Sunday, May 15, 2011

THOR and Shakespeare

At first I wondered at the choice of Kenneth Branagh, Shakespearean actor and director nonpareil, to direct the latest superhero flick. But having seen THOR, I understand the pairing of Branagh and Marvel: this is a tale with many Shakespearean elements.

For one, just about every Shakespearean play has some sort of political wrangling--often a major betrayal within a dynasty. In THOR, there are similar troubles within the ruling family of Asgard (led by a predictably regal Anthony Hopkins).

For another, Shakespeare loved to play with luscious and evocative settings: think of THE TEMPEST or A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM. Shakespeare himself would have loved to don his 3-D glasses and get a load of the art in THOR--it's a Norwegian wonderland and a treat for the eyes.

Chris Hemsworth is a worthy THOR, investing his role with the pathos of a true Shakespearean tragic hero; one of the most crucial elements of Shakespeare's hero is that he must recognize his flaw and then see that it has brought about his downfall. Hemsworth accepts his fate with appropriate gravitas. His face is unbelievably beautiful, but it isn't a Hollywood mask--it conveys surprising facility with the various emotions THOR must display.

THOR also contains the obligatory Shakespearean love subplot, and like Romeo and Juliet, Thor and his earthly girlfriend are unlikely to forge a successful relationship.

The only flaw in THOR is that, while the gods in Asgard are carefully developed and characterized, the people on earth are little more than stereotypical movie scientists, and there is nothing in Natalie Portman's physicist that would appeal to Thor's eye aside from her basic good looks. This should be a meeting of minds and imaginations that would explain a passion that could span universes. Instead, it is too mundane for the audience to believe in it.

Still, I'll be in line for the next installment of Thor, and I take my hat off to Kenneth Branagh--thanks for making this movie like a good Shakespearean play.