Saturday, May 7, 2011
Thor was never going to be an easy movie to make. Unlike Iron Man, Batman, or The Incredible Hulk, Thor is a movie that takes place in two worlds. The fabled city of Asgard on one side and Earth on the other. From the outset director Kenneth Branagh had his work cut out for him and as Thor took shape, I became nervous. I wasn’t sold on the casting of Anthony Hopkins as Odin and I had zero desire to watch Chris Hemsworth botch the role of Thor. It seemed that the entire project would be just another stepping stone to the big Avengers film due in 2012. That didn’t happen, well, not entirely.
Thor is a mess, but an entertaining mess. The problems with the film come mainly from a lack of focus in the script and time spent in the wrong world. The story is simple. At the beginning Thor is an arrogant brute who starts a war with the Frost Giants for no real reason. His actions raise the ire of his father Odin who casts Thor and his hammer Mjöllnir out of Asgard, dumping both on Earth. It’s in the Earth realm that Thor learns humility and how to be a great king. If the script had stayed as simple as the idea, Thor might have been the best superhero movie since Dark Knight. Instead Thor becomes mired in Hollywood clichés and pacing problems.
The beginning of the film is flawless. Branagh knows how to direct an epic. The battles, staging, and direction of the Asgard opener are perfect comic book fare with a real respect for the source material. My initial fears of Hopkins and Hemsworth were quickly relieved. Hopkins is actually quite convincing as the all father Odin and Hemsworth knocks Thor out of the park. I wanted to hate him in the part but I just couldn’t. Not only does he nail the God Like swagger of Thor, but he also makes the Thor costume look really cool. The Frost Giants are well executed, as is the opening battle. Once Thor is banished to Earth the films problems begin.
When Thor gets to Earth he meets Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her little crew of scientists. In the comics Jane Foster is the nurse girlfriend of Donald Blake, the man who can summon Thor by smashing his cane to the ground. For the film Jane Foster is no longer a nurse but an astrophysicist studying something that changes every time the plot needs it to. To be honest they never really explain what it is she’s doing or why her team is stationed in a small town in New Mexico.
Naturally a romance blossoms between Foster and Thor, one that helps teach Thor about humility. Portman is awful in this role. Calling her performance one-note is an insult to all the one-note actresses out there. There is zero chemistry between her and Hemsworth, absolutely nothing outside of the forced romance to move the plot along. Then there’s Kat Dennings as Brandy, the plucky comic relief, who utters things like “He was freaking me out” and takes pictures of Thor for Facebook. Brandy is so unnecessary and annoying I was rooting for her to die first. Stellan Skarsgard is wasted as the father-figure scientist who has absolutely nothing to do.
The Earth stuff fails to connect because it never rises above plot devices used to get from point A to point B. Thor’s relationship with Jane Foster and her band of merry scientists goes nowhere. The audience is supposed to buy that Thor is learning humility from this relationship but there’s no connection with the characters so you never become invested in it. The same can be said for the small town that Thor tries to lay his life down to save. The thunder god never interacts with the town so when he fights for it, it rings false. If Thor had become part of the town, learning little lessons about compassion and humanity from every citizen, the battle for the town would have had a greater impact.
Another glaring problem with the Earth section is the arrival of S.H.I.E.L.D. When Mjöllnir crash lands, it embeds itself into the Earth and only one who is worthy can remove it. A bunch of rednecks find it and a tailgate party emerges involving drunken yahoos attempting to remove the hammer. At one point Stan Lee tries to do pull Mjöllnir from the Earth with a truck, failing miserably. Then S.H.I.E.L.D. arrives and tells them all it’s a satellite crash and everybody agrees and clears out. Nobody says, “Um, but it’s a hammer.” Essentially S.H.I.E.L.D. arrives so Thor can learn the location of his hammer and, when he can’t pull it from the ground, falls to his knees humbled. It also gave a nice arena to debut the character of Hawkeye. Like I said, everything happens just to move the story along.
What saves Thor is the action in Asgard and performances of the Asgard cast. I was particularly impressed with Tom Hiddleston as Loki. His performance is layered enough to actually elicit sympathy, even in the middle of his dastardly deeds. Thor’s crew of warriors also plays their parts with an eye towards restraint. For instance Jamie Alexander ‘s portrayal of Sif never panders to blatant sexuality. It’s obvious she’s beautiful, but Alexander never gives any “go girl” looks or “come hither” stares. That decision allows her character’s warrior status to be believable. All of Thor’s crew manage to, for lack of a better term, humanize their parts There was a lot of trepidation about Idris Elba portraying Heimdall, but rest assured, he is awesome.
Anybody who is excited to stay after the credits for the big scene that leads into The Avengers, skip it. It’s true that it contains the Cosmic Cube and a nice set up for the Avengers movie, but it’s really nothing you can’t read about or wait to see on line. For comic book fans, pay attention to a billboard in the small town for a cool nod to the first comic book appearance of Thor
Essentially Thor suffers from the same thing most of Marvel’s recent comic movies do, lack of a 2nd act. Iron Man and Hulk both started and ended with a bang but sagged in the middle. I know this will bring some boos from the gallery, but I enjoyed Thor much more than I did either of the Iron Man films. Both had pacing issues, both had action that saved the films and both had plot points that sucked. With Thor, at least to me, there was somebody to root for. Hemsworth’s thunder god is sympathetic, even charming. Where Robert Downey JR was mainly a smarmy, egotistical dick, Hemsworth’s Thor comes across as an actual hero.
Is Thor a perfect comic book movie? No. Is it worth seeing? Yes