Thursday, June 2, 2011


Alternate Title:  To be a Viking, or not to be a Viking

One sentence synopsis:  The God of Thunder is exiled to Earth by his father and must redeem himself and oppose his brother's machinations.

Things Havoc liked:  There's been a lot of comic book movies around recently, many of them surprisingly good. As such, my expectations with this movie were very high. Thor as a character is not a tremendously Hollywood-appropriate figure, being neither "conflicted" nor "conventional". I am happy to report that Chris Hemsworth was Thor, the same way that Robert Downey Jr. was Iron Man. He was boisterous, he was badass, he was arrogant and he was, most of all, Viking. Being Viking is a quality that is very difficult to explain, but one knows it when one sees it. This guy was Thor to his bones.

The movie's overall quality is just excellent. Branaugh's direction and Straczynski's writing combine perfectly. The writing is sharp and crisp and wickedly funny. The acting is brilliant uniformly, from Anthony Hopkins (breaking a chain of terrible roles) to Stellan Skarsgard (whom I love in everything he's ever been in) to Idris Elba (more on him below) to all of the warriors three (particularly Ray Stevenson, making up somewhat for his absurd performance in Kill the Irishman) to Clark Gregg as the SHIELD agent (whom I like more and more every time I see him). A particular accolade should go to Tom Hiddleston, whose Loki is given great depth and almost Shakesperian character arcs, something we do not often see in villains, particularly (literal) comic book ones. He goes on something of a journey of self-discovery of his own, becoming Thor's enemy through a tragic flaw more than through being an evil bastard. Loki was never one of my favorite characters, but I grew to like him along the way.

All the little touches in this movie are right, from the cameos (Hawkeye's few short scenes were a riot), to the references (to Iron Man and other Marvel films), to the minor character touches that make the characters real. The direction is crisp and tight, as befits a great director, and the movie never loses cohesion or stops short for exposition. With the exception of a short opening narration, we are told about the world of Asgard and the characters through seeing the world and the deeds of the characters that inhabit it. We never get lost, nor do we ever get bored.

Finally, a note on Black Heimdal. Much ink has been spilled over the fact that Idris Elba is black (which is true), while his character Heimdal, both in the comics and the mythology itself, is white (which is essentially though not literally true). Racists have objected to this as "political correctness" and other such idiocy. Others who are sane have countered that this is an element of setting the balance straight, that there are very few roles for black men relative to white men, and one supporting character being changed over is not going to end the world, and might just do some good, particularly given Kenneth Branaugh's well-known reputation for color-blind casting. While this argument is valid, it is, with respect, irrelevant. Indeed, by allowing the argument to be framed by the racists into one of "Black Heimdal" vs "White Heimdal", those who are arguing in favor of Elba's casting are doing themselves a disservice. To my mind, the question of this casting is not about race. It is not important to me that Heimdal be White. It is far more important to me that Heimdal be Viking. The quality of being Viking is a subtle one (ironically), difficult to describe in words, perhaps even ineffable. Ultimately though Elba's Heimdal is unquestionably Viking in act and word throughout the movie. He is badass, imposing, gets several awesome lines, and the fact that he is black is actually played up (not overtly) along with makeup and CG to give him a somewhat different feel to the rest of the Asgardians, which is mythologically consistent with the Heimdal of the Norse Sagas and of the comics. As such, his casting to me is perfect, and his race unimportant, either as a symbol of political correctness or of affirmative action. Idris Elba was Heimdal. Nothing else is important.

Things Havoc disliked:   This movie needed ten more minutes.

There's a lot going on in this film. There's the humans' plot, Thor's plot, Loki's plot, the Warriors' Three/Lady Sif's plot, it gets complicated. The movie never loses us, but with so much going on, the runtime necessarily compacts some of these plotlines. There were many complaints that the romance between Portman and Hemsworth was unconvincing. Some people on this very board made that argument. I sort of see what they mean, and while I don't precisely agree, I think that the romance did need about five more minutes of screentime, both for Portman's character (who comes off flat by comparison to the others), and to sell the changes in Thor's character and what brought them on.

Similarly, though Loki and his plots are portrayed very very well, a character like Loki needs time to establish, to make rich and interesting. By and large, they do give him time, but a little more would have helped, particularly with some of the plots he was hatching concerning the Warrior's Three and Sif. Were they to give him just a couple more minutes of obfuscation and work, I would have no objections.

Final thoughts:  A glorious film, big and boistrous and bold of action and effect, with amazing vistas and excellent storytelling and writing. I had my doubts about this movie, but I should have expected no less. All in all, this film took one of the Marvel characters I was never all that into, and made him properly awesome. Having seen this, I look forward to Captain America.

Final Score:  8.5/10

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