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The Road to The Avengers: Thor

Chris Hemsworth as Thor facing off against The Destroyer

“I have no plans to die today”

Up till Thor’s release Marvel Studios had eschewed the more fantastical elements of its characters/worlds for a realistic vibe. They were plausible…well Iron Man  sort of was; but they each felt part of a recognisable world. The Incredible Hulk was a monster movie but the character was familiar enough for audiences not to question it. Thor was a different proposition: how do you fit a god and space bridges into the Marvel canon and keep it grounded?

The characters and setting of Asgard are outlandish, absolutely separate from the real world aesthetics that Iron Man and, to a lesser extent, The Incredible Hulk created. Perhaps, like the previous Marvel films, the reason it works because of an emphasis on character rather than action.

That doesn’t mean it skimps on the action but it isn’t the film’s major concern. If the film’s faults lie in scale of the action (smaller than the setting implies); the way the action sequences are directed (functional) and a story that may not feel as grand as it should be, then those concerns are valid. For me it’s the conflict between Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Tom Hiddleston’s Loki that’s the film’s most interesting aspect and what draws me back into the film than any preconceived notions of what it should/could have been.

Having written at length about what I liked about the film already (so, so long ago), I won’t bother repeating myself in any great detail. In short Thor’s an very likable film that doesn’t suffer from the Iron Man films’ weak third acts, and, emotionally, has a stronger sense of purpose than any of previous Marvel Studios films. Most of it is down to the trifecta of Hemsworth, Hiddleston and Anthony Hopkin’s Odin, a family thrown into tumult when Thor commits an act of stupidity and threatens to re-ignite the war between the Asgardians’ foe the Frost Giants.

Banished from Asgard (by way of a quite literal dressing down) Thor is sent to learn about humility and sacrifice as a lesson for his brash arrogance. Along the way he meets Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and Darcy (comic relief Kat Dennings) and finds a place along humanity.

It’s another redemption story in the vein of Iron Man but it doesn’t lose its energy in the final third because of the relationships established in the film’s opening half-hour. S.H.I.E.L.D is still a bit of a dick but they don’t come across as annoying or as incongruous as they once did in Iron Man 2 (which wasn’t bad itself, just came across as trying to fit too many pieces into the puzzle). In Loki Marvel had its best villain so far, one that did not offer a physical threat to Thor’s strength but functioned as a trickster who schemes and manoeuvres pieces into place, an aspect of his character that worked well in The Avengers.

For my two cents (pennies?) Thor was the most entertaining of the films leading up to The Avengers. It’s funny, likable and felt like the most rounded of the films to date: it had some scope (though not as much as some wanted), a very good score by Patrick Doyle and visually, despite some glaring imperfections, was vibrant and imaginative. It set the benchmark for future films in the Marvel Studios universe.

8/10

[Despite all the kerfuffle pre-release about the colour of the character, Idris Elba’s Heimdall almost steals the film from Hemsworth and Hiddleston. It also puts down a marker for future characters to not be bound by race. Hurrah!]

Review: The Cabin in the Woods

Kristen Connolly in The Cabin in the Woods

The lambs have passed through the gate…they have come to the killing floor

I’ll start off with a disclaimer: I’m not a fan of horror. It’s a genre mired in a bloody sludge of body parts, characters who consistently do dim things and few genuine scares. If horror is a genre that terrifies and excites viewers simultaneously, then it’s a feeling I’ve rarely had. The Cabin in the Woods is not the most terrifying experience but it is a lot of fun.

Delayed after its studio encountered financial difficulties, The Cabin in the Woods is a clever, entertaining film that playfully subverts expectations. Hollywood has recycled torture porn and nondescript ghost stories so many times, that they’ve forgotten that the genre can be fun and strange; disorientating and hilarious.

Five friends go to a remote cabin for a weekend getaway and end up getting far more than they expected. That’s it. The rules of the game are simple: make it out alive. The Cabin in the Woods works better if you go in knowing relatively little about it other than there’s a cabin and it’s in the woods. Anything more and the surprises are spoiled.

The script by Drew Goddard and Josh Whedon is a slow drip of information, spooling the plot and dishing out information in token amounts leaving the viewer relatively confused as to how everything comes together. What everything is, is better left to watching the film.

There are surprises; there are moments that are scarcely believable and they’re all sprinkled with moments of comedy that takes the accumulated knowledge of horror films and spins it in a way that’s consistently funny. Ever wanted to know why smoke appears from the ground? Or have you ever wanted to know why there’s always nudity in these films? The concept behind The Cabin in the Woods makes those answers all part of the fun.

Does the story make much sense when you start to untangle it? No. Scratch at the surface of it and there’s not much depth to it. The characters are shallow and the logic can be fuzzy but that’s the point. From scene to scene, moment to moment, you’re absolutely invested in seeing what happens next, if only to see what kind of tricks Goddard and Whedon have up their sleeves. The last half hour or so features some of the most inventive film-making I’ve seen this year.

A film that’s as bloody as it is funny, The Cabin in the Woods is a crowdpleaser. I’ve never been a huge fan of Whedon but this film has put me on the road of being a convert. The real star here is Goddard and how he assembles everything he has at his disposal, from the effective cinematography to David Julyan’s perfectly modulated score, The Cabin in the Woods is a lot like Sam Raimi’s horror films The Evil Dead: fun, gory and absolutely worth your time.

8/10

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