May 10, 2011
Action, Film, Sci-Fi
Anthony Hopkins, Asgard, Avengers, CGI, Chris Hemsworth, Film, film music, George Lucas, Hamlet, Hans Zimmer, Harry Potter, Henry V, Iron Man, Kat Dennings, Kenneth Branagh, King Lear, Marvel, movies, Natalie Portman, Patrick Doyle, picture, poster, Ramin Djawadi, review, score, soundtrack, Star Wars, Stellan Skarsgard, Steve Jablonsky, The Mighty Thor, Thor, Tom Hiddleston
In Marvel’s scramble to grant each of their superheroes a franchise before a possible united outing, the choice of Kenneth Branagh as director for “The Mighty Thor” was without doubt the best decision. To draw parallels between the mythically-inspired comic and the godly authority of the accredited Shakespearean with a pedigree that includes everything from “Henry V” to “Hamlet” was a stroke of genius that translated into the most anticipated hero-picture of the summer. Similarly a good decision was to cast a relative newcomer, golden-locked and uber-muscled Chris Hemsworth in the hammer-wielding title role alongside heavyweights like Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman.
After a folly mission, young and arrogant god of thunder Thor (Hemsworth) is banished from Asgard by his father Odin (Hopkins) and has his principle source of power, the hammer Mjolnir stripped from him. Exiled to a world called Earth, he first meets with scientist Jane (Portman) and her assistants Stellan Skarsgård and Kat Dennings. Concurrently, Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has been eying the throne of Asgard for himself and has agreed a devious deal with the feared Ice-Giants that would see Odin dead, Thor permanently banished and said giants rise to their former glory. If that weren’t enough, the mysterious SHIELD agency (Introduced in “Iron Man”) is also after Thor’s hammer. As the forces of evil unite, Thor must prove himself worthy, regain Mjolnir and (of course) defeat Loki and thus save Asgard. As expected, Branagh’s influence saturates the picture, lending an epic touch to the exposition that may not quite rival the Bard himself but is a terrific – and the correct – direction in which to take a superhero film. The entire plot has hints of “King Lear,” minus the insanity. Yet Branagh rightly distinguishes between dramatic proceedings in Asgard and more casual ones on Earth, with surprisingly humorous results. Quite a large portion of the film’s middle third contains some hearty laughs that certainly come unexpected but also function as reassurance that Branagh isn’t taking it all much too seriously.
Hemsworth to does well in slipping into his godly shoes, though far more believable when able to ham up the headstrong and foolhardy side of Thor than when purporting love for his father, brother and country. His chemistry with Portman is fine though their relationship misses a crucial middle floor in her coming across a homeless hunk in the desert to believing him to be a god from another world. Portman is never bad in a role but maybe this one wan’t quite suited to her. There are further caveats to register, mainly the underdevelopment of the chief villain. Not only is it clear from frame one that Loki will play bad, his motives are so thoroughly scrambled that many a viewer will be scratching their heads. The screenplay thinks itself far too clever here, seemingly presenting a complex character but comes up short by having his behaviour be illogical. Many will also find fault with the presentation of Asgard itself, as it looks like a rather bad mutation of some of Lucas’ “Star Wars” worlds and oh so CGI. Too much so, especially in the huge crowd scenes and battle set-pieces that should by rights rock the floor like the Battle of Agincourt. Finally, a series of off-angle establishing shots stick out like sore thumbs. If these were intended to be a stylistic device is unclear but in any case no stylistic device should jump out and say look at me!
Patrick Doyle has always been Branagh’s composer of choice and like him, this was Doyle’s first dabble in the genre. Having also previously graced the fourth “Harry Potter” with music of epic proportions, the Brit certainly has the know-how for an appropriately large effort this time round as well. What surprised many listeners and deterred some was Doyle’s choice (or perhaps at the insistence of the studio) to venture into the grounds more usually tread by Hans Zimmer and his associates: That definitive “blockbuster” sound with power-anthems, orchestra plus synth elements and an abundance of driving percussion. Though it’s a departure for Doyle, the style fits the film well and is, unlike some of the efforts of Steve Jablonsky, Ramin Jawadi and indeed Zimmer himself, a score of intelligent construct. The main theme is powerful, the string ostinatos vary as appropriate and there’s almost excessive material for the percussion section to gnaw on. It would certainly have been interesting to hear Doyle apply his more conventional music but that may well have been far too romantic for the film. This score may very well mark the beginning of a comeback for Patrick Doyle who had slipped off the Hollywood radar somewhat in recent years. Definitely recommended.
Overall “Thor” makes for good entertainment. The continuation of style Branagh nurtured on the Elizabethan stage is the film’s strongest playing card though several poor choices, some not directly related to the director prevent it from being an ace up his sleeve. That said, it’s a great kick-off for a summer with a full-up superhero offering. Should a sequel come to pass, definitely bring Kenneth Branagh back to the table.
Have you seen “Thor” yet? If you have, please do join in the discussion by leaving a comment and sharing this review with your friends on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks and all the best!
November 7, 2010
Action, Adventure, Film
Akator, Cate Blanchett, CG, Christopher Nolan, Cold War, David Koepp, Film, film music, George Lucas, Harrison Ford, Holy Grail, Indiana Jones, James Bond, John Hurt, John Williams, Jurassic Park, Karen Allen, Korngold, Marlon Brando, movies, Peru, picture, Ray Winstone, review, Sci-fi, score, sequel, Shia LaBoeuf, soundtrack, Star Wars, Steven Spielberg, Tarzan, The Dark Knight, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Last Crusade, The Lost World, Transformers
It’s been almost twenty years since the world’s favourite archeologist last donned that fedora that makes him as iconic as any James Bond. Naturally with this large a gap between sequels many Indy fans approached this fourth entry with a certain anxiety and apprehension, some arguing that a perfect trilogy should remain just that. Besides, Harrison Ford had just passed 65, not exactly a prime age for an action and adventure hero. But the ultimate question was had wonder-boys Spielberg and Lucas still got the flair of their 80s heyday? The former’s hadn’t made a “fun” movie since 1997’s “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” and hadn’t made a really good “fun” movie since the original “Jurassic Park” way back in 1993. Lucas meanwhile had tinkered with his “Star Wars” prequel trilogy and it is generally agreed that the new films don’t even come close to rivalling the originals. And while “The Crystal Skull” was met with mixed reactions from both fans and critics, the good news is that they have largely succeeded.
Fittingly, this fourth film takes place a full decade after “The Last Crusade” and thus into a whole new era. The focus of the American struggle has clearly shifted as the 50s arrive and we are plunged into the Cold War. From the outset, Spielberg is firmly in control of these changes as we are introduced to the film’s villains in the form of Soviet femme fatale Irina Spalko (the ever excellent Cate Blanchett) and her minions as they infiltrate a secret U.S. military base, and everything filmed in beautiful pastel colours of soft browns. The opening act will have Jones hardcores squealing with glee at the various in-jokes and subtle details (it’s The Lost Ark!) while the more casual viewers will still be swept away with the whole stylishness of it all and the beginnings of an excellent old-fashioned adventure romp. Back in his more familiar surroundings at University, enter story proper in the form of Mutt, an enthusiastic and Marlon Brando-esque teen played by Shia LaBoeuf. We can criticise LaBoeuf all we want for his turns in “Transformers” among others but “Crystal Skull” is without a doubt his best role yet. He brings Jones a coded message from an old friend, who has lost his mind in search of a lost city in the Peruvian jungle supposedly made entirely of gold.
Travelling to Akator – accompanied by the requisite map transitions and orchestral swell – the pair track down a mysteries skull made of pure quartz which will give the owner powers over the aforementioned city. Of course, Spalko is after the skull and city as well, as is an old flame of Jones’. I’m not going to give it away but let’s just say that Karen Allen also stars. Supporting characters include John Hurt as Oxley and Ray Winstone who plays sly sidekick Mac. But a crucial question still remains unanswered: can Indy still kick ass and wise-crack like he did all those years ago? The answer there is a resounding yes! Even better, David Koepp’s screenplay actually pokes fun at the ageing archeologist (“Damn, I thought that was closer!”), but no way has Ford lost his edge. And this time he really needs to use his wits, especially when seconds away from nuclear annihilation. It’s in these early action sequences, leading up to a great chase through the University that the old “Indiana Jones” feeling really returns and we can applaud the filmmakers for their craft and daring to take on another sequel.
But “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” is by no means without faults. Some of the action, the jungle chase and the ants sequence suffer from CGitis. Not because the visual effects themselves aren’t properly rendered but because the audience aren’t as closely involved, as we were for example with the tank chase in the last film. A Tarzan tribute is also completely ridiculous and out of place, and the conclusion (i.e. what the entire skull plot hinges on) is just too Sci-fi. Elements of the supernatural have always been a part of the Jones series but never have they featured so prominently as here. And while we suspended disbelief for the Ark and even the Holy Grail, it’s difficult not to raise an eyebrow at some of the contrivances we are asked to swallow here. As a result the second half of the film sags slightly, once we reach Akator the film never again gets as high as the awesome ride of the opening act. Had Spielberg been able to maintain this high-octane tempo, it would probably have been a real classic. Thus the film can’t quite compete with the original three but nevertheless remains a really fun adventure picture that easily eclipses most other action blockbusters out there. Indeed were it not for Chris Nolan and his “Dark Knight”, this would have been in with a real chance for film of the year in the genre. And the very final scene hits a great Jones moment right on the head.
Indiana Jones needs his hat, his whip and, very importantly, he needs his theme tune. I would go so far as to say I would have downright refused to see this film if the still peerless John Williams did not return to score. After a three year break, it could be argued that Williams himself is not too dissimilar from Indy – he’s in his late seventies now. The result too is much like the film, not Williams’ best work but still a really good listen. The composer does reprise many of the old themes – Marion’s theme or the Map Room – but adds a few new ones to his palette as well. The skull and Irina Spalko both get great mystery, the latter with a distinctly Russian flair. Mutt too gets a great theme in the style of a Korngold swashbuckler. It all culminates in “The Jungle Chase” cue which is the best on album.
This latest instalment in the series does not feature Spielberg at the top of his game, but he really comes very, very close. And with the score hitting all the right notes as well we can truly say welcome back Indy! And that is a very warming thought indeed.
What were your personal thoughts on the Indy sequel? With Indy 5 in the works as well, why not leave a comment and let us know? Also, please follow me on Twitter or subscribe to the e-mail and RSS feeds. Thanks for reading an until next time, all the best!