Tag Archive: Tom Hiddleston


Thor: The Dark World: Grade: B-

original

Directed by: Alan Taylor

Written by: Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, & Stephen McFeely

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Eccleston, Stellan Skarsgard, Idris Elba, Kat Dennings, Rene Russo

Until Thor: The Dark World was released, the only individual franchise in the Marvel Studio universe that had a sequel (and I am not counting The Incredible Hulk as being a sequel to The Hulk) was Iron ManThor: The Dark World is a bigger test for Marvel than Iron Man 2 was primarily because (1) audiences gravitated toward Robert Downey, Jr.’s defining performance so much that the actor alone ensured a huge box office in the first weekend alone; (2) a billionaire playboy who suits up in a electronically sophisticated flying robotic armor is more interesting than a mythological god whose only weapon is a fucking hammer and whose world looks like a poor man’s version of J.R.R. Tolkien; and (3) Tony Stark’s pop culture-infused sharp sarcasm is funnier than Thor’s old English dialogue. It is far less risky to have a wisecracking Robert Downey, Jr. in a real world setting than a Viking god from outer space, played by a relatively unknown actor.

With Thor: The Dark World, I am disturbingly finding myself walking out of the theater thinking once you have seen one Marvel film, you have seen them all.  These films are beginning to feel more like TV episodes (or I guess you can say issues of comic books). While I overall enjoyed Thor: The Dark World, I was disappointed to find that it was not much of an improvement over its predecessor.

In this sequel, Asgard is faced with a new threat in the form of the Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) and his minions, who are these ancient creatures called Dark Elves and who seek to return the universe back to eternal darkness. Malekith intends to accomplish his goal with the use of the Aether during the Convergence, an event that occurs once every like 10,000 years in which all of the nine realms of the universe align together. Thor: The Dark World takes place right after the events of The Avengers. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to Asgard and the villainous brother is condemned to spend eternity inside a dungeon. Thor remains busy bringing peace to the various kingdoms. In the meantime, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), his heartbroken love, continues her research into finding barriers between worlds. During her research, she stumbles across the Aether and is possessed by it. Thor finds her and returns her to Asgard to separate the Aether from Jane. However, discovery of the Aether reawakens Malekith, who descends upon Asgard to possess the powerful object.

If you can’t tell from my summary, Thor: The Dark World steeps itself a lot more into the fantasy Asgardian elements of this property than the first film. As one of the main directors of the hit TV show, Game of Thrones, director Alan Taylor is better suited to handle the fantasy aspect of the story than Kenneth Branagh, the director of the first film. This time Asgard feels more grounded and gritty and you get a sense that there are actual inhabitants outside of Thor, Odin and Loki. Taylor also does a fine job bringing back the humor the first film had and giving Thor: The Dark World a touch of lightness that the Marvel movies all seem to have. Here, it is obvious Joss Whedon exercised a heavy hand in many of this film’s humor, with gags and a great cameo from another Marvel superhero. Taylor also manages to avoid the typically dreadful third act climax/showdown that Marvel movies are sometimes plagued with (see Iron Man 1 and 2) – the final set piece is an inventive action sequence that, although not exceptional, is fun to watch.

However, despite the film’s virtues, Thor: The Dark World is held back by a number of elements. For one, Malekith is a woefully under-developed character, which is a real disappointment given how the very talented, charismatic, and versatile Christopher Eccleston (Mads Mikkelsen was originally cast to play Malekith, but he dropped out because of Hannibal) was cast to play this character. Aside from some decent design work on Malekith and his elvish minions, he doesn’t do a whole lot. Most of Malekith’s interactions occur with his henchman Algrim (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). He has one forgettable exchange with Thor and that is pretty much about it.

It is obvious that the studio decided to give short shrift to Malekith’s development in favor of allowing for more screen time to Loki, probably the most popular and memorable character in the Marvel movie universe next to Iron Man. Tom Hiddleston again proves himself to be indispensable to the enjoyment of this movie. He deftly combines a little boy vulnerability with his malevolent trickster traits. By now, Chris Hemsworth and Hiddleston have starred together in their third movie and you can see the two actors really hit their stride with these characters. At the same time, we are getting the same Loki that we saw in the first Thor and in The Avengers. There is no real character development here with him. The outcome with his character in this film seems to be setting him up for a third Thor film.

I have to say that I did not dig this more mature, noble Thor. I miss the cocky, impulsive, arrogant Norse god that we saw on display in the first film and in The Avengers. Now, he’s just some dull superhero who takes everything too seriously and much of the comedy he provided in Thor is gone (except for what Loki provides).

As for the rest of the characters, I was pleasantly surprised to find an expanded role for Rene Russo, who plays Thor’s mother. One of the best scenes in the film occurs between her and Malekith as she tries to protect Jane Foster from the dark elf. Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgard also return to serve as more comic relief. For awhile I was expecting to see the story delve into an interesting love triangle between Jaimie Alexander’s Sif, Thor, and Jane Foster, but other than a few hints here and there, nothing comes of this sub-plot. Many have pointed out that Anthony Hopkins barely registers in this film as Thor’s father, Odin. I disagree and I found the performance to be far better and memorable than what Hopkins did in the first film.

I had the misfortune of seeing Thor: The Dark World in 3D. Reportedly, director Alan Taylor was not told that his film would be converted to 3D and it shows. The 3D make the whole image darker for one, and the technology was not utilized in the least bit. There is some very nice design work and landscapes in the Asgardian scenes and you totally miss it by watching it in 3D.

Ultimately, Thor: The Dark World is a fun, escapist romp that’s worth spending a nice Sunday afternoon in the theater to see (without the 3D). There is nothing original in terms of storyline, visual effects, or characters, but you weren’t really expecting that anyway, were you? Its unfortunate the talents of Christopher Eccleston are totally wasted, but at least we get a large dose of Loki instead, which is always welcome. Make sure you stick around for the end credits (like you should do with every Marvel film) for a nice teaser for Guardians of the Galaxy.

Woody Allen is one of the few and fortunate directors who has unfettered freedom to write and direct his own films, be always funded and distributed by a major studio, and have the pick of the litter in terms of casting. This is regardless of whether or not his films are profitable, but I imagine he is expected to at least please the critics from time to time. I suspect Allen doesn’t really care if mainstream audiences like his films or not. They’re not made for us. They instead seem to serve as a therapeutic method of exploring Allen’s questions and issues in life. Although he no longer stars in his own films, Allen doesn’t exist apart from his films. His movies are his reality and, conversely, his movies function as a window into his life (i.e. HUSBANDS AND WIVES best illustrates this notion because in that film, Woody Allen’s character is having an affair with a much younger student, which mirrored Allen’s real life affair with his adopted daughter around the same time). Consequently, there is an autobiographical element to all of his films and so if you happen to be a fan of Woody Allen’s movies, watching them is akin to getting together with an old friend and listening to what he’s been up to lately.

Since moving to Europe, Allen has set his films there and MIDNIGHT IN PARIS continues that chapter. Owen Wilson plays Gil Pender, the Woody Allen character. Gil is a Hollywood screenwriter who is engaged to Inez (Rachel McAdams), a girl who comes from very well-to-do Republican parents. Owen is unhappy with what he describes as being a Hollywood hack screenwriter. His dream is to finish his novel and become a “real” writer. He and Inez are visiting Paris along with Inez’s parents and Gil has absolutely fallen in love with the city. To him, the city is the perfect place for a writer like him to thrive in. However, Inez does not share that point of view and regards Gil’s romantic notions of the city as crazy. One night while strolling through the streets of Paris, Gil encounters an old car from the 1920’s that stops to pick him up. He gets in and to his shock, he finds himself face to face with F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and his wife Zelda. Gil very soon discovers that he has traveled back in time to 1920’s Paris and, in addition to the Fitzgeralds, he meets other notable artists and writers as well.

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is Woody Allen’s intellectual time travel movie. Its not a technical or scientific look at time travel (for that, check out a fantastic low-budget time travel film called PRIMER), but rather a whimsical, fantasy take on the idea of time travel. Here, time travel really just serves as a platform for Woody Allen’s character study and exploration of his themes. So if you watch it, don’t bother trying to pick apart the science because its clearly not that kind of movie.

Whether or not you like MIDNIGHT IN PARIS will not only depend on whether you like Woody Allen’s films generally, but it will also depend on whether you like Owen Wilson’s character (and perhaps Owen Wilson himself for that matter). I for one immediately connected with Gil Pender. Although he hates being one, he is a screenwriter, a profession that has always interested me. Gil is also nostalgic and, I suspect, a luddite. He longs for the past, 1920’s Paris in particular, where artists, writers, and other intellectuals regularly hobnobbed and discussed their works through the late hours of the night. If you ask just about anyone, they will always refer to a past time period as the one they wish they were born in. It also goes without saying that Gil Pender is really Woody Allen in dress, mannerisms, and personality (opinionated, antisocial, outsider, and liberal). In addition, mixed into the character is the usual exuberant and slightly naïve attitude that Owen Wilson likes to imbue his characters with. In fact, I would say this is among the best versions of Owen Wilson’s usual performances. Wilson is perfect for the Gil Pender character, especially when Pender travels back in time and he marvels with child-like wonder at the fact that he’s meeting all of these literary and artistic giants.

As likeable as Gil Pender is, Inez, his fiancée, is the complete opposite. From the very first scene they are together, its difficult to see how Gil and Inez could possibly be together or what even attracted them to each other in the first place. Inez is an impatient, materialistic, narcissistic woman who thinks she is an intellectual in order to fit within certain crowds, but she really is not. In fact, I found the incompatibility between Gil and Inez to be a weakness in the script because you cannot see any commonalities between the two characters and its implausible they would have ever hooked up. Woody Allen has dealt with couples who have split up over irreconcilable differences in a much more complex and realistic fashion in the past. ANNIE HALL is a good example where you can both see how and why Annie Hall and Alvy were initially drawn to each other and why they eventually broke up. Here, you only see why the characters should split up, but not how or why they ever got together.

One of the most interesting characters in MIDNIGHT IN PARIS and one who I wish got more screen time is Michael Sheen, who plays Paul Bates, an arrogant know-it-all intellectual art critic, author, and a jack of all trades. From the very first moment you meet him, you wish nothing but ill will towards the character. Its obvious Gil cannot compete with this man, but you admire Gil’s fruitless attempts to one-up Paul. Worse for Gil, Inez seems smitten with Paul and she’s barely aware of Gil’s existence whenever she is around Paul. However, as unlikeable as he is, Paul’s insufferable personality makes you want to see more of him and I wish there was more of him in the movie. There is a great scene that takes place in an art museum where Paul is showing off his vast knowledge of art history. Attempting to upstage him, Gil offers his critique of a Picasso painting that he just saw when he time traveled and hung out with Picasso himself.

As for the literary and artistic characters Gil meets during his time travel adventures, I appreciated the fact that Woody Allen refrains from holding his audience’s hand to explain who each famous character is. Some of the characters Gil meets are not even explicitly identified by name, but their identities are implied from what they are doing in the scene or through a passing mention by another character. With that said, if you have no idea who any of these famous people are, you will not fully enjoy MIDNIGHT IN PARIS anywhere as much as if you did know the characters. By the way, for you comic book movie fans, you may or may not recognize the actor playing F. Scott Fitzgerald. I certainly did not and I only found out later on when I looked him on Wikipedia that I discovered the character is played by Tom Hiddleston, who plays Loki in THOR and THE AVENGERS. Ironically, as interesting of a premise it is for Gil to visit these famous characters in the past, the film’s more interesting moments are those that take place in the present where Gil has to deal with his bitchy fiancée, her more bitchy parents, and the snobbery of Paul Bates. The famous characters of the past come off as stereotypical representations of what we have read these people to be like and so we like these scenes simply because they contain people like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrud Stein. Furthermore, the nostalgic portrayal of Paris in the 1920s adds further appeal to these scenes. However, the film’s complexity and weight really lies in the present and Gil’s problems with the people around him.

Among the Paris 1920’s cast of characters, the main one is Adriana, played by Marion Cotillard. She does a fine job playing Pablo Picasso’s mistress and, eventually, Gil Pender’s lover, but her performance is by no means a stretch from what she has done in her previous efforts. Despite Cotillard’s performance, I could not emotionally invest myself into her relationship with Gil. Adriana is an underdeveloped and shallow character. We are briefly told that she is studying fashion and she expresses her interest in living in a past period, during Paris’ Belle Epoque period in the 1890s. Otherwise, she spends most of the film acting coquettish and hanging out at parties. Another reason why I couldn’t buy into this relationship was that Gil only likes Adriana because she’s 1.) beautiful and 2.) she likes his book, which Inez does not. Gil likes receiving this attention that he does not get from his fiancée. That is a poor basis for a relationship and its not one that anyone can really emotionally get attached to seeing develop.

To me, the most striking aspect of MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is its astounding cinematography by Iranian-French DP Darius Khondji. What kills me is that the film is by far one of the top 3 best looking films of 2011 and it was not even nominated for an Academy Award. The opening sequence of the film is a gorgeous travelogue of Paris that will undoubtedly make you want to book a flight to Paris right now. It’s a nice classic way to establish the whimsical, magical, and romantic mood and style of the film. Even if you have no interest in Woody Allen’s films, if you have an inkling of an interest in beautiful imagery, then you will do yourself a great disservice if you do not see this movie. By the way, for those of you familiar with Paris, are all the light bulbs in the city lit with warm/soft lightbulbs?

The film’s other strengths lie in the themes and contrasts Woody Allen establishes in the narrative. The first is the contrast between the nostalgic, exciting, and enlightening past versus the shallow, reserved, and sterile atmosphere of the present. Similarly, art is presented as being something fluid and alive in the past whereas in the present, it is dead and lifeless as it is only seen in museums and galleries to be clinically evaluated by non-artists. Woody Allen also presents us with an idea that is painfully too true. By the end of the film, Gil Penders realizes a bit to his dismay that whatever time period you live in, you will always long for a time period that has already past. You will never be satisfied by the time period you inhabit and so you must reconcile yourself with the present and accept the choices you make in it.

Overall, I enjoyed MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. However, I find it difficult to justify its Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Either the Academy voters decided to reward a filmmaker they know and like very well or the competition was extremely poor in quality. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is a light, frothy comedy that I can imagine copies of the DVD being sold at a Starbucks alongside CDs of Norah Jones. The film lacks the philosophical weightiness of CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS or the complex relationships developed in ANNIE HALL. Finally, Woody Allen gives us a Paris from an American tourist’s point of view. We see Paris as every outsider sees it. In contrast, Woody Allen is at his finest when he’s back in New York City, his hometown. Allen’s NY films provide far greater insight into his characters and his stories are more organic because Allen is operating in familiar territory and he isn’t just giving us a surface knowledge of New York. He’s giving us the insider’s tour. I miss that Woody Allen.

WARNING: ULTRA NERD DISCUSSION ABOUT TO COMMENCE: Thor has always appealed to me the same way that Iron Man has, which is to say that neither has ever held any appeal for me as a comic book reader/collector. The only time I have cared to read these characters is when they have been members of The Avengers superhero team. My problem isn’t with the characters themselves as they’re both coolly conceived creations. Their lack of appeal stems from the fact that they have never had great story runs or an interesting rogue’s gallery like Spider Man, Daredevil, Punisher, Fantastic Four, or the X-Men have had. Consequently, Thor and Iron Man have usually been considered second-string characters in the Marvel Universe except in those instances where they have fought as members of The Avengers or have been involved in some huge comic book crossover like Secret Wars or Civil War.

For this, I have great admiration for Marvel Studios for being able to take these characters and craft superb film adaptations that equal if not surpass the Spider Man and X-Men movies. THOR in particular was a project that worried me the most. Unlike IRON MAN, who is basically Marvel’s answer to Batman, who has the advantage of being played by the larger than life Robert Downey, Jr., and whose costume/powers look very impressive to kids who love Transformers, THOR is kinda cheesy and lame. For one, its about a hammer-wielding dude who speaks in Old English and who comes from a magical place called Asgard that has a Rainbow Bridge. Second, Thor is a god from Norse mythology, a mythology that no one is familiar with and that is nowhere near as cool as Greek or Roman mythology. Finally, Thor is a somewhat arrogant fellow who thinks highly of his god-like status and who lacks the humor and charm of Iron Man. Suffice it to say that Marvel Studios had its work cut out for it in making sure THOR did not become a massive embarrassment for Paramount and a huge setback for next year’s THE AVENGERS movie.

I have to admit that despite the surprisingly positive reviews THOR received, I went into this film with low expectations. The trailers for the movie never managed to grab my interest and it looked like just another dumb, summer popcorn movie that would be weak on story and characters and big on unimpressive-looking CG effects. Also, the fact that Kenneth Branagh, a director who is known mostly for adapting Shakespeare to the screen and for directing the horrible FRANKENSTEIN, would be helming THOR didn’t help to assuage any doubts I had about the movie. However, after allowing a few days to pass so that I can properly gauge my feelings about the movie, I can confidently say that THOR is one of the best Marvel comic film adaptations to date and even surpasses X-MEN (but not X-MEN 2) and SPIDER MAN (but not SPIDER MAN 2).

THOR (Chris Hemsworth) is a Norse god and the son of Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Odin is the ruler of Asgard, the capital of the Norse gods and one of the Nine Worlds. Thor is groomed to become the next ruler of Asgard, but at his coronation, a breach of security has occurred in Asgard by a group of Frost Giants, a race of beings that have warred with Asgard in the past and have maintained an unsteady truce with the Norse gods since their defeat at the hands of Odin. Thor decides to teach the Frost Giants a lesson and disobeying his father’s orders, he and his trusty band of companions head to the realm of the Frost Giants and engage them in battle. Upon learning of his son’s defiance, Odin denies Thor the throne of Asgard and banishes him from Asgard entirely to live upon Earth. However, unbeknownst to Odin and Thor, Odin’s other son Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has struck a deal with the Frost Giants. Loki, who is jealous of his brother and the favoritism that has always been bestowed upon him, manipulated events to result in Thor’s banishment so that Loki could take over the throne. Meanwhile, on Earth, Thor befriends Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), a scientist who discovers him in the middle of the New Mexico desert. Along with her father (Stellan Skarsgard) and assistant (Kat Dennings), Jane helps Thor to reclaim his hammer and get back to Asgard so he can defeat Loki.

Even if you don’t care much for Marvel’s film adaptations of its properties, the one thing that Marvel has consistently pulled off with great success is in casting its superheroes with the perfect actors (exception: Ben Affleck as DAREDEVIL….no). I had no clue who Chris Hemsworth was before THOR, but I give Marvel huge kudos for finding an actor who flawlessly embodies the Thor character (despite the fact that the actor is Australian and the character is, well, not). I think in the hands of bad management, Marvel could have easily messed up this franchise by casting a UFC or wrestling star instead of someone who not only possesses the physique of an immortal, but also has the acting skills to portray the character convincingly. Hemsworth gives Thor a nice blend of humor and drama while maintaining a strong screen presence befitting a god/superhero. Although Thor possesses a streak of arrogance, Hemsworth is able to play it down enough that he doesn’t put off the audience. Like Christopher Reeve, who forever defined our perception of Superman, Hemsworth does the same for Thor.

As with any superhero movie, the quality of the film depends just as much if not more on its villain. Here, we have Loki, the god of mischief and deceit. Loki is to Thor as what the Joker is to Batman, but the former have a more interesting relationship by virtue of the fact that they are brothers. Loki is going to be the villain in next year’s THE AVENGERS movie so proper casting and development of this character is especially important. Again, we have a great performance from Tom Hiddleston, who plays Loki as a quiet and thoughtful villain whose jealousy of his brother consumes him to no end. I have read various portrayals of Loki in the comic books and some of have really played up the mischievous aspect of his character to the point of making him sound like The Joker. I like that Branagh decided to veer away from that portrayal and present Loki as a more serious and cunning villain with a mad streak. It makes for a more menacing antagonist and such a character strikes a stronger contrast with Thor’s braggart, outgoing personality. I also think Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespearean background really benefits in drawing out the complexities and nuances of the relationship between the two characters in a way that we might not otherwise have seen in the hands of a lesser director.

The remaining cast does a serviceable job in filling the rest of the roles. I was actually a little surprised that Natalie Portman decided to take the role of Jane Foster. I’m sure the opportunity to co-star in a high profile, franchise picture like THOR was Portman’s primary consideration because I can’t imagine how anyone would see this character as presenting an acting challenge. Jane Foster is just like any other superhero love interest. Foster is an intelligent and ambitious scientist who finds Thor in the middle of the desert one night. Like Lois Lane, Vicki Vale, and countless other superhero love interests, Foster falls for Thor and she’s eventually put in a situation where she must be saved by him. I think the challenge for Natalie Portman was in trying to find a way to take her pedestrian dialogue and spice it up any way she could and avoid creating a two-dimensional character. Another character worth noting is that of Heimdall (Idris Elba), who is the gatekeeper of Asgard’s Rainbow Bridge. Elba does a fantastic job portraying the character as a noble, fierce, and loyal warrior. The scenes with him are all high points in the movie and I hope to see much more of him in the sequel or maybe even in THE AVENGERS.

The best part of THOR (and many of the other Marvel films) is the scenes that connect the character to the rest of the Marvel Universe. After this summer’s release of CAPTAIN AMERICA, we will be ready for the culmination of Marvel’s efforts in next year’s THE AVENGERS. Each of these individual Marvel superhero films (IRON MAN 1 & 2, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, and now THOR) have given us clues to THE AVENGERS. We have been introduced to Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and his organization, S.H.I.E.L.D. Each of the films have also interconnected with each other (i.e. IRON MAN 2 showed Captain America’s shield) and we see more of that in THOR. By the way, make sure you stick around for the end credits as another glimpse of what is to come next year will be shown. My favorite scene in THOR is where we get introduced to Hawkeye (for you comic fans, you no doubt know who Hawkeye is as he’s the leader of the West Coast Avengers). Hawkeye is played by Jeremy Renner, who is one of my favorite actors working today. The scene with Hawkeye is brief, but unbelievably cool.

Sadly, THOR isn’t perfect. There are a few problems that I already knew would be present just from seeing the trailers alone. For one, the depiction of Asgard looks like a giant blob of multicolored CG. The world lacks a consistent design and delineating any of the buildings or other features of the realm is confusing. I wouldn’t put Asgard on the same level as Oa, the world that is depicted in the upcoming GREEN LANTERN and that looks absolutely horrendous, but it nevertheless smacks of something you would see on the SyFy Channel.

Furthermore, I wish the action scenes had been staged by a director or DP with action experience. The scene where the giant robot attacks the small town in THOR completely lacks any suspense. Branagh clearly relies on CG effects to impress his audience rather than create a sequence that truly raises the stakes for our heroes. The problem recurs later in the film when Thor battles Loki. Although this battle was far more suspenseful and engaging than the end battles in IRON MAN 1 and 2, I was still hoping of something along the lines of the final battle sequence in SUPERMAN 2 when Metropolis gets completely destroyed.

Aside from these minor criticisms, THOR is an entertaining film and it marks a great start to the 2011 summer movie season. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but at the same time its dramatic enough to give both kids and adult comic nerds like me a satisfying experience.