, and would have definitely elicited an eye-roll from me. The actor portraying ‘Daddy’ Stark, Dominic Cooper, looks enough like Downey Jr. and has enough of the flavoring of Downey Jr.’s performance to make Cooper very believable in the role.  There are a couple of other notable appearances by Stanley Tucci as Dr. Erskine, and Tommy Lee Jones as Col. Phillips. Jones’ appearances aren’t many, and Tucci appears even less, but as always they give good turns in their roles.  The last character crucial to the plot of the film who only appears at the very end, is the one integral connection between “Captain America: The First Avenger” and “The Avengers”…the appearance of Samuel L. Jackson, as Nick Fury.

(The effects dept. did a great job turning Evans from a
scrawny guy, into "Captain America")
“But wait!  Something has been left out.  There was a film released a couple of months prior to the “Captain” hitting theaters.  If you were thinking I had missed something in my post, I am about to remedy that right now.  My favorite of the films leading up to “The Avengers”…”Thor”. 

Actually, this post was going to be specifically about “Thor”, but as it has been out for a bit and “The Avengers” (which the God of Thunder is a part of) is getting a lot of noise these days it seemed logical to flesh things out to include the bigger picture.  Moving right along…

For whatever reasons, I hadn’t been able to watch “Thor” in its entirety prior to the Captain’s release.  I had caught glimpses of it when it was being watched in the living room, but hadn’t planted myself to watch it from beginning to end.  A situation that I didn’t rectify until recently.  Shocking, really.  Without having seen the entire first film, anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge fan of “Thor”.  Well…Chris Hemsworth as Thor.  Yes, I realize that I could be his mum (I will point out that it would have been a teen pregnancy…thank you very much), but I have a pulse.  ‘Smitten’ as I am about the physical embodiment of Hemsworth as Thor, I do have a decent knowledge of the Asgardian mythos.  I played quite a lot of Dungeons & Dragons in my youth, and I have been an avid reader of Fantasy for…well, forever.  I am not a walking encyclopedia of Thor comic book cannon like some, but I know enough.  It occurs to me that I may have painted myself as a bit of a geek…not a geek at all.  I would describe myself as…eclectic.

(Director, Kenneth Branagh, and "Thor", Chris Hemsworth)
Directed by the very talented Kenneth Branagh, “Thor” is a well-crafted movie.  I think that Branagh’s history with Shakespeare and chivalry made him a great choice to helm things here.  Equally, Chris Hemsworth gives an appropriately “mighty” performance as the God of Thunder.  He obviously was put through a massive fitness regimen to sculpt his body, which adds to the strength and the swagger of the character.  Hemsworth’s height of 6’4”, and his rich voice also factor in to how well suited he is for the part.  I could go on and on about the physical attributes of Hemsworth to the point of gushing, so I’ll move on a bit.

The movie begins…oh, guess I should put in a little warning here before I launch into specifics of the film.  If you haven’t seen “Thor”, but plan to, you might want to stop reading because there are some spoilers coming up.  I do get detailed here and there in my rundown. Okay…you’ve been warned…

I am happy to say that there isn’t a plodding build-up that starts things off.  Thor falls out of the sky…why?  The immediately recognizable voice of Sir Anthony Hopkins starts to narrate, taking us to the city in the cosmos known as Asgard.  It’s there that we learn he’s not only narrating, he is portraying the big kahuna, Odin the Allfather.  When we first encounter Thor and his “brother” Loki, they are children and Odin is explaining to them what it means to be king.  After all, one of them (Thor) will BE the next king.  Walking into the relic room, the three look on the casket containing the source of power of the Frost Giants.  The casket is housed in the relic hall because it was the Asgardian’s who saved man by defeating the Frost Giants, taking their source of power, sending them back to Jotunheim, and forming a truce that brought peace to the cosmos.  It may fall on one of the boys to retain that peace during their reign.  Boy Thor lashes at the air saying that he would go to war with them and slay them all, just like Odin had done.  Then Odin says some key words.  “A wise king never seeks out war, but he must always be ready for it.”

We then skip into the future, and Thor is a young man.  It is the day he is to be made king of Asgard.  A smile emblazoned on his face, he swaggers through the crowded hall to his destiny, his good natured ego beaming from him like a rock star.  Silencing the crowd, Odin begins the proceedings.  Just as he is about to name Thor king, he senses something.  What the…Frost Giants have broken into Asgard!  They are there to steal back the casket of the Frost Giants.  It is then that a rather bad ass armored figure appears through a disappearing wall.  A figure known as ‘The Destroyer’.  A thick beam of light shoots from The Destroyer’s head, slaughtering the Giants.  (Think ‘Cyclops’ on steroids…X-Men reference.)  Thor is angered.  He can’t believe they were able to break their way in, and the only thing to do is to go to war!  Odin feels that war isn’t called for.  After all it was just a few rogue Frost Giants.  Why start a war over a few?  Thor is determined.  “I as King…”  “But you’re NOT king!  Not yet.”  Thor looks extremely wounded, and beyond frustrated.  Odin forbids him to do anything. 

(Chris Hemsworth as "Thor", and Sir Anthony Hopkins as "Odin Allfather")
I feel the need to give one more “Spoiler Alert” as I am about to get into some specifics that will definitely take the surprise element out of the equation for people who have a) not seen the movie, and b) don’t know the plotline already. Having warned you twice, I shall proceed.

Thor is extremely frustrated as he is itching to ‘Hammer’ some Giants.  Ah, yes…Thor’s Hammer, Mjolnir (pronounced MYOL-n(ee)r).  Forged from the heart of a dying star, on an enchanted forge.  It summons the elements of storms (lightning, rain, wind).  Thor can not only summon it at will, when he throws it, it returns to him (think a boomerang effect).  He can also create incredible upheavals by stamping it on the ground.  It is capable of more, but you get the gist.  Thor is the God of Thunder. Thor is a major bad-ass!

("Frost Giants")
During all of this, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is watching.  For those who don’t know, Loki is a sly trickster.  Very manipulative.  He knows just what to say to Thor to get him to go to Jotunheim (home of the Frost Giants), without really looking like he’s trying to get Thor to go there.  Thor is convinced and good to go. He uses his immense charm to convince his battle pals to go with him. So, with Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Hogun (Tadanobu Asano), Fandral (Josh Dallas), and Sif (Jaimie Alexander) in tow, Thor and Loki head to the gate.  Heimdall (Idris Elba) is rather pissed at the Frost Giants for finding a way to get by him, so he aids the forbidden mission and “beams” them to Jotunheim.  Needless to say, a battle ensues, Giants are killed, and Thor kicks some major butt.  We learn from the Frost Giant king, King Laufey (Colm Feore), that Asgard has a traitor, and that’s how the Giants were able to break in.  We also learn that Loki isn’t what he seems. He is actually a Frost Giant. Just as things look like they are going to start getting really bad for our band of heroes, Odin shows up and does his best to calm things down.  Things are obviously not going to be that easy, but the Giant king reluctantly lets them go.  Boy, is Thor going to get a talking to.

A fight is had between the two Gods.  Odin calls Thor “a vane, greedy, cruel boy”, and Thor calls Odin “an old man and a fool”.  Odin declares Thor unworthy, stripping him of his Hammer, his power, everything.  He then banishes him to Earth as a mortal man, telling him he needs to learn some humility.  Right after Thor goes hurtling off to Earth, Odin lifts Mjolnir saying over it, “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.”  He then throws it to Earth, as well.  Now we’re back to the beginning of the movie when Thor plummeted to Earth, and is found by Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), and Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard).

(Tom Hiddleston as "Loki") 
Throwing this plot nugget from Asgard in here…Loki confronts Odin wanting to know why Odin didn’t tell him he is really a Frost Giant.  There is a rather poignant scene of Odin describing how he found Loki and made him a member of his family, raising and loving him as his own.  We also see that Odin is rather exhausted.  Falling to the ground, he is consumed by Odinsleep.  (I will tell you what that is in a bit…if you don’t know what Odinsleep means.)

('Mortal Thor':  "This mortal form grows weak.  I need sustenance!")
(Thor tries to lift Mjolnir)
Back to Earth (a.k.a. Midgard). Hemsworth does a superb job of acting like a walking anachronism. Initially he feels such superiority to the inhabitants of this little planet.  Throughout his performance there is something so endearing about him, even when his ego is showing.  Humor is an element, but they don’t hit you over the head with it.  From Darcy ‘Tazing’ him when they find him, to him expressing his approval of coffee and then smashing his cup on the diner floor.  He may act a bit of the warrior, but he is also quite intelligent.  Thoughtful even.  His initial belligerence subsides.  Especially when he learns that a certain item has been found out in the desert about 50 miles away.  A farmer has found Mjolnir.  Guys have lined up and no one can lift it.  No surprises there…the one who wields Mjolnir has to be worthy.  The feds get involved, surround the Hammer, and also seize all of Jane’s scientific equipment.  Thor is still in town (there is a funny bit where he goes into a pet store asking for a horse), so Jane finds him and drives him to Mjolnir. After fighting his way in, Thor reaches Mjolnir only to find that he can’t lift it.  The Hammer won’t budge. He has a few things to learn before he is worthy again.  The scene of Thor strolling into the wet environment, his muscles rippling under his drenched t-shirt, goes from a nice beefcake moment, to a moment of defeat and sympathy.  As someone who is familiar with the chain of events in the story, that moment where he finds that he is unable to lift his old friend is so sad.  Hemsworth projects the defeat and deflation of Thor’s ego with great effect.  His face shows his resignation.  I will throw in that it is during this scene that we get our “Avengers” nod.  High above Thor in a Cherry Picker cage of sorts, is Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).

(Thor sits defeated)
Back to Asgard.  Odin has fallen into Odinsleep. It's a deep sleep that falls over him when he needs to replenish/recharge the Odinforce. The duration of the sleep varies, but while he is in that state he is extremely vulnerable. So, Odin is having his snooze, Thor has been made mortal and banished to Earth...guess who makes himself king? Loki's helping the Frost Giants is revealed to the audience, and his next order of business is to take Thor out of the equation.

Back to Earth. Thor’s adventuring pals show up. (They don’t like the new deal of Loki making himself king.) Thor learns that Loki lied.  The “brother” he thought he could trust sends ‘The Destroyer’ to Earth to kill the mortal Thor. What is Thor’s first thought?  To save the mortals.  Directing all the nearby mortals to go to safety, a huge fight breaks out between the Asgardians and the Destroyer.  Then Thor makes a move that would have been uncharacteristic for the old Thor. Putting others above himself, Thor walks forward accepting his fate. He knows that the Destroyer is just meant to kill him, and if that happens, it will leave and return to Asgard. Thor feels that if making his life forfeit saves everyone else, then so be it.  A heartfelt speech is made by Thor as he approaches his demise, BUT…from deep in his Odinsleep, Odin hears him and knows that he has learned the lessons Odin hoped he would.  We see a tear rolling out of the corner of one of Odin’s closed eyes, as the Destroyer knocks the stuffing out of Thor.  Jane Foster cries over the fallen Thor, all believing that he is dead.  Of course he’s not dead, people!  HE’S THOR!!!  I do have to admit that, even though I know that, I did get a little choked up seeing my hero lying there.

("The Destroyer")
In true hero movie form, the seemingly broken Thor lies still, but over in the place it first landed, Mjolnir senses that Thor is worthy. With a thunderous crack, Mjolnir bursts into the air heading to its master.  (I knew this was coming, and found myself talking to the gal on the screen.  “Jane, you better get out of the way, or you might lose something vital!”)  Mjolnir thrusting itself into his hand, Thor is back.  His power surges into him.  His Thor garb falls into place.  Wind and lightning fill the air around him as he turns to the Destroyer.  Needless to say, he makes pretty quick work of it.

Thor returns to Asgard to confront Loki.  He finds Loki about to kill the entire race of Frost Giants to prove to Odin that he is the more worthy king.  The Thor who at one time wanted to eradicate the Giants himself, is now defending them.  “Why destroy an entire race?”  Loki lashes out demanding that Thor fight him, but Thor won’t attack his “brother”.  It’s only after calling Thor “soft”, and threatening Jane, that Thor engages him.  The battle between the two rages until Thor has had enough, blowing Loki off his feet.  (I love that to keep Loki where he lands, Thor places Mjolnir on Loki’s chest…after all, Loki can’t move it.  He’s not worthy.  *grin*)

("Bifrost" a.k.a. "The Rainbow Bridge") 
Thor turns to the gate that Loki has opened to send destruction to Jotunheim.  Loki has used his Frost Giant abilities to get the ball rolling.  Even Thor’s strength can’t get him across Bifrost (a.k.a. the Rainbow Bridge) to stop things.  So…Thor does the only thing he can.  Summoning Mjolnir to his hand, he smashes the bridge breaking the gate away.  With each Hammer strike, Odin starts to come out of his deep sleep. The bridge shatters, exploding into bits, the gate falling away.  Then Odin is there hanging onto Thor who is dangling over the edge, Loki dangling from him. Feeling defeated, a teary-eyed Loki lets go falling into the closing rift and disappears. 

(Chris Hemsworth as "Thor",
Natalie Portman as "Jane Foster")
The movie ends with a moving father-son moment between Thor and Odin.  Also, Thor and Jane are pining for one another.  Oh yeah…there was a small love story between Thor and Jane.  I did kind of gloss over that.  It is an element of the plot, but interestingly it wasn’t a huge one.  Not as I saw it anyway.  Their meeting did help Thor learn a few things that led him back to his powers and Asgard.  They do have one kiss before Thor returns home to Asgard to square off with Loki, but other than that it’s free of any ‘gratuitous naughty bits’.  Kind of refreshing, actually.  Most films these days either have a heavy sex scene, or strategically placed boobs and/or butts.  I’m glad to say that someone out there still believes that a solid, entertaining, well-crafted movie can be made free of what sadly have become genre stereo-types.  Okay, yes, we did see Hemsworth without his shirt, but that was…integral to the plot.  (That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.)

Bifrost is broken making it very difficult to get to Midgard (Earth), but in a side note there are other portals and other ways to get around the 9 realms and get to Earth. I’m sure we’ll see about that in “Thor 2”, which is scheduled for release some time in 2013. does have a listing up for it, and for the most part the original cast is back for part 2.  I have seen a little intel about the production, and apparently they had been having trouble nailing down a director for it.  The first couple bowed out due to "artistic differences”.  Branagh was approached about directing the second since he had directed the first, but it appears that he declined because of the short production schedule the studio is giving it. I’ll be curious to see who finally lands the gig.  One thing I am wary of is the reported “short production schedule”. I like the first one so much.  I hope that a fast shooting schedule doesn’t translate to a less than acceptable sequel. Unfortunately, that seems to have become the norm with sequels.  Knocking wood… 

You may still think that I left something out of my above critiques.  You would be right.  I didn’t really say much about “The Hulk”.  Not a thing about either film.  The first was terrible…couldn’t sit through it.  The second was a bit better, but…couldn’t sit through it.  I will eventually see the second one with Ed Norton playing Bruce Banner/Hulk.  Until that time I’ll refrain from comment on it. 

("The Avengers" director, Joss Whedon, and Chris Hemsworth as "Thor")
Next up is “The Avengers”.  I am waiting patiently for the DVD release, so I can watch it in the comfort of my own home.  No sticky floors, or too small seats.  No big heads in my way.  With that cast, and Joss Whedon directing (big fan since the “Buffy” days), I know it’s going to be great.  I mean, come on.  It has THOR in it!!!  *grin*    
Here are some links to IMDB pages related to the films in this post...past, present, and future...for those interested:  

THOR 2 (Pre-Production ~ 2013)

IRON MAN 3 (Filming ~ 2013)

CAPTAIN AMERICA 2 (Announced ~ 2014)

AVENGERS 2 (Announced ~ ????)

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