Thor (2011)

Watch out DC, Marvel just upped their game. After teething problems with the likes of Fantastic Four, Hulk and The Punisher, Marvel Studios have a definite game plan, and they’ve set it well and truly in motion with Thor.

Whereas DC’s Green Lantern adap has been mucking around with silly CGI suits gone wrong and truly apathetic responses to early footage, Thor knuckles down and gets on with it. That’s not to say it doesn’t have ambition – it does, in spades – but the brains behind Thor know what’s important; story, character and, yes, visual spectacle.

Marvel’s real genius here was hiring Kenneth Branagh as director. Though he’s new to the big budget CGI scene (save for that ‘90s Frankenstein adap he directed), it’s clear that Branagh’s strength resides in his ability to craft compelling family drama – something he’s honed through the course of his numerous Shakespearean adaps.

So where lesser superhero movies might paint their domestic drama in the laziest of broad brush strokes, Branagh tackles it with the courage of a true Bardian, infusing family fractures with the kind of Earth-quivering gravity that the story of warring gods deserves. When characters argue, they BELLOW. When they’re angry, they SEETHE. When they’re downtrodden, they’re BROKEN.

Barrelling out of the starting gate, Thor plummets us headfirst into the godly world of Asgard, where the Norse rulers of legend all live. In a breathless 30 minute segment entirely set amongst the stars, we’re introduced to their world, their leaders (Anthony Hopkins’ Odin, his two sons Thor and Loki), their enemies (the Frost Giants), their protectors (Idris Elba’s brilliant Gatekeeper) and everything in between.

It’s a boggling, pulse-raising opening that, though action-packed and overloaded with theatrics, makes sense in the greater context of the film. Once Thor’s been banished to Earth, stripped of his godly powers, the film settles into a more talky mid-section that’s handled with Iron Man-like wit.

Tone was always a concern. How do you reconcile the high camp setting of Asgard with the gritty real-life Earth segments without tipping the scale too far either way? To Branagh’s credit, he manages it with few niggles. Though Asgard is at times more ‘CGI epic’ than truly breathtaking, there’s no faulting the stunning production design. A glimmering green and gold paradise, there’s no doubt this is a place built for heavenly beings. Meanwhile, Branagh cleverly infuses even the Earth scenes with a comic-book kilter, keeping his lense half-crooked even in the most serious of moments.

Crucially, Thor has time for its characters. Though it’s busy, stirring in everything from references to The Sword In The Stone, a cameo from Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye and even a Terminator 2 nod, we rarely feel short-changed. The trio of scientists comprised of a spirited Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgård are a delight, championing keen chemistry and a fun sense of dry humour.

As for Hemsworth, he is Thor; built like a Viking, massive in every sense of the word. His Thor is a sort of amalgamation of other superheroes, bundled into a He-Man, Superman, God-like mass of flesh and charm. His fish out of water moments are truly hilarious, and when he gets his “fuck yeah!” moment, you’re punching the air alongside him.

Most enticingly, we know we’ve only got to wait another year to see Thor back in action. With Joss Whedon’s The Avengers currently shooting, Thor acts as a compelling prologue to that epic adventure. Unlike Iron Man 2, though, Thor also stands completely as its own entity. A thunderous, magnetic, often warmly tongue-in-cheek thrillride, it has the power to awaken the fanboy in us all. 4/5

Buffy Season Eight, Vol. 1-3

I’m aware that this nudges me even higher up the Richter scale of ‘scarily geekified’, but for the past few weeks I’ve been reading the Buffy season eight comics. I’m also aware that I’m a little slow hitching myself onto that cart – a quick Wiki trawl tells me they’ve been around since 2007. But whatever. I’m here. And I’m in Buffybliss…

Pros (aka Neato! Points For Me!):

  • It’s penned by Joss Whedon and his brood of witty wordsmiths, which means punchy dialogue, recognisable characters, and complex storytelling.
  • The big selling point with the comics is that they’re free from the budgetary restraints of TV, and boy do Team Whedon take full advantage of that. Globe-trotting escapades include a new base in Edinburgh and a trip to Japan, while the fights are bigger, the demons more outrageous. There’s also a lot of flying – something Joss was clearly desperate to do on TV, but the bean counters wouldn’t let him. Plus: giant Dawn.
  • It’s a direct continuation of the show dealing with the ‘what say we awaken all the Potentials?’ fall-out from season seven. That fall-out is huge, of course.
  • The art is fantastic.
  • Faith! Working with Giles! Fangasm.
  • This:

Just because it’s an amazing slash shout-out.

  • Xander finally has a purpose! And not a “I’m the heart of this operation” cop-out, but an actual purpose. He’s also shed a few pounds (funny how that’s easier when it’s just a drawing), which means he’s hunky again…

Cons (aka Gaaah, Hater!):

  • So Buffy’s enrolled in the KD Lang school of lesbianism. Uh, what?! I’m all for taking characters in new directions, but this development felt about as organic as a BK burger.
  • Constantly thinking, “Oooh, that would look so good as a movie.” Cos, let’s face it, never gonna happen.
  • Willow suddenly has issues with Buffy that she must’ve kept under wraps for the whole of season seven. Yes, those issues make sense, but they smack of ‘let’s create some drama to keep the relationships spicey after eight years’.
  • So over Amy. They already completely assassinated her character in season six, now they’re just dancing around in her entrails. Wrong.
  • They can’t do a sequel to ‘Once More With Feeling’ in a comic (hint: comics can’t hold a tune). Which is sad for all kinds of reasons.
  • It’s just as addictive as the show.

Volume 4 and 5 are already calling to me from my antique night stand, and I’m unable to resist their siren song.

Continue to Volumes 4 and 5