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Thor    

Directed by Kenneth Branagh
First of all, I really enjoyed this movie – as much as any comic book-based project. I’m starting off with that statement in case anything else suggests otherwise, given my tendency to get a little snarky at times.  

I’m not familiar with the source material, although it’s fair to say that I’m somewhat familiar with the source material’s source material. But the most surprising thing about the movie wasn’t anything plot-related, it was that it was directed by Kenneth Branagh, who’s probably more likely to be considered to act in and/or direct something Shakespearean than a Marvel property. That said, it worked very well – as if one simply needs to treat a story with respect rather than come at it with a specific comic book fanboy mentality. Especially when the story has epic mythological roots.

On that topic and in keeping with our own Norse mythology, Thor is the hammer-wielding son of Odin, except that now they’re members of an alien race intent on keeping peace in the galaxy after years of torment and wars. But for all of their advancements and ability to utilize wormhole technology to travel between worlds, they’ve apparently never accessed Wikipedia or else some of the family relationships would be called into doubt a lot sooner.

Despite a more hawkish youth, Odin is now the Solomonesque elder statesman pondering who will become his heir. Apparently this is important not because of impending death, but because of an acute case of latent narcolepsy. He and his clan, who have names that sound like the IKEA catalog sprang to life, live in a citadel that comes complete with the powerful relics and spoils of war that their enemies lust after and would like to have returned to them. Throw in a little sibling rivalry and some ill-fated romance and maybe the Shakespearean connection doesn’t sound like such a stretch.

The story works in that ‘stranger in a strange land’ way, with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) out of place in our current world. Here he encounters a scientist (Natalie Portman) who happens to have a convenient fascination with Einstein-Rosen Bridges (wormholes). Much of the good humor has less to do with god-like powers and more to do with out-of- place manners. It’s more character-driven than merely a vehicle for the effects wizards to practice their art – although there’s a lot of that, too.

Thor exists in the same story series as Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and Captain America – and the separate movie properties are all being released in advance of “The Avengers,” which will unite all of the characters (planned for this time next year). The success of that project may depend on the ability to bring them all together with a tone that suits them all. But for now, for this film, the tone works and it’s a fun film, even for those like me who read books with fewer pictures. And the obligatory Stan Lee cameo is better than most.  (Note: Stay through the credits for an additional scene.)

Something Borrowed

Directed by Luke Greenfield
I’m somewhat conflicted about “Something Borrowed.” On the one hand, it’s very well-made and the characters seem well formed, with enough of a sense of their own pasts that they do feel like they could have been friends for many years. But it also falls victim to many of the inherent problems of movies of this type.

I’ve written before about certain romantic comedy formulas (meet cute, fall in love, unfortunate circumstance/revelation that separates the leads, realization that everything’s really OK, happily ever after). But there are other issues that have to be overcome to make a story like this audience-friendly.  

For starters, not only do you need lead characters that seem like they both belong together and also deserve each other, but you also have to wrap up other character arcs without alienating half the audience. So, if one character is going to get badly jilted in some way, it’s better to have made them somewhat dislikable first, so people don’t walk out identifying with that person and feeling like the movie was a tragedy rather than a comedy. But you have to do this (and other manipulations) in a very short space of time, by making the person almost instantly annoying – and the flaw is that you wonder why the people the movie wants you to like and admire ever found that person worthwhile to be around to begin with.

In “Something Borrowed,” one best friend is in love with the other best friend’s fiancé. She and he went to law school together and supposedly never realized their mutual attraction. But the movie also feeds us flashbacks in which they’re almost drooling over each other and so the folks we’re supposed to root for coincidentally seem like borderline idiots.  

But it’s also a pleasant and likable film, filled with both funny and genuine-seeming moments between friends and those awkward almost-friends. The cast (primarily Kate Hudson, Ginnifer Goodwin, and Colin Egglesfield as the love triangle) are all solid – but the standout character and performance (and not for the first time) comes from John Krasinski as the close friend who realizes what’s unfolding. I’d probably recommend it for him alone.  (Same note: Stay through the credits for an additional scene.)


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