At first glance, Kenneth Branagh, who’s known for adapting Shakespeare’s work to film (“Hamlet,” “Henry V” among many others), might seem like an unfitting choice to direct a superhero movie such as “Thor.” But when you boil the story of Marvel’s Norse god down to its core, you begin to see The Bard’s surprisingly heavy influence.
We begin the film on Asgard, a world ruled by King Odin (Anthony Hopkins), with his son Thor (Chris Hemsworth) eager to ascend the throne. But Thor’s arrogance outweighs his power, and Odin casts him out of Asgard after his son breaks a truce with the Frost Giants of Jotunheim.
While Thor is sent to New Mexico to live among mortals until he is worthy to return home – it becomes Asgardian gap year, of sorts – his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) angles to seize the throne as Odin falls ill. To make sure his older brother doesn’t return to spoil his plans, Loki sends The Destroyer, an indestructible metallic mass, to live up to its name and destroy Thor as well as Earth.
Although on the surface “Thor” may seem like a stretch for Branagh, it actually plays to the director’s strengths. A brat prince trying to prove himself, an aged warrior on his death bed, and a trickster brother whose hatred is fueled by jealousy — it’s all familiar territory for Branagh. Those Shakespearean overtones give “Thor” the identity that some other comic adaptations have lacked.
And, if that’s not your thing, it also happens to be a pretty good action movie.
“Incendies,” Denis Villeneuve’s Oscar-nominated film from Quebec, takes twins Jeanne and Simon (Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin and Maxim Guadette) on an unexpected journey of discovery after the death of their mother, Nawal (Lubna Azabal).
Nawal leaves cryptic instructions for both of her children: Jeanne is told to find their father, whom the twins grew up thinking was dead; and Simon is told to find an unknown brother. While Jeanne embraces the task, traveling to the Middle East to unravel the mystery of her mother’s past, Simon shrugs it off as madness.
Villeneuve masterfully weaves together the stories of the twins and their mother, building an engrossing tale that you can’t turn away from. No matter the atrocities or injustices discovered during Jeanne’s journey, once you’ve started down the rabbit hole, there’s no turning back.
“Incendies” is lifted all the higher by strong performances, particularly from Azabal and Desormeaux-Poulin. As Jeanne retraces the steps of her mother’s life, the likeness in their features and movement are uncanny, amplifying the meaning of Jeanne’s journey beyond just a curiosity. No matter how grim or gritty the details may be – and I assure you, they are – Jeanne has to know.
The notary sums it up nicely: “Death is never the end of the story. It always leaves tracks.” The tracks left behind by Nawal are gripping, moving and breathtaking. “Incendies” is one of the best of the year.