CinemaCon: Paramount & Marvel Preview Thor & Captain America, 29 March 2011
By Edward Douglas

This year's CinemaCon kicked off last night, and just as things began, we were given an opportunity to preview two of the summer's most anticipated movies with Paramount Pictures' 2 1/2 hour presentation including 20 minutes of footage from Marvel Studios' two summer releases, 'Thor' and 'Captain America: The First Avenger'.

We've been asked not to write about the footage in too much detail, but one thing we can definitely confirm is that Jeremy Renner DOES appear in 'Thor', not in costume as Hawkeye, but as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent with a bow and arrow working for Clark Gregg's Agent Coulsen. But we'll get to that in a bit.

Marvel Studios' president of production Kevin Feige was on-hand to introduce their portion of the presentation, talking about how well received both movies were at least year's Comic-Con. We have to say that the 6,500 inhabitants of Hall H would probably be somewhat jealous of what he showed to the the 3,000-plus exhibitors in attendance. They actually showed the 'Captain America' footage first but we'll start with 'Thor' just because it comes out sooner, in roughly five weeks in fact.

The twenty minutes of consecutive footage opened in the middle of the film on Asgard with Chris Hemsworth's Thor getting into an argument with his father, Odin, played by Anthony Hopkins. This is an extended scene of what we've seen bits and pieces from in the trailer and the Comic-Con footage with Odin losing patience with his son after an incident that nearly gets them killed. (Thor is clearly a brash and brazen young man who goes into battle without thinking.) At first, it was a little hard adjusting to the way the Gods are speaking in their big dramatic voices--a bit like Shakespeare in fact, something that director Kenneth Branagh has lots of experience with. Hemsworth is especially surprising in this role because we met him earlier and he seems very down-to-earth and affable, which is not how at all how he appears as the character in Asgard. What impressed us about this scene is in how well it shows off Hopkins' power as an actor and his ability to really command the screen, and we got goosebumps when he lifted up Thor's hammer Mjolnir and uttered the famous words to it: "Whomever holds the hammer, if they be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor." This essentially creates the "sword-in-the-stone" aspect to the origin story and how Thor will earn back his father's trust in order to be reunited with his hammer.

As the scene ends, Odin symbolically removes parts of Thor's costume as he takes away his powers then sends Thor hurtling to earth where he lands right in front of a speeding jeep being driven by Natalie Portman's Jane Foster through the desert. This awkward meeting in the desert ends with Thor being tased by Foster's assistant Darcy, played by the very funny Kat Dennings, who gets completely freaked out by what they think is a homeless man.

Jane Foster plays a much bigger role in Thor's origin than she did in the comics, because here, she's a scientist studying the stars along with another scientist played by Stellan Skarsgård, so it doesn't take long for her to realize that this man they found might not be what he seems. In all their scenes, Dennings offers some of the strongest comedic moments in her interactions with Hemsworth. The scenes with the three of them do a great job showing what a crucial part they will play in discovering who Thor is and where he's from in order to create a more naturalistic way of showing how humans might react to a God on earth than how it was handled in the early Thor stories by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. This footage also showed that Hemsworth was really well cast as he's able to play Thor both as a mighty pompous being as well as being a big lovable God-out-of-water unable to adjust to human ways. Both things are crucial to the character winning audiences over, especially those who may not be familiar with the character from comics.

While the four of them are getting accustomed to each other, we go back to the site in the desert where Thor's hammer landed on earth as it's discovered by a local in a pick-up truck sitting in the middle of a giant crater. He tries to lift it out and fails, but soon all of the locals are there trying to pull it out of the ground either alone or using other means. Eventually, Agent Coulsen shows up as teased in 'Iron Man 2'. Later, Portman and her colleagues are sitting with Thor in a local diner where he is chowing down on pancakes--allowing even more playful bits between him and Darcy--when they learn from one of the locals about the "satellite" that was found in the desert that no one can lift, which Thor automatically realizes is Mjolnir.

Jane and the others drive with Thor to the location, which has now been taken over by S.H.I.E.L.D. who have built a makeshift glass complex around the embedded hammer surrounded by entrance walkways with plastic tarp for walls. As they arrive, Thor seems to realize it's going to start raining and sure enough it does, so maybe he hasn't lost all of his powers. As he sneaks into the complex and takes on a bunch of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, Coulsen looks on and orders a special agent into a crane high above the scene where it's revealed to be Renner, and he pulls out his bow and arrow and takes aim waiting for Coulsen's orders. The funny thing is that over a year ago, before Renner was confirmed to play Hawkeye, he hinted the character might make an appearance in 'Thor', but then backtracked a bit. This appearance is in the middle of a big pivotal scene so Marvel must have already chosen him back when they were shooting the movie, because it would seem tough to insert this interaction with Coulsen into the scene. (Personally, we don't think we'll see the character again in the movie as this was just a cameo/tease for the fans to briefly introduce the character. It's not like he walks on screen and someone says, "Thor, meet Clint Barton aka Hawkeye," or anything.) After fighting his way through many men, Thor finally gets to the hammer in the ground and he tries to pull it out and fails, realizing that his father has indeed removed his power to wield it. The footage ended with the scientists looking at a children's picture book on Norse mythology at a similar-looking hammer and realizing that their guest from the stars is a lot more than a strange homeless man wandering in the desert.

We didn't really see much of the other Gods in this footage except Tom Hiddleston's Loki, who is basically standing by and watching the fight between Thor and Odin without really saying anything. We get the impression that he was more involved in getting Thor banished, but it would have been nice to get some idea how evil a character Loki will end up being, especially if he does play a role in 'The Avengers'. I guess we'll have to wait to see the full movie for that tone. We did see one scene of Idris Elba's Heimdall, basically we see his back as he's standing at the gate to Asgard looking down on earth at Thor's predicament. It will be interesting to see how the Asgard stuff plays out since we have no idea how much of that we'll have to sit through to get to Thor being exiled, but we're confident that Kenneth Branagh was the right man for the job regardless. We were especially enamored by the sense of humor in the scenes between Thor and the three scientists.

Another possible note of interest: In an interview we conducted with Chris Hemsworth earlier (which we will post soon), we asked the "Thunder from Down Under" (ha ha) why we haven't heard or seen anything of Dr. Don Blake in the movie and he played it rather coy, saying:

"You may not have heard because you haven't seen that bit yet, there may be some of that in there."

[big snip: the 'Captain America: The First Avenger' review]

Overall, the footage we were shown was terrific and it has gotten us even more excited for both movies. From what we saw of 'Thor' and 'Captain America: The First Avenger', we think both movies are looking to be on par with the first 'Iron Man', though they each have their own identity and a unique way to approach telling a superhero origin story.

'Thor' opens on May 6 and 'Captain America: The First Avenger' on July 22.

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