Image courtesy of Marvel Studios.
“Thor” Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. 114 minutes. Rated PG-13.
(Note: Mladen Rudman could not make the screening of “Thor.”)
“Thor” puts the hammer down on Marvel Entertainment’s canon of superhero tentpoles with a heaping helping of sound and fury that will take your breath away, if not your eardrums.
When my friend Dusty finally wheedled me into committing to “Thor” by dangling the carrot of IMAX and 3-D, I expected to hate the movie but love the look. With the possible exceptions of the original “Jason and the Argonauts” with Ray Harryhausen’s magnificent claymation effects, and Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, movies based on mythologies are annoying and distracting. They’re hard to follow, character names are impossible to figure out and the story is one big cliche.
In “Thor” the cliché is rendered moot by terrific action sequences, spectacular special effects and really top-notch acting by its A-list cast.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the god of thunder and heir to the throne of Asgard, mounts a raid on the ancient enemy the Frost Giants without his father Odin’s (Anthony Hopkins) permission. For his indiscretion Thor is banished to Earth where he meets Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), a scientist investigating atmospheric disturbances created by the comings and goings of the gods. Meanwhile Thor’s brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) plots to hold the crown for himself as Odin lapses into dream sleep. Part of that plan involves dispatching The Destroyer, an unkillable machine that shoots energy blasts from his eyes (reminiscent of Cyclops in The X-Men) to forever rid the universe of Thor.
The movie oscillates between absolute seriousness and absolute hilarity as the pieces fall into place. In one scene Thor wolfs down a meal at a dinner and hoists a coffee cup, draining it. He finds the drink to his liking and demands another, smashing the mug to the floor in true Viking style. In another Foster’s assistant, Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), admires the ripped abs of an unconscious Thor and observes, “Does he need CPR? Because I totally know CPR.”
It’s all great fun but the universe hangs in the balance as Thor must somehow get back to Asgard and foil the evil Loki’s plans to enable the Frost Giants to murder Odin. At the same time he must learn humility and wisdom if he is to become heir to Asgard’s throne. A budding romance between Thor and Foster assures that of happening.
Yet that romance seems unconvincing. While it is clear Foster is smitten by the hunky Norseman from the outset, Thor’s interest strikes the viewer as remote and indifferent until the third act. And Loki’s evil intent waxes and wanes throughout, again until the third act.
Still, the virtues of “Thor” vastly outweigh its liabilities. Hemsworth turns in a breakout performance as the arrogant god who discovers his kindler, gentler facet, while Portman radiates humor and vulnerability in a way I have never seen in her career. Hopkins is his usual, larger-than-life self and Hiddleston effectively manages the vulnerabilities and ambitions of second-fiddle Loki. Special effects are top notch and the sound will rattle your ribcage, depending on how high the theater has the volume turned up.
On a scale of A to F “Thor” rates an A minus. It’s great escapist fun and more than adequately supports the upcoming “Captain America” and “Avengers.”
Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.
Image courtesy of Marvel Studios.
“Iron Man” Directed by Jon Favreau. Starring Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges, Terence Howard and Gwyneth Paltrow. 126 minutes. Rated PG-13
Here’s a viewer’s guide to “Iron Man,” the blockbuster movie: DO NOT pay attention to details but DO stop thinking about the film the moment it ends.
“Iron Man” is light, entertaining fare suitable for matinee viewing.
Below is the partial list of flaws. Remember, the devil is in the details. Details are important to me if I’m going to swallow the director’s effort to make Iron Man a plausible do-gooder by setting him in the real world.
— Why would the planet’s premier weapons maker and billionaire playboy Tony Stark — Iron Man-to-be — go to Afghanistan to personally demonstrate a surface-to-surface artillery missile, an Army weapon, to a bunch of guys in the Air Force. Stark’s 19-billion-square-foot concrete mansion and adjoining property consume much of the western seaboard, so they must border the White Sands Missile Range. Wouldn’t it have been easier to test fire the Jericho missile there?
— If Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr., is the world’s premiere weapons designer and all-around genius, why does he use flares to try to defeat a radar-guided air-to-air missile fired at him while he’s in Iron Man mode? Shouldn’t he have dispensed chaff?
— Pepper Potts, Stark’s personal assistant, is played by breathtaking Gwyneth Paltrow. Why would it take womanizer Stark years to recognize her beauty and smarts and make a play for her. The romantic tension is the movie’s only awkward part.
— Why is an active-duty airman, a lieutenant colonel played by Terence Howard, attached to Stark as he roams the globe? The half-colonel also is one of Stark’s spokesmen.
— Why did Del automatically get a senior citizen discount from the elementary-school looking youngster in the ticket booth though he’s far from being a senior. I paid $2.50 more than Del to see “Iron Man,” a fact still stuck in my craw.
No question, “Iron Man” is over-hyped. It lacks the zest of the last truly iconic blockbuster released, “Jaws.” But, as long as you don’t pay full price for the ticket, the metal homo sapiens will keep you pleasantly distracted for some two hours.
If it’s any consolation, Mladen, that senior citizen’s discount is stuck in my craw too. But $2.50 is half a gallon of gasoline and geezers like me need that gas to drive to all those cheap buffets around town.
And I wouldn’t say “Jaws” is the last iconic blockbuster. “E.T.,” “Aliens,” “Terminator 2” and “Titanic” all fit that category, to name a few.
But I agree. “Iron Man” doesn’t live up to the hype. It’s a decent enough movie … NOT another “Cloverfield” or “Dawn of the Dead,” which is the best movie ever made.
“Iron Man” is about a weapons developer who travels to Afghanistan and sees firsthand the horrors his products have inflicted on the innocent. He’s captured by terrorists, who force him to build a diabolical weapon for their nefarious use.
Instead, he builds a crude Iron Man exo-suit and uses it to escape his captors. Once back in the States he fabricates a superior version of the suit and vows to put the terrorists out of business permanently.
It’s all silly fun as Iron Man dodges jet fighters and decimates evil mujahideen while defying the physical laws of the universe. The movie requires a Herculean suspension of belief – science is non-existent as Iron Man flies from California to Afghanistan on a single tank of gas, plummets into the ground at hundreds of miles per hour only to arise unhurt, and crashes through the roof of his mansion to crush a sports car … try doing that in a Kia and see how far you get on your senior citizen’s discount.
Forget Robert Downey Jr. The real star of “Iron Man” is Jeff Bridges, who perfectly embodies the suave, lizard-tongued CEO of Stark Industries out to make a buck at the expense of friend, family and nation.
I think “Iron Man” is a good rental movie, not one to see in theaters – unless you’re getting in for $2.50 less than Mladen.
Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a journalist and author.