The avalanche of superhero movies has finally begun. We saw glimpses of what was to come at last year’s San Diego Comic Con and we could hardly believe our eyes (or more our ears). This summer’s deluge of ‘men in tights’ is composed of Green Lantern, X-Men, Captain America, and many other nerd flicks. Will we survive this overwhelming flood of overhyped and over-saturated superhero stories? Well Thor has the unique chance to kick all this off in a way worthy of the gods or commit us all to damnation.
To no one’s surprise, I am a superhero geek. While my favorites are grounded in the DC universe, the last few years I have come to enjoy the Marvel realm as well. However, I have to confess that out of all of the Marvel movie properties, I probably know least about Thor. I did read Stacynski’s recent Thor book with mild enjoyment, but concluded that I would not continue following the adventures of the Norse god. The mixing of the magical fantasy elements within our own real world was a bit of a turn off for me. So going into this movie, I was venturing into Asgard pretty skeptical but tried to keep an open mind. However, I was hopeful (and surprised) given so much positive review from critics. After an initial viewing on opening night, I found myself unsure about how I felt about this, but after a second viewing, I feel I am finally ready to share my thoughts. Chances are, if you are reading this review, you already have a good idea about what Thor is about. But to cover my bases and for the sake of time, here is my one sentence synopsis of Thor:
A bratty god/prince is banished to earth to learn humility, ends up falling in love, becomes worthy again, and returns to his home realm of Asgard to reclaim the stolen crown from his conniving brother Loki who has all kinds of daddy issues.
For the impatient, I will say that I thought this was moderately successful. It worked on some levels, missed on others, but overall was about as good as Thor quest could be.
Thor is basically two movies; The first being the royal family power struggle among the trinity of Odin, Thor, and Loki. The second, and much under developed part, is the ‘fish out of water’ story with Thor on Earth. The balance of these parallel arcs was a delicate one and Director Branagh does a decent job with it. The contrast between the opulent Asgard kingdom and the simple small town in New Mexico is handled competently. I give Branagh’s world crafting a B- for effort. The kingdom of Asgard is regal and has a genuine fantastical design- however, it’s architecture must have been the gods of CGI. Asgard felt like either an incredible animation from ‘Thor: the video game’ or from a neighboring realm to the equally fabricated Naboo from Star Wars. I liked it but it could have been so much better. I also felt that due to time constraints, the conflict with the Frost Giants felt cartoonish. This war of the worlds seemed like it came from a He-Man cartoon- low stakes and a lot of generic speeches. As a result, there just wasn’t time to develop the complexities and horrors of war. What should have been Lord of the Rings, turned out like Chronicles of Narnia (the movie versions).
Chris Hemsworth portrayal as the god of thunder would have made his ancestors proud. Charming, strong, larger than life, and passionate, I couldn’t imagine anyone else brining Thor to the big screen. It was a wise move to cast this relative unknown Aussie and he will make a fine addition to The Avengers. You can’t go wrong with Natalie Portman. She has always been faithful to her nerd roots (V for Vendetta and Star Wars) and continues to build her geek cred with this role. Portman is like bacon, add her to anything and she makes it automatically better. Granted there is very little for her to do besides represent the audience’s ignorance, but she is so likable I don’t think anyone cares. And of course, Anthony Hopkins delivers his usual imposing but gentle gravitas. He’s not on screen a lot but barks out degrees that are only worthy of a king. I think my favorite role and the trickiest was Loki played by Tom Hiddleston. He was crafty and manipulative but still believable as part of Thor’s inner circle. I really was impressed with his cunning portrayal and look forward to his entanglements in the future Marvel mash-ups.
The biggest foe in Thor was not the Frost Giants, The Destroyer, or Loki but time itself. The lack of character development with The Warriors Three and the Earth Three was pretty evident by the end. Both sets of companions were merely there to move the plot and we end up caring very little for them. Any other them could have lived or died with little regard. While Hemsworth and Portman do a valiant job conjuring up the chemistry between them, there just isn’t enough time to explain their romance besides sharing a night beneath the stars. Thor, for the sake of time, adapts rather quickly and must embrace his humility for reasons unknown. We accept it as the audience but couldn’t help feel a lot was left on the cutting room floor.
I do think Branagh does an adequate job but felt his inexperience in the fight sequences. With the exception of Thor breaking into the Shield facility, all the other sequences felt confusing or poorly choreographed. Even the final showdown with The Destroyer felt rather unsatisfying. I think Branagh does a good job setting up the action but fails at actually delivering it. It wasn’t enough to sour me from liking this movie but just felt it wasn’t battles worthy of a god.
All The Avenger tie in elements is getting pretty ridiculous. Like Ironman 2, I felt valuable screen time is spent trying to shoe horn in Agent Coulson, Shield, and The Avengers. The big ‘eye-rolling’ moment I had was at the end with Coulson’s final conversation with Thor. For some inexplicable reason, Thor acknowledges their allegiance and commits to join forces in the future. What?! Why?! Like I-2, Thor ends up feeling like another cog in the Avengers machine and I think it’s a distraction. In my opinion, it is smart to tie these movies together but they unfortunately use little subtlety to accomplish it. You don’t need Mjolnir to tap in a thumbtack. Oh well, I can’t complain. They have an ambitious vision and while it feel commercialized, I am still eagerly looking forward it- I just don’t need a reminder about it every 10 minutes in my films.
Overall, I enjoyed Thor. I was expecting a something at the level of Spiderman 3 or X-Men 3 and instead got a product at the level of Ironman 2. It’s not great but a solid addition to the Marvel pantheon. While there were room for improvements, it took two viewings for me to figure out what they would be. That’s saying something. Thor did a worthy job of properly launching the summer of heroic proportions. Let’s pray to the gods that it is all going up from here.
I give Thor a 3 out of 5 babbles