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 Michael Bergeron
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Thor

Thor
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Thor is foremost an extreme example of the comic book genre film. I happen to really like this film unlike my reaction to Iron Man and Tony Stark’s ilk. Go look up my reviews for Iron Man (or the dreaded The Hangover) and you can see I thought they were mediocre at best. All of a sudden Iron Man makes tons at the box and everybody loves it, so when I am in public, say at a party, I pretend that everyone who talks shit about Iron Man and The Hangover is okay while they go on with how relevant those films are to their life.

Okay, I can watch the Iron Man films with no pain because the production values are pro and in the second film Robert Downey, Jr. pees in his suit. But then, you see an ad for the upcoming Cowboys versus Aliens (for which I am totally psyched) and the ad proclaims “From the director of Iron Man.”

First of all, Jon Favreau, while I think he’s cool and everything, did not direct Swingers nor did he direct PCU. He directed Zathura and lucked out on Iron Man, which made bank, and maybe Favreau has improved as he goes along but he’s no Kenneth Branagh.

Look how may Hulk films there’ve been in the last ten years. One with Ed Norton; one with Eric Bana; and in the upcoming Avengers movie Hulk is played by Mark Ruffalo. Thor as well as Captain America is just part of a syndicated piece of corporate franchise designed to take the greater part of your attention span. On the other hand a branded name like Marvel Comics means many things to many people.

I’m old enough that when I was a kid I was reading DC and Marvel brand comics so I would’ve read the premiere appearance of Thor in 1962. By the late 60s there were what the industry calls strip cartoon versions of Marvel comic heroes Fantastic Four, Thor, Spider Man, et al. Kenneth Branagh, director of Thor, has delivered the best comic book movie since the 1970s Richard Donner/Richard Lester Superman series. But getting a director like Branagh to add depth and structure to a story of Norse gods is a no-brainer. It’s like getting the De Palma touch for the first Mission: Impossible.

Finally a film that reunites half the cast of Freejack (Anthony Hopkins and Renee Russo); has Natalie Portman, as the femme, driving that cool Lost in Space truck; plus the Oscar® nommed-actor who turns up in a cameo (I’m beginning to root for the guy”). As envisioned by Branagh, Thor replicates the history/tragedy/comedy play that Shakespeare never wrote. There’s a prologue that sets up the Earth sequence that includes scientists Portman and Stellan Skarsgard, followed by a first act that establishes the other worldly kingdom of Asgard and the posse of Thor as well as his bad blood with brother Loki. The film shifts back to the New Mexican desert with a powerful set piece provided in the form of a small town. Portman’s house/laboratory, a former gas station with a cool tower on the roof, sits half on the edge of town and on the border of the desert.

Lesser-known thesps like Tom Hiddleston (an excellent foil as the bastard son Loki) and Jamie Alexander are as interesting as the bigger stars. Branagh brings a constant sense of epic storytelling, whether it’s a battle in the town’s streets, the back-story of the gods, or archetypal shots of Thor flying. Thor the movie is fun to watch.

Let the viewer beware, the only real bad thing about my screening of Thor was the 3D. A total botched 3D job makes a joke out of the kind of cinematography that provides its own world. I talked to one of the managers at the theater afterwards and he concurred with me, the 3D version looks under lit and some of the medium long shots are totally out of focus. This differs from many of the close-up shot of the actors that are in sharp focus. Avoid the 3D Thor and see the film in a regular (2D or flat) theater. It’s hard to imagine that none of the higher ups at Paramount actually watched the film in 3D because if this was a car manufacturer they would be recalling all the 3D prints and destroying them before showing it to the public. This is the kind of last minute 3D money grab that destroys what little credibility an average studio has with the average movie fan.

Brit DP Haris Zambarloukos did a knockout job with widescreen composition that make certain colors pop. There’s also a constant use of grand landscapes on more than one planet, off kilter angles for establishing shots, plus shallow depth of field shots for talking scenes created with long lenses and lighting. Thor has its own dimension and unique movie look that the bad 3D all but destroys. (There are good 3D films, movies actually shot and lit for 3D like Avatar or the new Herzog doc Cave of Forgotten Dream – okay off my soapbox.)

- Michael Bergeron

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