“THE AVENGERS” (2012) Review

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“THE AVENGERS” (2012) Review

Back in 2007, Marvel Studios set out to do something that DC Comics managed to achieve some forty-four years ago through a Saturday morning animated series. The studio initiated a series of movies based upon some of its company’s popular comic book characters. This series first culminated into the 2012 hit movie, “THE AVENGERS”

The initial group of comic book heroes that became a team in “THE AVENGERS”, turned out to be the following – Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, the Black Widow and Hawkeye. The first four starred in their own movies in what has become known as “Phase One” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). And the last two characters, the Black Widow and Hawkeye, appeared as supporting characters in 2010’s “IRON MAN 2” and 2011’s “THOR” respectively. Each movie, starting with 2008’s “IRON MAN”, hinted at the formation of Marvel Comics’ team of superheroes.

Written by Zak Penn and Joss Whedon and directed by the latter, “THE AVENGERS” begins with Loki, the villain from “THOR” and the latter’s adopted brother, making a deal with the leader of the Chitauri aliens called the Other to lead an army on Earth, in order to subjugate the human race. In order to do this, Loki needs to retrieve the Tesseract, a powerful energy source originally found on Earth in “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER”. The Tesseract opens a doorway that allows Loki to arrive a top secret S.H.I.E.L.D., use his scepter to enslave a few agents, Dr. Eric Selvig and Clint Barton aka Hawkeye and take the Tesseract.

In response to Loki’s attack, S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury reactivates the Avengers Initiative. He, along with agents Phil Coulson and Natasha Romanoff aka the Black Widow; recruits Steve Rogers aka Captain America, Tony Stark aka Iron Man and Dr. Bruce Banner aka the Hulk to form a team and stop Loki’s plans and recover the Tesseract. Both Captain America and Iron Man manage to capture Loki in Germany. But during a flight back to the States, Thorarrives and frees Loki, hoping to convince him to abandon his plan and return to Asgard. Instead, a confrontation ensues between the three heroes before Thor agrees to accompany them all back to the Helicarrier, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s flying aircraft carrier. Despite Loki being a captive, the Avengers still needed to find the missing Tesseract. Even worse, Loki does not remain a captive very long.

Nearly six years have passed since “THE AVENGERS” first hit the movie screens. And during its time in the movie theaters, it became one of the highest-grossing film of all time. Most fans and critics of comic hero movies tend to view any film with more than one villain as a box office or critical disaster. And yet . . . many of these same critics and fans seemed to have no problem with a movie featuring six comic book heroes. I find that rather . . . odd and contradictory, but there is no explaining humanity’s chaotic nature. I have never had a problem with a comic book movie featuring more than one villain or hero, as long as that movie was well written. And I cannot deny that Whedon and Zak Penn wrote a first-rate movie.

First of all, Marvel Studios had made the wise decision to map out the movie’s plot with four to five other movies. This enabled them to set up most of the characters before shooting “THE AVENGERS”. Natasha Romanoff had received a small introduction in “IRON MAN 2”. And Clint Barton was allowed nothing more than a cameo appearance in “THOR”. This meant that these two were the only ones left to be properly introduced in this film, along with their previous relationship as S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Even the Tesseract, the energy source that Loki will use to allow Chitauri warriors to invade Manhattan in the movie’s last act, had originally been introduced in “CAPTAIN AMERICA” and hinted briefly in “IRON MAN 2” and in the Easter Egg scene for “THOR”. I wish I knew who had the idea to set up the story and characters for “THE AVENGERS” in previous movies. I would congratulate him or her for convincing Marvel to pursue this course of storytelling. For it paid off very well.

Second, I was impressed at how the main cast members – especially those portraying members of the Avengers – managed to click so well and create a viable screen team. Whedon and Penn’s script did not make it easy for them. Only the Black Widow and Hawkeye initially felt comfortably working together and even their relationship was disrupted by Loki’s temporary enslavement of Hawkeye’s mind. I could point out one or two particular performances by the cast. But if I must be honest, practically all of them stepped up to bat and performed beautifully. Okay, I must admit there were a few dramatic scenes that really impressed me.

I enjoyed the quarrel between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, thanks to Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans, who did a great job in developing the characters from initial hostility and wariness to trust and teamwork.  I also enjoyed Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston, who continued their outstanding work and screen chemistry as the two Asgardian siblings, in a scene in which Thor tries to convince Loki that he and their family still loved the latter, despite his actions in “THOR”. Scarlett Johansson managed to appear in three scenes that impressed me. One featured a contest of will and intellect between her Black Widow and Hiddleston’s Loki. Another featured both her and Mark Ruffalo, as she manages to convince Bruce Banner to help S.H.I.E.L.D. to track down the Tesseract. But my favorite scene featured a heart-to-heart conversation between Natasha and her old partner, Clint Barton, as they discussed her past and his mind enslavement by Loki. Samuel L. Jackson did an excellent job as the intimidating, yet manipulative director of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury. He also seemed surprisingly spry for a man in his mid-60s, as his character dodged several near death experiences. Clark Gregg was entertaining as ever as one of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s top agents, Phil Coulson. It was nice to see Stellan Skarsgård repeat his role as Dr. Eric Selvig. Although his role was not particularly big, Selvig had a major impact on the plot. And Skarsgård managed to give his usual, top-notch performance. Cobie Smulders managed to hold herself well as one of Fury’s assistants, Maria Hill. It is a pity that Whedon was unable to showcase Alexis Denisof a little more as leader of the Chitauri aliens. I suspect that being cloaked and hidden in the small number of scenes probably did not help much, in the end.

I remembered that Mark Ruffalo’s portrayal of Bruce Banner/the Hulk has received rave reviews from the critics and the fans. Many critics had also suggested that his portrayal of the character was superior to both Eric Bana’s performance in 2003 and Edward Norton’s 2008 portrayal. I say bullshit to that. I suspect that the critics had spouted this crap, because Ruffalo got to portray the Hulk in a movie that proved tobe a box office and critical hit. Ruffalo did a great job in portraying Bruce at this later stage of his existence as the Hulk. However, I also feel there was nothing exceptional about his performance that made his Hulk superior to Bana and Norton’s. This whole notion of Ruffalo giving a better performance than the other two actors strikes me as nothing but a lot of fanboy horseshit.

One cannot talk about “THE AVENGERS” without discussing the film’s visual effects. What can I say? They were outstanding. Well . . . somewhat outstanding. Seamus McGarvey’s photography struck me as very effective in giving the movie an epic feel. And his work was vastly assisted by the visual effects team led by Jake Morrison. For a movie set either in New York City, or over the Atlantic Ocean, aboard a flying aircraft carrier, I was very surprised to learn that a great deal of the movie was shot in both Albuquerque, New Mexico and Cleveland, Ohio. Surprisingly, the film crew only spent two days shooting in Manhattan.

I do have a few complaints about “THE AVENGERS”. One, although I was impressed by Whedon’s direction and McGarvey’s photography, I cannot say the same about the work they did for the Black Widow/Hawkeye fight scene aboard the Helicarrier. To be honest, I found it slightly murky and confusing. Jeffrey Ford and Lisa Lassek’s editing did not help. Their work revived bad memories of Paul Greengrass’ quick-cut editing at its worst. Honestly? Jon Favreau did a better job of shooting her fight scenes in “IRON MAN 2”. I also realized that Whedon had been talking out of his ass, when he claimed that a good deal of the movie would be shown from Steve Rogers’ point-of-view.  One, I never thought that Whedon had a firm handle on the Steve Rogers’ character.  Whedon’s Steve Rogers aka Captain America seems willing to question authority figures – only in extreme circumstances.  This is not the Steve Rogers who is more inclined to follow his own path than blindly follow orders.  Even worse, the film never really hinted any troubles Steve may have experienced dealing with the early 21st century.  And then we come to the Dr. Bruce Banner aka the Hulk character.  Could someone explain why the Hulk turned out to be more powerful than a pair of Norse gods – namely Thor and Loki? How in the hell did that come about? This certainly was not the case over fifty years ago, when Thor beat the pants of both the Hulk and the Sub-Mariner in the Marvel issue, Avengers #3 (Jan. 1964). Could someone please explain this phenomenon?

I have another minor problem with the movie. In the past five years, fans of the MCU movies have been aware that the Titan supervillain, Thanos, has been collecting all of the Infinity stones, including the Tesseract featured in this film. And yet … Thanos handed over one of the stones – the Mind Stone set in a scepter – to Loki for the latter’s use during the Chitauri’s invasion of Earth. Why would he do that? Thanos is going through a great deal of trouble to get his hands on the Infinity stones. Why would he hand over the only stone – even temporarily – he had in his possession? That makes no sense to me. If I had been Thanos, I would have kept that stone close to me, no matter what.

“THE AVENGERS” may not be perfect. But it is still obviously one of the best comic book movies I have seen, hands down. And it turned out to be one of the best movies of 2012. It deserved all of the accolades it had received. And for the first time in his career, Joss Whedon seemed to have directed a movie that matched his work with his “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” and “ANGEL” television series.

 

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“THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” (2006) Review

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“THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” (2006) Review

I have never read Agatha Christie’s 1931 novel, “The Sittaford Mystery”. And I have read a lot of her novels. But since the novel did not feature Hercule Poirot, Miss Jane Marple, or Tommy and Tuppence Beresford; I never took the trouble to read it. Well, that is not fair. I can think of at least two or three Christie novels that did not feature any of these sleuths that I have read. But I have never read “The Sittaford Mystery”

So, imagine my surprise when I discovered that the ITV channel had aired an adaptation of the novel in which Geraldine McEwan appeared as Jane Marple. Okay. This is not the first time this has happened, considering that Christie did not write that many Miss Marple novels. “THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” revolved around the murder of a politician who is viewed as a potential Prime Minister in the 1950s. The story begins in the 1920s Egypt, where Clive Trevelyan and a few companions stumble across an important archaeological discovery. Then the story jumps nearly thirty years later when Trevelyan, now a politician, returns to his home Sittaford House in Dartmoor with his aide John Enderby, while Parliament decides on whether he will become Britain’s new Prime Minister, following the retirement of Sir Winston Churchill. Due to his friendship with the novelist Raymond West, Trevelyan finds himself forced to accept the latter’s elderly aunt, Miss Jane Marple, as a house guest.

Much to Miss Marple and Enderby’s surprise, Treveylan decides to chance the snowy weather outside and stay at a local hotel six miles away. The hotel include guests who seemed to be very familiar with Treveylan or familiar with an escapee from the local Dartmoore prison. One of the guests conduct a séance using a Ouiji board, which predicts Treveylan’s death. Hours later, the politician is found stabbed to death in his room. With Miss Marple stuck at Sittaford House (temporarily); Enderby; a young journalist named Charles Burnaby; and Emily Trefusis, the fiancee of Treveylan’s wastrel ward James Pearson; set out to find the murderer. However, it is not long before the trio find themselves seeking Miss Marple’s help.

“THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” strikes me as a rather confusing tale. I have a deep suspicion that in his effort to somewhat change the plot from Christie’s original novel, screenwriter Stephen Churchett ended up creating a very convoluted story . . . right up to the last reel. I have seen this movie twice and for the likes of me, I still have no real idea of what was going on . . . aside from the first fifteen minutes and the movie’s denouement. I was aware that the hotel featured guests that had connections with or knew Treveylan, including a former lover, her wallflower daughter, a middle-aged woman who seemed to be a fan of Treveylan, and an American businessman and his aide.

Churchett created a script filled with so many red herrings – unnecessary, as far as I am concerned – that I simply gave up in trying to guess the murderer’s identity and waited for Miss Marple to expose him or her. Upon my first viewing. Upon my second viewing, I tried to examine the plot for any hints or clues that would lead to the killer’s identity. Unfortunately, that did not happen until at least fifteen minutes before Miss Marple revealed the killer. I was also disappointed with how the movie resolved the romantic entanglements of Emily Trefusis, Charles Burnaby, James Pearson and a fourth character. I found it so contrived, for it came out of left field with no set up or hint whatsoever. What I found even more unconvincing was the last shot of the murderer staring at the camera with an evil grin. This struck me as an idiotic attempt by director Paul Unwin to channel or copy Alfred Hitchcock’s last shot of Anthony Perkins in the 1960 movie, “PYSCHO”. I found that moment so ridiculous.

I will give kudos to Rob Harris, the movie’s production designer. I thought he did a competent job in creating the movie’s setting – a snowbound English community in the early-to-mid 1950s. But do to the majority of the film being limited to either Treveylan’s home and the hotel, Harris really did not have much to work with. Frances Tempest certainly did with her costume designs. I found nothing outstanding about them. But I must admit that I found them rather attractive, especially the costumes that actress Zoe Telford wore. On the other hand, I found Nicholas D. Knowland’s cinematography rather odd . . . and not in a positive way. I did not like his photography, if I must be brutally honest. His unnecessary close-ups and odd angles struck me as an amateurish attempt by him and Unwin to transform “THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” into an independent film or Hammer-style horror flick.

The performances in “THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” proved to be a mixed bag. I have usually been a fan of Geraldine McEwan’s portrayal of Miss Jane Marple. But I feel that she took the whole “verbose elderly lady” act a bit too far . . . especially in her scenes with Timothy Dalton during the first fifteen to twenty minutes. If I must be honest, most of the performances in the film seemed to be either over-the-top or close to being over-the-top. This was especially the case for Michael Brandon, Zoe Telford, Laurence Fox and Patricia Hodge. James Murray managed to refrain himself during most of the film. But even he managed to get into the act during the movie’s last fifteen minutes or so. Carey Mulligan’s performance seemed competent. She did not blow my mind, but at least she did not annoy me. Robert Hardy made a cameo appearance as Prime Minister Winston Churchill. This marked the eighth or ninth time the actor portrayed the politician and honestly, I could see this appearance was nothing more than a walk in the park for him. There were only four performances I truly enjoyed. One came from Mel Smith, who gave a very competent performance as Treveylan’s right-hand man, John Enderby. I could say the same about Rita Tushingham, who gave a nuanced performance as a mysterious woman with knowledge of an ugly part in Treveylan’s past. The role proved to be his last, for he passed away not long after the film’s production. James Wilby was satisfyingly subtle as the town’s local hotel owner, who had a secret to maintain. For me, the best performance came from Timothy Dalton, who was dazzling at the story’s main victim, Clive Trevelyan. Considering that he was portraying a somewhat theatrical character, it is amazing that he managed to keep his performance under control, and struck a tight balance between theatricality and subtlety.

It is obvious to anyone reading this review that I did not like “THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY”. I could complain about the changes made to Agatha Christie’s novel. But I have never read it, so I saw no point in making any comparisons. But I still cared very little for the movie. I found the direction and photography rather amateurish. And aside from a few first-rate performances, I was not that impressed by the majority of the cast’s acting – including, unfortunately, Geraldine McEwan’s.

The Great “ONCE UPON A TIME” Costume Gallery

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Below is a gallery featuring the costumes designed by Eduardo Castro for Seasons One and Two of the ABC series, “ONCE UPON A TIME”. Do not expect to find Jennifer Morrison, Jared S. Gilmore, Eion Bailey or others performers not featured in any of the Fairy Tale Land flashback sequences:

THE GREAT “ONCE UPON A TIME” COSTUME Gallery

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Notes and Observations on “STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE” (1977)

The following is a list of minor notes and observations that came to me, during my recent viewing of “Episode IV: A New Hope”. I hope that you enjoy them:

Notes and Observations on “STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE” (1977)

*According to the movie’s opening scrawl, Leia possessed the Death Star plans that could “provide freedom to the galaxy”. Is that what happened at the end of the movie?

*Wow! R2-D2 really looks worn and old aboard the Organas’ ship, the Tantive IV. It is easy to imagine that he has been around for over three decades.

*Are the troops firing upon the stormtroopers, Alderaanian troops? If so, does that mean Leia had contradicted herself when she told Tarkin and Vader that Alderaan was a peaceful planet?

*When Vader made his entrance, the first thing that popped into my mind was Anakin leading the clone troopers to the Jedi Temple in ROTS.

*Father and daughter meet. At last.

*I hate to say this, but I have always found C3-P0 and R2’s adventures on Tatooine before meeting Luke to be slightly boring. Okay. I did find it boring.

*The technology inside the Jawa’s ship looked very outdated.

*It is interesting how Owen had to ask Threepio if he spoke Bocce for the moisture vaporators. Which tells me that he did not immediately know Threepio’s identity. But then, Threepio had not introduced himself.

*“But I was going into Toshi Station to pick up some power converters!” – Ah yes! The infamous Skywalker whining at work. I really don’t understand why many fans complained of Anakin’s whining in AOTC. Luke had to have inherited his whining from someone.

*C3-P0 finally introduces himself and R2-D2 when they are alone with Luke, inside the Lars’ garage.

*So, Threepio and Artoo were not personally in Leia’s service aboard the Tantive IV, as I had first imagined. I had forgotten that they had become the property of Captain Antilles.

*I did not realize that Luke knew where Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi lived.

*The moment Luke had mentioned R2 and 3P0 might belong to Obi-Wan, Owen ordered their memories to be wiped. Interesting.

*For some bizarre reason, I found myself seeing Padme comfort Luke and telling him not to grow up too fast.

*Artoo seemed to have set a lot in motion. Leia hid the Death Star plans in his system. Artoo was the one who set out to find Obi-Wan, bringing about the old Jedi Master and the future Jedi Master’s first meeting. And because Luke was forced to search for R2, he managed to avoid Owen and Beru’s fate.

*I also noticed that Vader did not bother to join the search for R2 and 3P0 on Tatooine.

*It is a good thing that those Tusken Raiders did not know that Luke was the son of the Jedi who had wiped out a tribe of their kind.

*Did Obi-Wan immediately recognize the two droids?

*”He was the best star-pilot in the galaxy, and a cunning warrior.” – It is nice to know that’s how Obi-Wan remembered Anakin. But then these next words, as he handed over Anakin s lightsaber to Luke rather spoiled the moment – “I have something here for you. Your father wanted you to have this when you were old enough, but your uncle wouldn’t allow it.” – especially in light of how Obi-Wan really managed to acquire the lightsaber. Obi-Wan’s description of how Vader had “murdered” Anakin spoiled the moment even further.

*If the Emperor had dissolved the Imperial Senate as stated by Tarkin in the movie, then it is obvious that Lucas had abandoned the earlier idea of Palpatine being a pawn or puppet of other politicians, as indicated in the 1976 edition of The Journal of the Whills.

*”Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.” – Was this an example of Vader’s past Jedi training coming to the fore? Or was this an example of his Sith background? Or his 30 odd years as a Force user?

*Some people have stated that Luke’s upbringing had prepared him to face Owen and Beru’s deaths a lot better than Anakin had dealt with Shmi’s death. But considering Luke’s reaction to Obi-Wan’s death, along with Han and Leia’s endangerment in both ESB and ROTJ, I would say that Luke did not feel as emotionally close to the Lars as he did to the other three.

*”Mos Eisley Spaceport. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.” – Famous words to live by. I wonder if Obi-Wan had ever visited Mos Espa.

*I love how the special effects recently added to the film, has enhanced the details of Mos Eisley during Luke and Obi-Wan’s arrival.

*I was surprised to notice the small number of human customers and inhabitants inside the cantina in Mos Eisley.

*For one crazy moment, Sir Alec Guiness sounded like Ewan McGregor in the scene where Obi-Wan and Luke meet Han Solo for the first time.

*”That’s okay. I’m never coming back to this planet, again.” – Careful Luke. Never make promises that one cannot keep.

*Does anyone know the name of the creature that followed Luke and Obi-Wan to the Millennium Falcon’s hangar?

*I had no idea that Boba Fett had been working for Jabba the Hutt before the incidents of ESB.

*I don’t think that even the massacre at the Jedi Temple in ROTS could ever exceed the horror of Alderaan’s destruction. Tarkin made Vader look like an amateur.

*Did I detect a slight British accent coming out of Carrie Fisher’s mouth?

*While watching Obi-Wan begin Luke’s training in the Jedi skills, I realized that this is the first time I’ve seen a 19 year-old Jedi youngling.

*”That’s good. You’ve taken your first step into a larger world.” – A rather apt description of one’s introduction into the Force.

*”I sense something. A presence I have not felt since . . .” – I find it odd that Vader was able to immediately sense Obi-Wan, yet Obi-Wan did not sense Vader until the latter nearly found him?

*“Bring em’ on! I prefer a straight fight to all of this sneaking around!” – I found Han’s comment rather odd, considering that he was a smuggler.

*”Better her than me!” – I found Han’s refusal to save Leia rather cold, considering that she would end up being his future love.

*Leia was imprisoned in cell block 1138. Hmmm . . . do you suppose that Robert Duvall is with her?

*Han gave the worst impression of an Imperial trooper I have ever seen. Classic moment.

*”Hi! I’m Luke Skywalker. I’m here to rescue you.” – Brother and sister meet for the first time since their births.

*”Will someone please get this big, walking carpet out of my way?” – Ah! Leia is still Daddy’s girl.

*Watching Luke and Leia swing to safety reminded me of Anakin and Padme’s failure to do the same in AOTC.

*Anakin (Vader) vs. Obi-Wan: Part II – in retrospect, is not as exciting or thrilling as their first duel on Mustafar.

*Vader’s dialogue seemed rather wooden during his duel with Obi-Wan.

*”Not this ship, sister.”/”It is for me, sister.” – Without a doubt, these are the two worst lines ever uttered in a STAR WARS movie. And both lines had been spoken by Harrison Ford.

*For a guy that had been traumatized by Obi-Wan’s death, Luke seemed to have recovered from his grief rather fast. Even to the point that he ended up contemplating a romance with Leia before the Falcon could reach Yavin IV.

*Despite the Battle of Yavin sequence, the movie never recaptured or continued its drive, following the Falcon’s escape from the Death Star.

*Why did Han and Chewbacca attend the pilot’s briefing on their mission to destroy the Death Star? Especially since the two never had plans to hang around any longer or join the Rebel Alliance.

*Typical of Vader/Anakin in that he had decided to join the Imperial fighters in the battle, instead of remaining with the generals.

*What do you know? Uncle Dennis . . . oop! I mean, Wedge to the rescue!

*It seemed as if Lucas had incorporated nearly every World War II aviator cliché into the Battle of Yavin sequence.

*Someone in my family had pointed out that the Rebels never really had any kind of strategy to destroy the Death Star. Instead, the Alliance military leaders merely had an objective and a method to destroy the station.

*When Obi-Wan had urged Luke to use the Force, had he foreseen that Vader would sense it?

*When I first saw ANH, I had wondered why Vader did not die in the end. From a 29 year perspective, I know understand why.

*The medal ceremony featured a good number of pilots in the audience. So, where had they been during the Battle of Yavin?

*Someone had described the medal ceremony near the end of the film as a pyhrric victory for the Rebel Alliance. When one contemplates on what laid ahead for Luke, Leia, Han and the others . . . that person may have been right.

*I would describe ANH as the most fun of all the STAR WARS movies. A straight out adventure flick with heroes, villains, damsels and wizards. Which would explain why many fans consider it to be the best of the saga. However . . . as much fun ANH was, it harbored very few meaningful metaphors and complexities in compare to the five other films that followed. It’s a lot of fun, but somewhat a little shallow to me.

“THOR” (2011) Review

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“THOR” (2011) Review

My knowledge of European-based mythology is very sketchy. I am familiar with some figures of both the Greek and Roman mythologies. But my knowledge of Norse mythology is even less. As for the many characters from Marvel Comics, I barely knew about any of them – aside from “SPIDER-MAN”, until the past decade. One can only imagine my surprise when I learned that one of Marvel’s more successful super heroes was the Norse god, Thor.

Based upon the Norse mythology and the Marvel Comics character, “THOR” is an origin tale about the God of Thunder (and several other things), and how he ends up on Earth and becomes affiliated with S.H.I.E.L.D. The story begins in New Mexico, when scientist Jane Foster, her assistant Darcy Lewis and mentor Dr. Erik Selvig stumble across a figure that has tumbled from a wormhole in the sky. That figure turns out to be Thor, the Norse god that was exiled by his father, Odin, king of Asgard.

Earlier, Thor had been preparing to ascend to the throne of Asgard, but his ceremony was interrupted when Frost Giants attempted to retrieve the source of their power, the Casket of Ancient Winters, which had been taken by Odin in an earlier war. Against Odin’s order, Thor traveled to Jotunheim, the Frost Giants’ realm, to confront their leader Laufey; accompanied by his brother Loki, childhood friend Sif and the Warriors Three – Volstagg, Fandral and Hogun. A battle ensued until Odin intervened to save the Asgardians, which destroyed the fragile truce between the two races. For Thor’s arrogance, Odin stripped his son of godly power and exiled the latter to Earth, accompanied by Thor’s hammer Mjolnir — the source of his power, now protected by a spell to allow only the worthy to wield it.

No one was more surprised than me upon learning that actor/director Kenneth Branaugh had manned the helm for“THOR”. Pop culture movie franchises were nothing new to him. After all, he had appeared in 2002’s “HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS”. But directing an adaptation of a comic book series? Mind you, “Thor”is a different kettle of fish in compare to . . . say “Spider-Man”, “The Fantastic Four” or “Iron Man”. After all, Thor originated as a figure in Norse mythology. However, I must admit that I found it difficult to wrap my mind around the idea of a known Shakespearean actor directing a comic book hero movie.

In the end, I believe that Branaugh did a pretty good job. “THOR” turned out to be a solid tale filled with mythology, some first-rate acting, family drama, comedy and action. The best aspect of “THOR” was to me – hands down – the family drama surrounding the main hero and his relationships with his father Odin and his younger brother, Loki. This family drama originated in Thor’s arrogant nature and brother Loki’s discovery that he was an orphan that Odin had discovered in the Frost Giants realm. Despite his discovery that he was a Frost Giant instead of an Asgardian, Loki viewed Thor as an unsuitable heir to the Asgard throne and used Thor’s exile to muscle his way to the throne . . . and, uh Odin’s heart.

Another aspect of “THOR” I found interesting was the story line about S.H.I.E.L.D.’s investigation into the wormhole that delivered Thor to Earth and his hammer Mjolnir, which is stuck in the middle of the New Mexican desert like Excalibur. The first encounter between the forces of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Thor during a rainy evening also provided some interesting action. This sequence not only featured a brutal fight to the now mortal Thor and a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and a cameo appearance by future Avenger member, Clint Barton aka Hawkeye.

The New Mexico sequences provided most of the comedy featured in “THOR”. The former Norse god’s interactions with Jane Foster, Erik Selvig, Darcy Lewis and the locals of the New Mexico town where they resided. Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne’s screenplay not only provided a good deal of slapstick humor and witty one-liners for the Darcy Lewis character, but also a variation on the “fish out of water” theme.

And If there is one thing that the movie did shine was its production designs and cinematography. Bo Welch did a excellent job in recapturing the rugged setting of the small New Mexican town and the Frost Giants’ realm of Jotunheim, featured in the film. But he did a superb job in his design of Asgard, the realm of the Norse gods. Asgard possessed a sleek, colorful and over-the-top quality that reminded me of what the Art Deco style would look in the hands of Hollywood craftsmen in the 1930s and 40s. And Haris Zambarloukos’ photography did great justice to both settings, especially Welch’s designs for Asgard. Even though I found the movie’s theme somewhat conflicting, I must admit that I found Paul Rubell’s editing rather smooth and well done in both the action sequences and the jumps between Asgard and New Mexico.

However, I have yet to encounter a movie that I would consider perfect. And “THOR” was far from perfect. The film’s main problem was that it seemed to have a conflicting quality about it. Because the movie’s setting constantly moved from Asgard to New Mexico and back, it ended up striking me as a mixture of “CLASH OF THE TITANS” and “STARMAN”. And this conflicting style did not seem to balance very well. I could have settled for “THOR” beginning its story in Asgard and remaining in New Mexico until the last scene. Unfortunately, most of the movie’s more important action occurred in Asgard, leaving the New Mexico sequences to bear the brunt of most of the comedy. By the time the movie’s last scene ended, I could not tell whether this was a movie about mythological gods or a comic book hero. “THOR” was a pretty good movie, but it did not exactly rock my boat. I found the story a bit mediocre and conventional. And the problem, if I must be honest, rested with Marvel Comics’ decision to create a comic series about a well-established mythological figure, instead of a new and original character.

Also, there were a few performances that failed to impress me. I realize that the three actors and one actress that portrayed Thor’s Asgardian friends – Sif and the Warriors Three – were very popular with moviegoers. Unfortunately, not only did they fail to impress me, I found them rather uninteresting. Poor Rene Russo. Within a decade she went from leading lady to a minor character actress, stuck in the thankless and nothing role of Thor’s stepmother, Frigga. Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye was really wasted in this film. In fact, he did nothing at all, except pose with a bow and arrow. I realize that he will appear as one of the Avengers in the upcoming 2012 film, but he was never allowed to strut his stuff like Scarlett Johanssen in “IRON MAN 2”.

Aside from the performances I had earlier mentioned, “THOR” seemed blessed with a first-rate cast. I was surprised to learn that Chris Hemsworth had portrayed James T. Kirk’s doomed father in the 2009 movie, “STAR TREK”. His George Kirk had been so dull. Fortunately, portraying Thor gave him the opportunity to shine in a complex role that developed from an arrogant and over-privileged prince with an aggressive sense of self to a more compassionate and wiser man who had fallen in love. For an actor with only eight or nine years of acting experience – most of them on television – Hemsworth more than held his own against the likes of Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins. And those scenes that featured Thor’s encounters with Jane’s van conveyed Hemsworth’s talent for physical slapstick humor. As an on-screen fighter, he struck me as a bit crude, but I am certain that he will improve with time. Natalie Portman gave a charming and humorous portrayal of Dr. Jane Foster, the astrophysicist who is not only obsessed with her work, but eventually finds love with Thor. Mind you, I did not find her character particularly exceptional. But I am glad to say that Portman tried all she could to make Jane an interesting personality. But one of the two best performances came from Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of Loki, Thor’s resentful and conniving younger brother. Loki was definitely the movie’s main villain. The joke he had played (luring three Frost Giants to the chamber that held the Casket of Ancient Winters) on Thor’s ascension ceremony not only led him to the discovery that he was an abandoned Frost Giant infant taken by Odin, but also gave him the opportunity to discredit Thor and take the latter’s position as Odin’s more cherished son. Mind you, I cannot say that Hiddleston conveyed Loki’s mischievous sense of humor effectively. But he did handle Loki’s conniving nature, jealousy toward Thor and outrage over the story behind his true nature with great skill and subtlety.

Other outstanding performances came from Idris Elba, who portrayed Asgard’s gatekeeper, Hemidall; Kat Dennings as Jane’s sardonic assistant Darcy Lewis; Clark Gregg as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson; and Colm Feore as Laufey, King of the Frost Giants (and Loki’s real father). I was amazed at how Elba managed to convey all of Hemidall’s emotions and intelligence with very limited movement. No wonder he became very popular with many of the film’s characters. And Colm Feore managed to do something quite similar. He conveyed all of Laufey’s malice and secrecy behind a ton of body makeup. Aside from Hemsworth’s foray into slapstick, the New Mexico sequences featured a deliciously sly and humorous performance by Kat Dennings, who portrayed Darcy. And it was great to see Clark Gregg reprise the role of Phil Coulson for the third time (he made two earlier performances in the two IRON MAN movies). Thankfully, the movie’s script allowed him to be more complex and increasingly sardonic, allowing Gregg to really show his acting chops. Finally, the movie benefited from solid performances by Anthony Hopkins’ majestic portrayal of Odin, Thor’s father, Stellan Skarsgård as Jane’s dependable and practical mentor, Dr. Eric Selvig and Samuel L. Jackson as S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury in the movie’s post-credits sequence.

In conclusion, “THOR” proved to be an entertaining movie and another step toward “THE AVENGERS”, the big Marvel Comics saga for 2012. The movie provided solid direction from Kenneth Branaugh and excellent performances from most of the cast. But the movie’s conflicting genre(s) and somewhat mediocre story led me to realize that I would never consider it to be one of the outstanding releases from Marvel Studios.