|REVIEWS - MOVIES|
Despite flirting with success, Thor ultimately hammers on the door of mediocrity...
It was never going to be easy to make a movie based around a character that’s generally considered to be one of the least intelligent in the comic universe. Thor, son of Odin and God of Thunder, is reputed for being a brash, fists-first, questions-later type that’s easily manipulated and is always keen for a fight. He is the monster truck of the Marvel universe. Fittingly then, that’s exactly what director Kenneth Branagh has delivered in the feature film based on the character of the same name.
Thor is, in a nutshell, the unthinking man’s superhero. In a sense, it would be fair to say that of all the Marvel universe movies, Thor is the one likely to be most appealing to children. In fact, before I saw the movie I noticed an advertisement for a kid’s meal set at Burger King that came with a free action figure toy of one of the film’s characters. My concerns started here and followed me through to the conclusion of the film.
When I first heard that Kenneth Branagh would be taking on the director’s chair for Thor, my expectations were raised exponentially; the pairing of a superhero famed for his idiocy and a theatre thesp with a varied career - such as acting for the royal Shakespeare company as well as directing dramatic character pieces - made for a very unlikely, but potentially brilliant, combination. Branagh quite vocally said that the main point of interest for him was the father-son relationship between Thor and Odin, and it seemed to be that this would be the focal point of the film. Imagine my disappointment then that Thor is just another comic book movie full of set-piece explosions, archetype characters and a middling love story that lacks chemistry or even credibility. Worse, it barely touches upon the father-son dynamic Branagh had promised to explore.
The plot of Thor begins with a decent flashback narrated by Odin, played by Anthony Hopkins. In a brief but effective introduction, we are told of the Nine Realms with particular focus on Asgard (Thor’s realm) and Jotunheim, home to the Asgardian’s long-term enemies, the Frost Giants. This prologue is vaguely reminiscent of the one in the first Lord of the Rings movie, only the action is not nearly as engaging. The end result is that the war between the two realms ends with Asgard victorious and the Frost Giants defeated; before overall peace is made. Cut to an inordinate number of years later and the Frost Giants have somehow managed to break into Asgard, almost managing to reclaim a relic that could restore their power.
Thor is outraged by this intrusion, which he deems to be an act of war, while his father Odin and brother Loki advise caution. Later, Loki manages to manipulate Thor with some very basic power of suggestion and - blockhead that he is - Thor goes straight for it. Assembling his band of warriors, they march headlong into Jutenheim and instigate war. For this act, Odin banishes Thor to Earth; and that’s where things get strange. Thor arrives in New Mexico (of all places) and gets hit by Jane Foster’s truck and her team of scientists. From here, there are a few predictable but enjoyable laughs at Thor’s expense as he adapts to being stripped of his powers and adapting to the rules of Earth.
However, this brings about the biggest problem of the whole movie: time frame. A lot happens in Thor, and all of it takes place within the space of two days. In this time, we’re supposed to accept that Thor is banished, Odin falls ill, Loki seizes control of Asgard, and most ludicrously that Thor and Jane fall in love. Perhaps even more ridiculous is the notion that in order to return to Asgard, Thor has to learn valuable life lessons (none of which are ever explicitly stated) that make him a better man and a worthy king – something he accomplishes in just 48 hours. Even for a comic book movie, it’s a preposterous story.
As with any comic movie these days, there are a number of action sequences throughout Thor, but only one or two are worth remembering. In a move that’s all too typical of recent comic book movies, the best action scene in Thor takes place about a third through when Thor and his companions fight the Frost Giants. There’s a lot going on in this scene and much of it can be hard to make out, but it still manages to have an air of the epic about it, and that’s what makes it a success. Unfortunately the climactic fight scenes are a dull affair by comparison, particularly between Thor and the Destroyer and then again between Thor and Loki. This final fight could have been a lot more creative if the choreographers had made more use of Loki and Thor’s individual weapons: a staff and a hammer, but instead we’re witness to generic, laboured combat that feels so predictable as to almost be redundant.
The performances in the film are, on the whole, disappointingly average. Anthony Hopkins and Idris Elba are both charismatic and captivating, but neither of them is allowed enough screen time or material to work with. Tom Hiddleston never felt right as Loki and it’s only made more evident when you watch him in the movie – perhaps it’s simply a case that the character is poorly written, but the intelligent, manipulative trickster of the comics is entirely absent in Thor. Any sense of character motivations are stripped away in exchange for a cardboard “evil” character that acts like a villain for no better reason than he can.
It’s a good thing then that Chris Hemsworth quite capably carries the weight of the title role with ease, and along with Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson, might be the only redeeming feature of the movie. Jeremy Renner makes a cameo appearance as Hawkeye, but his cameo is so short that audiences will literally think “Hey, it’s that guy from The Hurt Locker” and nothing else. Thor’s companions are basically caricatures that bring little to the table, and when they arrive on Earth in their armour they look like nothing so much as live action role-play fanboys running amok. It’s a little embarrassing.
Finally, Natalie Portman as Jane Foster seems so wholly out of place that it’s difficult to believe either the studio or the director didn’t catch themselves out before casting her. Unlike Hemsworth, Hiddleston or Elba, Portman is a superstar; she just won an Oscar for God's sake. She’s a serious actress and feels jarringly out of place in a comic book movie, let alone one as goofy as Thor. It’s the same problem everyone had when watching Star Wars Episodes I, II and III: we were told time and again that the man with the purple lightsaber is Mace Windu, but no, he is Samuel L. Jackson, and no eye-patch or purple lightsaber is ever going to persuade anyone otherwise. Some people are just too damned famous or iconic for movies like this, and Portman and Jackson are among them. You could say the same about Anthony Hopkins, but there you’d be wrong, as the Welsh legend could convincingly portray Marilyn Monroe and no one would bat an eyelid – he’s that good.
Visually, Thor is a baffling, head-scratcher of a movie. Asgard is a beautifully constructed and coloured world full of light and radiance. To its credit, the film does actually make Asgard feel like a real, lived-in place, and when given a view of the city in all its glory, it honestly is a cinematic wonder to behold. Honestly, there’s an overpowering sense that Thor would be a vastly superior movie if the entire plot had taken place there. That said, some of the CG used in Asgard is absolutely shocking, casting a din, pixelated filter over much of the background and scenery. It was so noticeable that at times I felt myself fizzling in and out of consciously following the plot and simply staring at the screen. Saying that, It’s worth noting that I saw Thor in 2D, and this actually caused me to stop and wonder if the dodgy sheen was because I’d forgotten to pick up some 3D glasses, but no, that’s just how the film looks.
Thor is ultimately a disappointment, chock full of clichés, thin on character development and, although a comic book movie, certainly stretches the bounds of believability to an unreasonable level; and this is least of all because it’s a story about a Nordic God.
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