Tuesday, November 19, 2013

loki steals the show — and thor's thunder

We got to see Thor: The Dark World this past weekend. I guess I've been somewhat invested in these Marvel comic book adaptation movies, as I've seen most of them — Captain America, Iron Man 3, The Avengers, the first Thor. Of all of them, I found Thor the most entertaining. Apart from the complete movie star quality of star Chris Hemsworth, the film had humor.

Director Kenneth Branagh is no stranger to going over-the-top with Shakespearean theatrics in even his non-Bard films, but he recognized that Thor was at its heart, larger-than-life and extremely theatrical. How could it not be. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is not just a super-hero, he is a Norse god, and his cohorts make up the Norse pantheon, from his father, the All-father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and mother Frigga (Rene Russo) to his best buddy Heimdall (Idris Elba), the guardian of their home, Asgard. And then there's Loki, the trickster, Thor's bad-boy half-brother. Branagh wisely cast Royal Academy of Dramatic Art grad Tom Hiddleston in the role, and he has not only nailed Loki's mad whims, but dug into his daddy issues while bringing both a sense of menace and vulnerability to his appearances in both Thor films and The Avengers. Will someone get this actor and this character his own movie already?

Loki and Thor team up — or do they?

Star-crossed lovers? Awkward.
Thor, look around, yes, over there ...

Hiddleston/Loki is so much fun and so magnetic every moment on screen that one almost forgets about the rest of the film. Who really cares about the Big Bad, Malekith, played by the excellent Christopher Eccleston, who is hidden under some hideous make-up and inexplicably speaks in subtitled Dark Elf language for the first part of the film. Malekith learns English pretty quickly and that annoyance is then dropped and forgotten.

I can't care much about or for Natalie Portman, either, who plays Thor's love interest Jane, who is supposed to be a brilliant scientist, but spends most of the film moping over her hunky maybe-boyfriend. She shares more chemistry in two very brief scenes with potential suitor (played by the again-excellent) Chris O'Dowd. Odin and many others kept reminding Thor that a human's lifespan is just a blip compared to theirs, and I couldn't help but feel secretly happy for Thor that once his fling with Jane has run its short course he could spend more quality time with the fierce and lovely Sif (Jaime Alexander) with whom he shared tons more chemistry in just a few brief scenes.

Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgård manage to make the most of their goofy side-kick roles — they seem to inhabit the earth and world of Thor much more convincingly than Portman, who seems strangely out of touch and out-of-synch with everyone else. There are many other good actors in blink-or-miss roles: Zachary Levi, Ray Stevenson, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Alice Krige.

Yes, that's Christopher Eccleston in there somewhere as Malekith
I do love the look of Malekith's crew, The Dark Elves (costumes by Wendy Partridge)

Director Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire) utilizes all of the special effects at his disposal and occasionally some of these visuals are a hit, especially a time/space anomaly that is just X Files weird enough near the front of the film, and then gets brought back for comic effect towards the end. But the high points of Thor: The Dark World rest most definitely not with the Lord of the Rings meets Star Wars-like battle sequences, but the character interactions. Yet again, a comic book movie chooses to rest heavier in the CGI department than with its heroes. I've never been a comic book junkie, but don't folks get hooked on the stories because of the characters? Anyway, the best scenes in Thor feature the two brothers, Thor and Loki, verbally and physically sparring. Or Loki standing up to his "father" Odin, or Loki having a touching exchange with his mother Frigga. Or shape-shifting in numerous amusing ways. Basically, Loki with anyone.


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