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Trailer Review: Thor

By / Posted on 23 February 2011

ThorKenneth Branagh is best known for his Shakespearean films. The undisputed crown jewel of his career to date is 1996′s Hamlet, noteworthy for its length (over four hours as the entire original Shakespeare script was unabridged), cast (Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Kate Winslet, GĂ©rard Depardieu and others were all paid scale), and film format (the final picture to date shot on traditional 70mm film). More than any other Shakespeare film, Branagh’s Hamlet became something of a cult hit. Perhaps that is what attracted the attention of Marvel Entertainment.

The past decade has been a great and memorable one for Marvel. Repeated box office successes from the X-Men and Spider-Man franchises saw the company lifted from the depths of bankruptcy filed in 1996 to the atmospheric highs of Marvel’s 2009 purchase by Walt Disney Company, the most celebrated entertainment house in the world. While both franchises had immense and loyal fanbases already, the mainstream success of the X-Men and Spider-Man films is owed in large part to their directors. Bryan Singer and Sam Raimi were relatively fresh faces known for smaller cult films (The Usual Suspects and Evil Dead, respectively). After a string of flops with slightly more celebrated directors, Marvel stopped licensing out their properties and began to produce their films internally, beginning with their most popular blockbuster, Iron Man. Again, a cult hit director was tapped in Jon Favreau, who had written Swingers and directed Elf but was otherwise known for his acting. And so we enter Branagh’s take on Marvel’s version of the Norse thunder god:

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Chris Hemsworth is eye candy. He will be on the cover of countless magazines and your girlfriends will all stop whatever they were talking about to gawk at his chiseled manliness. The Norse god of thunder has been adequately personified here. Skipping past Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins entirely, is it just me or is Kat Dennings absolutely stealing the show here? From their portrayals in this trailer, it seems as though Branagh is setting up for Denning’s role as Darcy to play the id to Portman-as-Jane-Foster’s ego and Hemsworth-as-Thor’s super-ego. According to Freud, the id wants instant self-gratification (Facebook reference) while the super-ego “retains the character of the father” (all Thor ever wants to do is live up to the example of his father Odin). The character portrayals are uncharacteristically charming for a super-hero movie, the genre known for big action and brooding loneliness rather than camaraderie.

Thor and Odin

Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Anthony Hopkins as Odin. Hopkins is a colleague of Branagh's in classical Shakespearean theatre.

This couples with perhaps the most telling aspect of the trailer, that Thor seeks to tell the story of two worlds. The scenes on Earth and on Asgard look like two entirely different movies with wildly different pacing and performance and cinematography. Earth is dingy and intimate while Asgard is immaculate and massive. Earth looks like a coming-of-age romantic comedy while Asgard looks like a big budget war epic. Thor is all of these things as the banished god learns the ways of man, and when the two worlds collide it stands out all the more. Hemsworth in flannel facing off against a ten-foot tall Destroyer looks only slightly less outrageous than Will Smith battling a giant mechanical spider in Wild, Wild West.

The well-reviewed cult director seems to be a horse Marvel is betting heavily on these days. Joss Whedon (Serenity, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Stardust), Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream) and Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) are all on tap for coming Marvel films (Avengers, X-Men: First Class, The Wolverine and Ant-Man, respectively). All are celebrated and have loyal fan followings but none are known for bringing in the big bucks. So far, this has proven to be a successful formula for Marvel, both creatively and financially. With an emphasis on expanded universe the likes of which never before seen in cinema (notice Thor’s hammer at the end of Iron Man 2), look for Thor to set the stage for 2012′s Avengers (which itself will introduce Ant-Man while teaming the stars of Thor, Iron Man and Captain America) when the thunder god crashes box offices May 6th.

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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.