Monday, May 2, 2011

Thor (Kenneth Branagh)

Thor and a lesson in humility.

Now, I'm aware of how everyone was so shocked and so surprised when Kenneth Branagh was chosen to direct this film. Branagh, known to be not that fully acquainted with blockbuster films (although he has starred in a "Harry Potter" installment), has inspired countless speculators as to the reason why he has accepted such a directorial venture. Why would Branagh direct a Marvel film? Why is a Marvel film directed by a Shakespere-inclined actor with little to no experience with action-oriented movies? They asked.

Well, for me, the question should be the other way around: Does this film deserve its director? With that in mind, I watched the film, and in the final run, as I weigh on both the film's pros and cons, I have concluded that the film ultimately did. As for Branagh, well, he capably pulled it off. No sweat.

Chris Hemsworth, which on first impression may seem stiff, played the titular character with surprising effectiveness, comic arrogance, and romantic tenderness. Just his first innocently brusque sequences in the realms of Earth (in New Mexico to be precise) filled with uneasy flamboyance and Viking-like behaviors make his performance very special. Anthony Hopkins, playing King Odin, is your typical noble but strict patriarch. While Tom Hiddleston, the film's most surprising revelation, is quite effective as the chief antagonist and Thor's adoptive brother Loki.

For the human characters, Kat Denning's portrayal of Darcy tried some comic reliefs with all her references to current 'Generation Y' fads just so, you know, she can connect with the younger demographics' funny bones, but she failed. Gladly, she has shut up in the film's second-half. Stellan Skarsgard, always the capable character actor, is here acting within mere stereotypes.

Natalie Portman, on the other hand, is the typical brainy damsel who found some romantic connection with the powerful Norse God and has also been one of the reasons why Thor decided to protect the mortal world.

Now, we've already seen director Branagh play with the wonders of exquisite production design in his rendition of "Hamlet". But this time, he plays with the complicated and chaotic beauty of CGI. Scene after scene, it seems as if he is merely testing his ability to execute every digitally-altered shots that at times, except the establishing shots of Asgard and Jotunheim (where the Frost Giants live), the fast-paced action sequences all seem sketchy, sudden and a bit too shaky and dark. Even the climactic struggle in the Bifrost Bridge, although colorful, majestic, spectacularly surreal and emotionally critical all at the same time, is filled with physically lackluster series of weapon jousting.

In one scene, we see Thor racing against time, flying with his hammer in hand, to confront his mischievous  brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). It's from moments like this that superheroes of his kind have, time and time again, made names out of. Add up some intense music, battle-face expressions and fragile surroundings and we've got ourselves one perfect superhero situation.

But then the next scene shows Thor landing at the scene with obvious detachment. It could have been a 'great' moment right there, but the whole emotional atmosphere where Branagh could have invested much ultimately lacked the immediacy. In this scene, Thor seems lethargic and confused. What the hell happened?

But on a meritorious side, Kenneth Branagh, with the help of the hammer-clenching Avenger's expansive universe, created a wonderfully-prepared psychological conflict to put the idea of Thor's 'unconditional heroism' into a blurring test between his own kingdom's well-being, which he was born to love and to lead, and the mere mortal reality of Earth, where he learned to embrace the role of being a protector.

Is it his universe or the other? Is it Asgard or Earth? This film, for once, bravely responded without any certain cinematic answers. This is where Thor has succeeded. Throughout the endless showcase of might, magic, monsters and kings, "Thor" attained believability, at least in how a hero weighs in on what matters to him the most. In this case, Thor knows his priorities.


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