(This is a film review of Thor. Spoilers may follow.)
I promise I’ll get back to posting about running, training, etc. in a couple of days. But now for something completely different. I ended up with some free Redbox codes after they rented me a bad DVD last week, so I decided to get some light-hearted flicks as long as I’m renting on the company’s dime. Tonight’s selection: 2011’s blockbuster Thor.
Inspired by some comic books I’ve never read and Norse mythology that I know little about, Thor is the story of the titular “God” of Thunder (who is really more of an interdimensional/interplanetary being, played by Chris Hemsworth), the impetuous elder son of King Odin (Anthony Hopkins) who rules over Asgard. As he is introduced, Thor is kind of a butthead who enjoys harassing other civilizations, twirling his magic hammer like a drum majorette, and hanging out with his underdeveloped but smartly dressed clan of warrior friends. Oh, and his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) who, in typical little brother fashion, seems just happy to be there. Their idyllic, peaceful world becomes threatened when Thor disobeys Odin’s orders and provokes a war with a neighboring civilization of snow misers, inspiring Odin to disinherit Thor and leaving Loki to unleash havoc in Asgard. Oh, and there’s also a portal to Earth and Thor ends up saving New Mexico. Huh?
What’s good: Compared to the usual crop of superhero films, this boasts an impressive cast. In addition to Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman plays Earthling love interest Jane, Stellan Skarsgård is Dr. Selvig, Kat Dennings of Two Broke Girls plays Darcy, and Kenneth “Hamlet” Branagh directs. Some of the special effects are good, and the movie is overall mildly amusing. This is also good, though there’s not nearly enough of it:
What’s not good: Unfortunately, most of the film. If you’re looking for character development, don’t get your hopes up. Even at the most basic level, when I get to the end of a movie and can’t name several characters let alone understand what their powers are, the script obviously has some issues. Beyond that, characters seem to behave erratically with no apparent catalyst. Thor falls in love with Jane and undergoes a complete personality transplant with little explanation. Loki also maybe loves, maybe hates the snow misers and maybe loves, maybe hates Odin and Thor. There is an interdimensional gate keeper who watches the vaguely phallic portal to other dimensions, and he is loyal to… who knows? Maybe Odin? Loki? Thor?
The female roles here are also disappointing, though perhaps unsurprisingly so considering the genre. Jaimie Alexander as Sif is very cool, but gets little screen time. Renee Russo as Frigga does almost nothing. Kat Dennings has some pithy one-liners, but the worst of all of them is Natalie Portman. As female scientists go, she ranks right up there with Denise Richards for believability. Which is to say, she is not believable at all in this role. I say this not just because she’s too young or too pretty, mind you (although anyone who knows anything about academia will tell you just how implausible it is that a scientist in her late 20s/early 30s would be running a major expedition with an established, senior scientist as her assistant and a political science major hanging around for no apparent reason), but it’s because Jane doesn’t seem to do anything scientific. Her research activities appear to consist primarily of moving things around in her lab, squinting at photographs, and chasing extraterrestrial beings. Other than that, she sits around doe-eyed listening to Thor’s tales of nine realms and swallowing all of it. Oh, honey, and you think you’re getting this research published? I was also unconvinced by her chemistry with Thor, which is surprising because I’d have thought that Chris Hemsworth would have chemistry with a cup of tepid water. Instead, their relationship comes off more like a weird puppy love than anything smoldering or passionate.
On a more cynical level, I also found myself annoyed by the relentless marketing of the Marvel Brand in this movie. It’s not enough that at the beginning of the DVD, the viewer is force-fed promos for the tie-in video game and various other Marvel films; cross-references are embedded throughout to Iron Man, Captain America, and The Avengers. A not-so-secret “secret” scene at the end of the film is all about hyping The Avengers and ensures us that the characters presented here will return. I’m sure the entire audience breathes a sigh of relief. Honestly, I’m glad I saw this movie for free because I’d be resentful if I paid $10 to see this in theaters only to be bombarded with tie-in advertising and not-so-subtle product placement. My sympathy is also with parents who take their kids to these films only to find they’re a gateway drug to a dizzying array of spin-offs, sequels, and merchandising. Yes, I know–It’s a capitalist world we live in and thank goodness folks like Thor are here to protect it. Or, at least to protect isolated its desert towns.
Thor is rated PG-13 and runs about 1 hour 50 minutes. It is available on DVD now.