Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Thor Movie Review

The Marvel Comics movie Thor is more than just a commercial for The Avengers, it’s also a movie where characters behave in ways that are necessitated by the plot and some adherence to the comic lore. It’s a movie that spent so much time and energy creating two different planets (one inspired by Flash Gordon and the other by The Lord of the Rings) that they forget to apply some production design to a New Mexico town that abruptly ends at the end of Main St. That Kenneth Branagh stooped to direct this mess does not speak highly of Kenneth Branagh. Has he become the latest in a series of unique directorial talents to become a slave to a large paycheck? How does a man whose screen representations of Shakespeare are rivaled only by Olivier come to work with such hackneyed writing and wooden acting?

The first fatal flaw of the screenplay by Ashley Miller, Don Payne, and Zack Stentz, based on a story by Mark Protosevich and J. Michael Straczynski, is that Thor is not at all interesting as either a character or a superhero. This is just lazy writing based on an expectation that if you build a superhero movie out of all the requisite parts, the audience will come. Superhero? Check. Back story and origin? Check. Villain who says villainous things? Check. Love interest? Check. And that’s the one that really gets me. Because Thor had a love interest in Jane Foster in the comic books, it was deemed necessary to give him one in the movie. What is the purpose of a love interest in a movie like this? It can round out a superhero giving him more dimension (Hulk). It can provide a difficult decision on the part of the hero whether or not to reveal his identity (Spider Man) and/or choose to protect her at the expense of others (Superman). Natalie Portman as Jane Foster does only what the plot requires of her. That includes falling in love with the hero within about 24 hours, which seems to be the approximate amount of time that Thor is on earth.

And why is Thor on earth, you might ask? Well for that we have the 45 minute origin story. Thor’s father Odin (Anthony Hopkins, looking like his character from Instinct) is on the verge of passing the throne to him when the Frost Giants from Jotunheim break in to attempt to steal some special energy cube that will be super important in The Avengers. Thor defies his father in hastily traveling to Jotunheim with his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his four warrior friends basically to do battle with an entire planet’s worth of Frost Giants. This is not a wise decision and certainly not a decision befitting a king. So Odin banishes him to earth and whispers sweet nothings to his trusty hammer, apparently place a spell on it so that it may only be used by someone worthy of using it. I wonder if Thor is going to have a revelatory moment at which point he’ll be capable of lifting the hammer.

When Odin falls into a deep sleep (What!?! You mean a heart attack induced coma?) from the stress of lording over a planet and losing his beloved son, Loki becomes king of Asgard. He also learns a dark secret about himself and perhaps the reason why he’s always felt Thor is the better-loved son. I should not that not all the acting is wooden. Hiddleston is about the only actor in the film who can really deliver a line. He doesn’t chew the scenery in his relish of villainy. Chris Hemsworth in the title role delivers his lines like a high school student in a Shakespeare play trying too hard to sound like he’s in a Shakespeare play.

Jane Foster’s other role is to be an astrophysicist who discovers the wormhole that Thor falls through. This happens while she’s observing an aurora phenomenon (not something an astrophysicist usually spends her time doing). After Thor’s arrival the government led by trusty Agent Coulson (played as usual by Clark Gregg) take all of her data and research: “[Her] entire life’s work!” This line immediately calls attention to Jane’s apparent age, which is far too young to have both become a doctor of astrophysics and conducted years of research. Those kinds of laments are usually reserved for someone more the age of Stellan Skarsgard, who plays her mentor Professor Selvig. His job is to keep Jane in check and advise her against doing anything rash, which of course she will do anyway. They also work with an intern or helper or something, a young woman whose major is political science. Her presence in the story is inexplicable. She adds nothing of value and simply takes up space. Her character has nothing interesting to say that could not be said by someone else. The producers could have saved themselves an actor’s salary by giving her lines to Portman.

As a villain Loki does a lot of whining and complaining. He’s not a very formidable villain so he has to send in a giant hollow metal creature that can blast fire out of its face. This leads to a big showdown between it and Thor in that New Mexico town of Main St. where the earth scenes take place. It’s all so generic and boring that a mere 24 hours after seeing it I can hardly remember the details.

Point of confusion: part of the lore in the film is that Norse mythology is based on the beings from Asgard having visited Norway in the 10th Century. According to the timeline presented in the film, Odin saved earth from the Frost Giants when Thor either wasn’t yet born or was just a small boy. So why does the Norse mythology book that Selvig picks up have a chapter on Thor, God of Thunder?

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