Movie Review: Thor (2011)

Thor. God of Thunder from Norse and Germanic myths. Member of the Avengers (Marvel Comics). Portrayed as well meaning but clueless to those who deceive him for their own aims, he’s fierce in battle with his hammer Mjöllnir, a weapon capable of summoning lightning and destroying mountains…

And now Thor is also a major motion picture from Marvel Studios, the same folks who produced Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Wolverine, and this summer’s X-Men: First Class and Captain America: The First Avenger films. Also in the pipeline are movies based on Nick Fury, Dr. Strange, The Avengers, a rebooted Spiderman, and more… It’s a good time to be a superhero!

At first I was a bit concerned about Thor, starring Chris Hemsworth (Captain Kirk’s father George Kirk in Star Trek (2009)). How would this work? Directed by Kenneth Branagh (Henry V, Dead Again), would it become more Shakespearean in tone or would it keep the light touch favored by director Jon Favreau in Iron Man? Could Hemsworth anchor a film? Early shots from the production were interesting, but didn’t really start gaining my confidence until seeing recent trailers.

I really shouldn’t have been worried. Branagh gave it just enough weight to make it have some heart behind it and the movie works beautifully.

Thor has an all-star cast… Hemsworth as Thor. Natalie Portman (Black Swan) as Jane Foster (now an astrophysicist and not a nurse as in the comics, though they kept the name Dr. Donald Blake as a temporary name for Thor on Earth during one scene). Sir Anthony Hopkins (Hannibal, The Rite) as Odin, the ruler of the Gods of Asgard. Stellan Skarsgård (Pirates of the Caribbean series, Mamma Mia!) as Dr. Erik Selvig, Foster’s mentor and fellow scientist. Kat Dennings (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) as Darcy Lewis, who seems to be Foster’s assistant and confidante. Idris Elba (The Losers, TV’s The Office) as Heimdall, the guardian of Bifrost the Rainbow Bridge between worlds. Rene Russo (Outbreak, The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)) as Frigga, queen to Odin’s king and mother of Thor. Add to that a few relative newcomers like Jamie Alexander (TV’s Kyle XY) who plays Sif, warrior maiden and friend (love interest perhaps?) to Thor and Loki, and Tom Hiddleston as Loki, who did an amazing job making Loki a believable villain trying to prove himself to his father. And then there were the “Warriors Three” are Thor’s companions of old, with Tadanobu Asano as Hogun, Josh Dallas as Fandral, and Ray Stevenson as Volstagg… You’d think the movie would be bogged down by all the talent and yet it stays on track and quite entertaining throughout.

The film begins with Thor arriving on Earth and being hit by the car of Jane Foster and her companions who were searching for a strange astronomical phenomenon in New Mexico. We later learn how Thor came to be on Earth through his actions in Asgard and Jotunheim, the realm of the Frost Giants. Asgard is the home of Thor and the rest of the gods. And Midgard is the realm of Earth. Between these three realms, Bifrost, the rainbow bridge, acts as a doorway. The whole film amounts to a “Hero Journey” for Thor who has to learn there is a time and a place for fighting, but restraint is a necessary element to being a better ruler.

I really don’t want to spoil the film. But I have to say I was surprised at how well it worked. The story was entertaining and bridged the worlds effortlessly and Hemsworth did an amazing job in the title role. His easy smile and demeanor combined with the size and muscle mass he picked up for the film made him utterly believable. Hopkins as Odin was understated until he needed to be bigger than life – and I think the role of a tired king and father worked beautifully. And it’s always tough to see Portman in anything.

Special effects-wise, Asgard was gorgeous and all of the effects in the three realms were very elemental in nature and never overdone. The giants, the metal guardian of the vault in Asgard, and Bifrost make up the biggest part of the effects work. Add to that the various fight choreography, and I never felt the movie got out of hand or ungrounded as things did a bit with Iron Man 2.

One spoiler – I was disappointed by the little scene at the end of the credits. I’m sure it’s meant to set up next year’s The Avengers, but it wasn’t nearly as interesting as the sneak peek in Iron Man.

Though I believe I gave the first Iron Man five out of four (5/4) stars – I have to give Thor a solid four out of four (4/4). It didn’t blow me away, but it was entertaining, solid, and I really enjoyed myself. I want to see it again if that helps at all!

If you’ve been holding off because Thor‘s not your thing – wait six months for the DVD or Blu-ray. But I think this film kicked off the 2011 summer movie season with a bang!

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New Pics from Thor kind of lame…

Ok, I like Sir Anthony Hopkins. I do. Really. But this latest image from the Thor movie revealed by the Los Angeles Times leaves me more than a little skeptical.

On the left you have Chris Hemsworth as Thor. In the middle is Anthony Hopkins as Odin. And on the right is Tom Hiddleston as Loki.

Yes, I know this picture is probably staged for Comic-Con, but dang… it takes the wind out of my sails. I was much happier with this earlier image I saw:

So I guess we’ll find out what the actual movie looks like, directed by Kenneth Branagh, when it’s released May 6, 2011.

Also in the news is that Thor and Captain America will both be in 3D. Why? Why does everything have to be in 3D now? [Sigh]

What do you think?

–Fitz

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Book Review: Black Blade Blues by J.A. Pitts

Ok, I’m a bit perplexed…

What is it about sexual hangups in more mature fantasy offerings these days? I’ve run across shame about homosexual feelings, marital infidelity, and spousal abuse in two recent novels from Robin Hobb (The Dragon Keeper and Dragon Haven) and now I’ve hit the social and personal stigma of developing a lesbian relationship in J.A. Pitts’ debut fantasy novel – Black Blade Blues. I’d say it was just my imagination, but I don’t think so…

Anyway, Pitts’ novel is an urban fantasy set in the Northwest United States that centers on the life of Sarah Beauhall, a blacksmith by day and a movie props master by night with a love of medieval weapons and armor. As a collector of such forged materials, she has been known to prowl antique auctions offering swords, axes, knives, and such for sale and occasionally acquiring a piece for herself. One such piece is a beautiful black bladed sword.

When the sword is accidentally broken on the set of the latest movie Sarah is helping with, it begins a bizarre chain of events in her life. Offered help by an extra who claims to be a real live dwarf, Sarah is thrust into a world where dragons are real and magic exists. When she fixes the sword on her anvil, she becomes the central figure in a new cycle where myths and legends not only walk the Earth, but threaten the very lives of Sarah and her friends.

In recent years, beginning with Neil Gaiman‘s American Gods, the upcoming Thor movie from Marvel in 2011, and most recently with Jim Butcher‘s latest Dresden Files novel Changes, Norse gods such as Odin, Thor, Loki, and Sif have found their way into modern works of fantasy. And I have to admit that I absolutely love this trend. For far too long the gods of Asgard have remained dormant and it’s great to see them stalking the pages of fiction once more.

But back to the sexual revolution in modern fantasy for a moment… Sarah is estranged from her father, a devout believer in the Christian God and a misogynist who seems to believe that women should serve men and not get in their way. And she’s dealing with the new love she feels for her girlfriend Katie, a schoolteacher who knows who she is and what she wants – and that is Sarah. Sarah unfortunately isn’t so sure and struggles with feelings of shame brought on by her father’s intolerance for anything other than the union of a man and a woman…

I think I get it now that I’ve had time to consider it a bit. Finding yourself and your loves is a quest all of us is on throughout most of our lives. And weaving the storyline of self-discovery into the novel as Sarah goes from self-doubt about her relationship with Katie to somewhere nearing acceptance balances out the supernatural story elements surrounding the sword. It’s just interesting to see that these more modern relationships, unbounded by the “traditional” union of man and woman, are working their way into what I think of as mainstream fiction. Really it’s probably overdue.

Honestly, I was surprised to discover that this was a debut novel. The 400+ pages of Black Blade Blues went extremely quickly. As I learned more of how Pitts intertwined interpretations of Norse myths into a modern setting, it picked up speed and didn’t let me go. I can’t wait to see what’s next for Sarah Beauhall, Katie, and the rest of their friends as they deal with a world of dragons, dwarves, and magic. If you like urban fantasy and are looking for a female answer to Harry Dresden, be sure to check it out at your favorite bookstore!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up Black Blade Blues from Barnes & Noble today!

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