by Mel Valentin
Superhero Summerô officially kicks off with "Thor," Marvel Studiosí $150 million-dollar (exclusive of P&A) gamble to elevate the title character, the familiar Norse god converted into a superpowered alien, from second-tier status to a first-tier superhero character worthy of a standalone franchise of his own, simultaneously setting the stage for next summerís superhero team-up, "The Avengers," the first in what Marvel hopes will be a lucrative, long-running franchise that will bring Thor together with Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Rufalo), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and several other Marvel Universe-related characters. "The Avengers" will be Marvelís riskiest gamble yet, but like "Iron Man 2," the attempt to make "Thor" serve multiple purposes proves to be, if not a fatal flaw, then a serious one.Thor opens on a lonely, dark road as Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, wasted in an underwritten role), an astrophysicist and part-time storm chaser, her senior colleague, Professor Erik Selvig (Stellan SkarsgŚrd), and her assistant-intern, Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings, comic relief), drive to a desolate patch of ground to watch and record odd meteorological phenomenon. When a freak storm hits, Jane, Darcy, and Andrews retreat inside the camper and try to drive away. With visibility limited, Jane accidentally runs over Thor (Chris Hemsworth) or someone who calls himself Thor. Darcy tasers a weakened Thor, sending Thor back in time, a thirty-minute flashback meant to fill in the audience on Thorís semi-convoluted backstory as a Norse god (or, to be more accurate, Marvelís take on Norse gods and Norse mythology).
"Another middling, mediocre effort from Marvel Studios."
In Asgard, one of the nine, interconnected realms, Thor, the first-born son of Odin All-Father (Anthony Hopkins), the ruler of the nine realms, saunters into the main Asgardian hall like a rock star (which he is, more or less). Arrogant, self-centered, immature, and quick to temper, Thor is the classic flawed hero (or superhero), primed for a literal fall from grace (or heaven) for his flaws and/or sins. Despite wielding Mjolnar, the all-powerful hammer forged, according to Odin, ďin the dying heart of a sun,Ē and, of course, superpowers, Thorís above-the-neck weaknesses get the better of him. Prideful, yet naÔve, Thor allows his younger brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), to convince him to disobey Odinís direct orders, slip into Jotunheim, one of the other nine realms, and challenge the Frost Giants, natural enemies to the Asgardians, over a recent, unauthorized breach of Asgardís weapons vault by several Frost Giants.
With war against the Frost Giants imminent, Odin strips Thor of his superpowers and Mjolnar, banishing him to Midgard (a.k.a. Earth). On Earth, a depowered Thor comes to the attention of SHIELD, the super-secret, transnational espionage organization tasked with handling otherworldly threats (and superheroes too). SHIELD dispatches Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) to investigate the appearance of Mjolnar in the New Mexico desert. Like Excalibur, Mjolnar canít be picked up or wielded by just anyone. Only an exceptional, worthy individual can, setting up Thorís predictable character arc from selfish non-hero to compassionate superhero with Jane as the primary catalyst for Thorís rushed transformation, rushed because Thor jumps between Midgard and Asgard periodically, following Lokiís attempts to wrest the throne from Odin and Thorís companions, Sif (Jamie Alexander) and the Warriors Three, Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (Josh Dallas), and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano), in opposition, with Heimdall (Idris Elba), gatekeeper to the BifrŲst (Rainbow) Bridge, as a wild card.
Thor's ill-fitting, fragmented double-narrative is the result of multiple screenplay drafts written by different screenwriters, sometimes individually, sometimes as a team, only partially reflected in the final screenplay credits recently determined by the WGA (Writers Guild of America) via arbitration. An initial draft by Mark Protosevich (I Am Legend) was considered too expense to produce ($300 million by some accounts), necessitating the involvement of a combination of Marvelís producers and several, new screenwriters to pare down Protosevichís script into something more manageable and reasonable, budget wise. Ultimately, Protosevich shared a story credit with comic-book scribe/screenwriter J. Michael Stracsynski (Changeling, Babylon 5). Thorís producers borrowed key plot elements from Stracsynskiís comic book run.
When Marvel tapped Kenneth Branagh to direct Thor, Marvel cited Branaghís background directing (and starring in) several Shakespeare adaptations as the primary reason for selecting him over other, presumably capable directors. There's little of Shakespeare in Thor, however; maybe faux-Shakespearean, maybe even Wagnerian (by way of Flash Gordon), but not Shakespearean, except on the most superficial level, the sibling conflict between Thor, first in line to the Asgardian throne, and Loki, the second son perpetually relegated to secondary status. Shakespeare strove for and achieved character complexity nowhere reflected in Thor. The father-son conflict between Odin and Thor never gains any depth or profundity, making the Thor-Loki conflict key to Thorís success or failure as a film.
Surprisingly, the Powers-That-Be (PTB) at Marvel Studios either overlooked or forgot to remind Branagh that (a) he's not Carol Reed, and (b) he wasn't directing The Third Man, but a big-screen adaptation of a second-tier Marvel character. The PTB also failed to set stylistic parameters for Branagh has both positive and negative sides, positive because Marvel was willing to give Branagh free rein visually, and negative because Thor failed to meet Iron Man-level expectations. Blame Marvelís idiosyncratic approach to selecting directors to helm the adaptations of their comic-book properties to the big screen. Branagh shows, at best, minimal competency in directing action scenes (the more CG required, the less competent his direction), faring slightly worse during the joke-heavy earthbound scenes (e.g., overabundant Dutch angles, handheld camerawork).Functional as a bridge between "Iron Man 2," "Captain America: The First Avenger" later this summer, and "The Avengers" next year, "Thor" fails as a standalone film, due in no small part to the increasing demands and strains of maintaining a shared superhero universe, a concept drawn from Marvel (and DC) Comics. As a concept, a shared superhero universe simultaneously expands the number of active characters that future filmmakers can bring to the big screen (or bring again), simultaneously limiting those same filmmakers to plots and characters that advance the shared universe, rather than serve an individual character or specific storyline fully rather than haphazardly (or not at all).
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originally posted: 05/12/11 05:31:29