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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: Midnight in Paris

You’re in love with a fantasy

There’s no doubt Midnight in Paris will be hailed as a return to form for Woody Allen. Regardless of the quality of his most recent films; Midnight would still suffice as a charming, witty and funny film about nostalgia, love, culture and inspiration.

Owen Wilson stars as Gil Pender, a screenwriter taking a break from Hollywood in Paris, a city that confirms his status as a hopeless romantic. During his stay he’s in the throes of penning his first novel while preparing to wed his fiancée Ines (a suitably pretentious Rachel McAdams). Lacking the required creativity to finish his book he wanders the streets of Paris only to get lost. When the clock strikes midnight, a cab comes to pick Gil up and he’s transported to 1920s Paris.

The premise is totally ridiculous (time travel!) but it’s endearing in a magical way. During his time in 20s Paris, Gil falls in love and spends time with cultural icons like the rambunctious Ernest Hemmingway (Corey Stoll), Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill), while also managing to dally with Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody, having a lot of fun). Although there are some references that could go over your head (as they did mine), the ones you do catch will leave you smiling. Gil’s romance with Marion Cotillard’s muse Adrianna is a warm one, both performers easily slipping into a romance that you wouldn’t think feasible at first.

The performances across the board are engaging, whether it’s Wilson’s starry-eyed turn or Ines family and friends who hit the right note of being equally obnoxious and vapid. The magical reality that Allen brings evokes a sense of a cultural Golden Age and provokes a dilemma in Gil as to whether the past is better than the unsatisfying present.

Less a travelogue of Paris like some of Allen’s previous films have been, Midnight in Paris is a fine film with some sparkling performances.

8/10

This post was originally published on MouthLondon

Review: Thor

thor_845ca8.jpg

“This drink… I like it! Another!”

Cast your mind to the first trailer for Thor. Audiences were skeptical. How would this fit in to the Marvel universe? Can Branagh handle a production of this size? Would this cripple the Avengers before it even got started? Iron Man 2 underwhelmed, would the same fait await Thor?

Let’s not say that Thor is a perfect first attempt but it is a damn good one. While origin films  vary between the good (Spider-Man, Batman Begins) and the not so good (Fantastic Four, Elektra, Daredevil), comic book films often struggle in establishing to find their audience. Thor exudes confidence straight out the gate.

There’s no need to show how Thor got his cape or his helmet. He’s fully formed after a brief prologue about the conflict between the Asgardians and Frost Giants and the briefest of glances at Thor and Loki’s childhood – then we’re straight into Thor’s succession ceremony.

Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) flaws aren’t physical but emotional. He’s brash, arrogant, and wants to prove himself like his father Odin (Antony Hopkins) did. When Asgard comes under attack, Thor engages Beast Mode and Asgard renews hostilities with the Frost giants against Odin’s wishes. As punishment, Thor is stripped of his powers and banished to Earth to learn some humility.

It’s here where he meets Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), an astrophysicist studying electrical storms to discover inter-dimensional portals. Along with her cohorts Erik (Stellan Skarsgård) and Darcy (Kat Dennings), they’re sceptical of Thor and their arc of overcoming their disbelief and believing in Thor is, arguably, one that mirrors the audience. Thor becomes something much more tangible and believable despite its wholly fantastical reality through the development of these relationships.

The acting is good with special mention going to Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston. As Thor Hemsworth has an arrogance that’s charming but reckless. His presence in contrast to his brother Loki, who is sinewy and more cerebral. Hiddleston’s unearths Loki’s intelligence and poise, relying on tricks rather than brawn.

Everyone else can be described as fine, whether it’s the comedic assistance provided by Thor’s fellow Asgardians Sif, Hogan, Fandrall and Volstagg (Jamie Alexander, Tadanobu Asano, Josh Dallas and Ray Stevenson respectively). Heimdall is given a great presence and voice by Idris Elba. Portman is charming and give Jane a steely determination. Dennings cutely mangles the word “Mljonir” several times and Skarsgård brings a touch of comedy to his performance. The only wasted cast member is Rene Russo who has a handful of scenes as Thor’s doting mother.

The film has a colourful, vivid look, despite the few occasions where the CGI looks rushed. For the most part Thor is presented in a beautiful manner and the sound mix is  thunderous. Patrick Doyle’s scores the film with a wonderful melody that heightens the heroic nature of the story.

Thor is a success and bodes well for Marvel’s future films. The best compliment I could pay to Thor is that I’m very, very interested in seeing this character again.

 8/10

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