18 April 2011
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Odin (Anthony Hopkins)
Perhaps to avoid controversy with powerful religious right lobbyists, the superhero character Thor in this new comic book adaptation is no longer an actual Norse god. Instead, he is one of the powerful beings from the mystical realm Asgard, whose presence on Earth in ancient times has seen them labelled by us humans as gods. So a bit like Superman, Thor is god-like without literally being a god. Unlike Superman, he is arrogant, bad tempered and impatient. During the film’s lengthy prologue in Asgard, Thor’s headstrong attitude results in him getting banished to Earth. Thor explores many fundamental archetypal stories from various strands of classical mythology involving banished sons, sibling rivalries and the hero’s journey from disgrace to redemption.
Thor is not a groundbreaking film but it’s a satisfying and entertaining spectacle that facilitates decent character and narrative development over its running time. The special effects used to create Asgard and the various action scenes are mostly very exciting and engaging even if there is a slight by-the-numbers feel to a lot of it. Having Earth-bound Thor stripped of his powers means that while he is still a strong and skilled warrior, he is not invincible. The hand-to-hand fight sequences are therefore effectively engaging and provide a good contrast to the more magical sequences at the beginning and end of the film.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth)
Chris Hemsworth is well cast as Thor, not just for his looks and almost comically perfect physique, but for the charisma he brings to the character. His transition from hot-headedness to humility is convincing and he’s able to play both the hero and the bewildered (and bewildering) oddity from another world. In fact, the inherent ridiculousness of the film’s whole premise is often incorporated to provide some fun chuckles without becoming full-blown parody. Thor’s ye olde speaking mannerisms and old-fashioned gallantry make him not unlike the Groosalugg character from the television series Angel. This bodes well for Thor’s next cinematic appearance in the 2012 film The Avengers, which is being directed and co-written by Angel co-creator Joss Whedon.
The most interesting point about Thor is how the villains are constructed and what actions make them villainous. While the deadly Frost Giants who threaten Asgard are the most obvious bad guys, the real enemy in the film are the forces within Asgard that want to destroy any opportunities for a truce and diplomacy. Indeed, Thor’s hostile act of war mongering during a fragile situation is what sees him initially declared unfit to be king. Similar to 2010’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Thor is very much a post-Bush Administration and post-Iraq Invasion film where popular culture is used to suggest that military provocation and aggression is immoral and ineffective. Combined with a respect for the work done by scientists, Thor is a very progressive film. Wisdom and humility are the ultimate prizes in Thor, but not at the expense of a lot of fun battle sequences on Earth and in Asgard.
Thomas Caldwell, 2011
9 February 2010
Lawrence Talbot (Benicio del Toro)
Abandoned by its original director and with its release date pushed back several times before finally being unleashed on audiences, The Wolfman arrives with very low expectations that it meets with gusto. A loose remake of the 1941 Universal monster film The Wolf Man, this new incarnation of the classic werewolf story initially looks like an enticing blend of the original film, Hammer Horror films and Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow. However, it very quickly becomes apparent that the The Wolfman fails to capture any of the magic or thrills that this would suggest.
Set in 1891 Lawrence Talbot, played by Benicio del Toro, returns home to Blackmoor in England after the death of his brother. The audience knows a werewolf got his brother, many of the film’s characters know that a werewolf got him and yet the film takes a painfully long time to arrive at the point where it is ‘revealed’ that a werewolf is to blame. By that point Talbot has been bitten and is starting to notice that his body is changing.
The Wolfman demonstrates what truly bad writing really is. Del Toro’s uncharacteristically soap-opera acting style doesn’t help the horribly trite dialogue and Anthony Hopkins, as Talbot’s father, certainly doesn’t help either by sounding bored beyond comprehension throughout the entire film. Emily Blunt as Talbot’s brother’s fiancé and Hugo Weaving as a Scotland Yard policeman do a little better but only just.
The poor pacing, blatantly obvious narrative signposting and over-reliance on false scares generated by sudden sounds and movements, removes any chance of The Wolfman actually being frightening. The gore is not gruesome enough to be shocking and not over-the-top enough to be fun schlock. It’s a terribly serious film and as a result very dull. One minor point of interest is the representation of a psychiatrist as a mad scientist character since it would be interesting to find out if the filmmakers actually intended on depicting the hysterical religious fanatic characters as being right all along while the scientific community appear as villainous fools.
The Wolfman contains elements that evoke The Crow (long roof top chase), the various King Kong films (creature is brought to a populated city where it goes wild) and Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 version of Dracula (romance doomed by one of them being a murderous monster). It is a damning comparison in every case and even the supposedly state-of-the-art transformation sequences fall seriously short of the effects used in John Landis’s 1981 film An American Werewolf in London. On the plus side there are a few unintentional giggles to be had over the fact that once transformed into the werewolf, Talbot looks and sounds a lot like Chewbacca.
© Thomas Caldwell, 2010
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