Friday, June 17, 2011

Thor ***


Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman
Stellan Skarsgård, Tom Hiddleston, Kat Dennings, Idris Elba
Renee Russo, Anthony Hopkins,

Superhero movies can be divided into three main kinds: the obnoxiously preachy ones (Watchmen, The Dark Knight), the blissfully entertaining and therefore more memorable ones (Spider-Man 2, X2: X-Men United) and the Daredevil ones (i.e. the worst kind).
Directed with unusual glee and un-selfconscious gravitas by Kenneth Branagh, Thor falls into the second category. Breakthrough star Chris Hemsworth plays Thor, son of the Nordic god Odin (Hopkins) who has maintained peace in the world for millennia. When Thor is about to succeed his father as king of the realm of Asgard (imagine a Pink Floyd album cover turned into an 80s amusement park) they are suddenly attacked by their dormant enemies: the Frost Giants.
After the crisis is averted, Thor, encouraged by his sneaky brother Loki (Hiddleston) goes against his father’s wishes and attacks the Giants’ kingdom: Jotunheim. After learning of his son’s disobedience, Odin has no choice but to strip him of his godly gifts, exile him from Asgard and send him to a place so hideous that he’d spend the rest of eternity trying to ascend back to the heavens: Thor lands in New Mexico.
Lucky for him, his father out of some Shakespearean whim (can’t have Branagh without the Bard) also throws Thor’s mythical hammer Mjolnir to Earth, in the hopes that, sooner than later, his son will regain its power. Thor is discovered by scientist Jane Foster (the absolutely ravishing Portman) and her colleagues Erik Selvig (Skarsgård) and Darcy (a scene stealing Dennings) as they study wormholes and strange storms in the desert.
Like an alien version of Tarzan, Jane has to teach Thor about the ways of the world but in the meantime, watching Hemsworth in all of his brutish glory is a true spectacle. He enters pet shops demanding horses, calls New Mexico a realm and kisses the hands of the delighted ladies. Darcy’s comments about Thor’s undeniable hotness are hilarious (Dennings’ dead pan delivery is comedic wonder) and soon enough Jane has developed a crush on this man from the stars who might just prove her scientific theories right.
The film tries to stress this out a bit too much (people from different worlds learning from each other) without ever realizing that the more it points us to this, the more we’ll question the film’s motives and discrepancies. How many different gods from how many different cultures coexist for example? Or is the film choosing Nordic mythology as the one?
This is why the movie works best when it’s simple fun. The action sequences are done with just the right amount of kitsch (a 50’s inspired robot attacks a small town!) and the characters are interesting enough without being overdone (Hiddleston’s slimy Loki is the right mix of angst and silly comic book evil). Branagh shines in scenes where he gets to make the actors truly act: Hopkins’ Odin is King Lear minus the actual tragedy and the director is kind enough to give comic book enthusiasts a peek at upcoming projects as well as filling the movie with references only some of them will get.
Interestingly enough, with all of its fun and seeming silliness, the film also works as a fascinating study of gender dynamics and homoerotic identification. There is one particular scene in which Thor, who seems ignorant about the attractiveness of his physique, takes his short off revealing a perfectly chiseled torso. Branagh lingers in this moment more than any heterosexual filmmaker would dare to (directors like Nolan for example prefer showing the ugliness of masculinity) and then cuts to reactions of Jane and Darcy who literally open their mouths in disbelief.
However in doing so, Branagh also forces audiences (heterosexual males included) to embrace the beauty of another male body and heck, even admire and envy it.
When the year comes to an end, this will still remain one of the most talked about scenes of the year and if Branagh manages to make strictly heterosexual and even homophobic audiences talk about Hemsworth with the same spark Jane Foster does in the movie, he’ll have achieved something slightly divine.

3 comments:

Robert said...

I never thought about how important that shirtlessness scene was! Like, I mean, it was an amazing scene. ;) But your analysis of its significance is really interesting.

Runs Like A Gay said...

Yeah, it's the first time I thought of that scene in that way. The fetishism of the male body, compared to no scantily clad females is interesting in that context.

Is Branagh trying to subvert the expectations of comic book adaptation fans - with Matthew Vaughn playing up to the expectation in X-Men: First Class.

Jose said...

Thanks guys, glad you thought the perspective was interesting!