Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Written by: Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, & Don Payne
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, & Anthony Hopkins
A TCC RATING OF:
If I was forced to describe Thor in one word, it would be: Tonal Mess. That is not to say it doesn’t have good things about it, it just means that they don’t work well together. Thor as a whole is less than the sum of its parts.
Thor tells the story of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the future King of Asgard, who is an arrogant warmongering brat who defies the King/his father (Anthony Hopkins) and gets banished to Earth, while also losing the ability to use the mighty Mjolnir, the hammer which gives him his powers. Meanwhile in Asgard, Loki is planning his ascent to the throne and starts a whole lot of trouble. Review with spoilers after the jump.
The reason Thor does not work as a movie is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be, and gets stuck in the middle, not doing any one thing well enough. It isn’t dramatic enough to be a drama, isn’t funny enough to be a comedy, and isn’t exciting enough to be an action movie. It feels like a very simple film designed to be unoffensive, which backfires since it ends up being uninteresting instead.
In terms of the drama, the relationship between the bullheaded Thor and his mischievous brother Loki is the emotional core of the movie. Relative newcomer Tom Hiddleston puts in a very strong performance as Loki, playing the antagonist with the appropriate motivations and not becoming a stereotypical comic villain. Anthony Hopkins also does a decent job in his relationships with his two sons. What is seriously lacking, dramatically, is the relationship between Thor and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), an astrophysicist who takes care of him upon his rough arrival to Earth. Unless she is an absolutely shallow sex-crazed scientist, which would be incredibly offensive to women, then it’s utterly implausible that she falls madly in love with Thor after spending no more than 2 days with him and having basically nothing in common, considering they’re from completely different realms.
In terms of the comedy, there are several good laughs in the movie, most of which derive from the outsider in modern society cliché. Thor, still believing himself to be The Almighty Thor, gets tased into unconsciousness, and then is sedated by injection mere minutes later. None of the humor is more complex or intellectual than that, however, which is disappointing, especially compared to a movie like Iron Man, which relies on the verbal wit of Tony Stark to deliver comedy. And while humor in action movies usually does help to break up the mood before it gets too dark and serious, it feels out of place in Thor because it never really feels all that serious or like an action movie.
Lastly, in terms of the action, it is vastly underwhelming. There are four action sequences in the film, and three of them are poorly handled and anticlimactic. This may just be personal taste, but watching a fight with massive talent disparity, such as Thor beating up dozens of Frost Giants (really, that’s the name you go with?) single-handedly, just isn’t exciting and provides no tension. Even when the really big bad monster shows up, Thor just dispatches it with one attack. Even though it was badass, it was anticlimactic to set up this giant beast only to take it down as easily as a Frost Giant. With the exception of the scene where Thor doesn’t have Mjolnir, and has to rely on action choreography, all the action scenes fail to deliver what they set up, and just don’t last long enough.
Moving beyond the tone of the film, there are a few other things it does poorly, and a couple it does very well. The film essentially opens to a brief narrated history of Asgard’s relationship with Earth which is blatantly ripped off from the opening of Fellowship of the Ring. The entire movie, and this is likely a problem with the comic book as well, feels somewhat unoriginal, since the realm of Asgard is just Norse mythology, which I read about in elementary school. Despite that, the time spent in Asgard, probably over half the movie, was much better than the time spent on Earth. I would not be surprised if Kenneth Branagh wanted to set the entire movie there, and was forced to include the Earth plot just so Marvel could link it to the upcoming Avengers movie. The computer effects were surprisingly excellent, and the sets in Asgard were interesting, though minimalist. The camerawork used a few too many tilted shots for no apparent reason, and the score was very basic and uninspiring.
By its own standards (aiming to be unoffensive and paying lip service to drama, comedy, and action), Thor is an unmitigated success. But by the standards that the audience should have, it was an unmitigated failure. Although it was not difficult or painful to watch, it wasn’t particularly exciting either. What could have been a hilarious over-the-top campy action-comedy or a serious action-drama drawing from Branagh’s Shakespearean roots ended up just being a paint-by-numbers comic book movie that does nothing to distinguish itself from the genre. It is the worst kind of failure, because it is neither bad enough to make fun of it (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), original enough to applaud the effort (Green Hornet), or good enough to enjoy it (The Dark Knight).