This review is about 2 months late, and I apologize, but late is the only way movies come out here in the Orient. Before digging into the meat of the review, I just wanted to clarify that I do not hate the movie or anything, but the only puns I could come up with for the title featured the word “bore.” Blame the awkward meshing of Norse myth and the English language, not me.
Half of Thor is a great summer movie, and the other half should not exist. Half of Thor is a sweeping sci-fi epic featuring magic battles, royal intrigue, and grand sets. The other half is a generic romantic comedy with bad writing, set in New Mexico. Guess which is the good part.
The movie starts out promisingly with a bit of magico-historical exposition. We are introduced to Asgard, a magical plane inhabited by cover-page model hero-Gods, and Jotunheim, an ice-hell world housing a race of giants seemingly made up of only warrior men who like to kill stuff because. The two realms once fought an intense war to a standstill, and now hover above an uneasy truce. Asgard is ruled by the old and purportedly wise Odin, passably played by Anthony Hopkins. Odin is in a bind because he has two sons, but only one can be king even though Odin seems to be immortal, so it’s not exactly clear why he needs an heir…Thor is blonde, lifts weights, boasts, and drinks, so the people love him. Poor Loki has black hair, is of only medium build, and seems to understand life consists of more than whoring and beating people up; he is not very popular with the mob. Odin, the uber-wise king, chooses Thor to succeed him. During Thor’s intended coronation ceremony, some ice giants break into Asgard in a botched attempt to retake their magic ice beam weapon. Thor makes some bad decisions, and is then stripped of his godhood and banished to Earth. The Earth part is bad.
Thor really seems to be a Tale of Two Movies. Director Kenneth Branagh relishes the grand drama of the Asgard/Jotunheim sections. The family turmoil and royal settings are presented with passion and an appropriate sense of gravity. It’s certainly not Shakespeare, but Branagh shows he knows how to handle costume drama and medieval royal aesthetics. Asgard is a visually beautiful realm, and the mixture of science and hyper-technology creates a truly unique architecture. It’s Rivendell meets Star Wars. The only negative is the lack of time the audience has to explore the world, which is littered with interest characters like black Heimdall, who controls the dimensional bridge. The casting of Idris Elba, a black actor, as Heimdall caused a bit of an uproar, since mythologically Heimdall was white. I’m not joking; that was a real controversy, but Elba is great as the stalwart watchman of Asgard. Asano Tadanobu, a Japanese actor, also plays an Aesir/Asgardian/whatever they are, but no one seemed to care about that. He’s part of Thor’s entourage of hyper-warriors. All the fun characters lend a real sense of depth and family to Asgard, and create real weight to the drama that unfolds.
In contrast, I think the producers outsourced the writing and directing of the Earth section to a call center in Bangalore. The comic relief is there conceptually, but in execution is just awkward, forced lines without depth. The actors simply mouth words. Here’s an example, for reasons I will not explore, the U.S. government steals all the equipment from hot college researcher Natalie Portman’s office. As she and her Norwegian colleague lament the loss of the technical equipment, the college student assistant, played by Kat Dennings, who’s been in Michael Cera movies, shits out a line about her iPod having been taken. Portman says no one cares about her iPod, and the assistant says “but I just downloaded new songs.” Zing! Am I right? That’s the level of humor in the Earth part of Thor; we’re really supposed to laugh at that sucky ejaculate. Plus, none of it takes place in cool Earth, like NYC or something. Thor lands in New Mexico. There’s nothing there. It’s just a low-budget film-set town with explodeable gas stations and Natalie Portman because, you see, Thor needs to fall in love, and things need to blow up near the end. I messed up the order there, sorry. Thor falls in love with Portman, and the gas stations blow up. I realize the producers needed to have Thor mesh with the Marvel U movies, and set up The Avengers, but the whole Earth adventure felt contrived and shallow. The plot did not require Thor’s journey-exile to New Mexico, marketing and tax incentives did.
Chris Hemsworth plays the god of lightning with…spark! Get it? He seems to have fun with the role, and it infects the audience. He brings a good mix of childish immaturity and boastful arrogance. Tom Hiddleston is also good as Loki, who is really just as immature as Thor, but tries to hide it through fancy words and cleverness. In his review, Ebert faults Thor for not featuring a strong villain; however, I can’t help but feel it was all by design. The film does not only focus on Thor, to show the genesis of a hero, but also develops Loki, to display the creation of a villain. Just as Thor grows from naïve blowhard into dedicated savior of humanity, so Loki “falls” from immature prankster into a full-blown mega-baddy. The real strength of the story here is the family drama. Loki and Thor are brothers. They both want to succeed their father as king, and the conflict grows out of their maturation as they learn more about their true natures.
The action is great. The battle in Jotunheim is hard-hitting and fun. Things explode, fly, stab, and punch all over the place, and it’s exciting to see. Thor is good summer entertainment, but the pity is that it is so close to being more. Quick side note: the movie is out in 3-D as well, but it was filmed in standard 2-D, so the porting over to the 3rd D doesn’t work so well. You’re better off watching the standard 2-D. I’d still recommend the movie, but also suggest you bring a pillow for the 45 minute Earth segment.