Review: Thor

by Tom Ingram

2011 looks like the year of the B-list superhero, as Marvel and DC drag out some of their less interesting characters (Green Lantern, Captain America) for movie adaptations. These are not characters with timeless conflicts like Batman or Superman. Nor are they obscure but interesting heroes like the Question. They’re in the canon out of a vague sense that they’re historically important, but nobody can seem to recall much about them.

If you asked Joe Schmoe on the street about one of them, he’d probably know a few things–their name or details about their costume. But he’d never come up with one of them if you asked him to name a superhero. That, in a nutshell, is what Thor is all about.

The movie is all right, I suppose, but I didn’t go in with any reason to care about Thor and his pals, and it utterly failed to give me one. It works on the level of a shiny blockbuster, but it lacks even a modicum of narrative depth. Kenneth Branagh, better known for his big-budget Shakespeare adaptations, directs, and at times the cynicism is palpable. When he uses shaky-cam and fast-cutting fight scenes, it’s like he thinks his audience is full of easily-amused cretins and he’s giving them something shiny to play with. “As You Like It” indeed. The whole movie has a slight undertone of contempt for its viewers, and they just might deserve it.

After a brief scene with scientists doing science in the desert, we go to an extended sequence of Thor in Asgard–first as a child, and then as a grown man. Thor is something of an idiot, rushing into Jotunheim to start a war for no good reason. He, along with his friends and his brother Loki (who looks like Jarvis Cocker), fight the ice giants in a frenetic scene that never quite manages to be exciting. Thor swings his hammer back and forth using moves that would be laughable in a hack-and-slash RPG.

It’s difficult to see how the two worlds are supposed to connect, and the movie never really ties them together in a convincing way. When Thor’s friends (one of whom looks exactly like a younger Kenneth Branagh–yes, I spent most of this movie thinking about what famous people the characters looked like) finally come down to earth, it’s deeply weird. Up to that point it was like watching two separate movies. This opening bit, which lasts about half an hour, would have been better if it were trimmed down. They should have hired me to edit it.

Thor is cast down to Earth by his father, and has to recover his hammer from shady government agents while Loki wreaks merry hell in Asgard. Although he’s technically a superhero, there’s no crime-fighting here. The only time he’s helping the puny humans instead of inconveniencing them is at the end.

The movie combines aggressively bland characters with a script full of lifeless dialogue (one of the few moments that doesn’t seem computer generated is when Dr. Selvig, after a night of carousing with Thor, says, “I still don’t think you’re the god of thunder. But you ought to be.”). It tries to go for a lofty swords-and-sorcery tone in the Asgard scenes, which just makes it difficult to relate to the characters and jarring when put up against modern slang in the Earth scenes. This was Stargate SG-1′s biggest flaw for ten years. You’d think we’d have learned by now.

The CGI is not especially impressive. I think with Asgard they were going for “majestic”, but missed and hit “gaudy” instead. And the fight scenes are few and far between, performed with little enthusiasm. It moves quickly, and it’s not belligerently incoherent like some blockbusters, but Thor flails lifelessly and ultimately leaves no impression.

Cowboys and Aliens looks like a good movie with a lacklustre trailer. We’ll see how it turns out. Daniel Craig faking an American accent sounds really strange to me. They still haven’t shown the aliens yet. Also not shown: the Super 8 monster, although the new trailer gives more detail about the rest of the movie. It’s set in the 70s, which is funny simply because it’s a foolproof way to make anyone born before 1970 feel old. Their childhood happened so long ago that “70s” is acceptable as a movie premise.

I don’t care how many of them there are or how intelligent. There is no way to make a bunch of gorillas scary. The trailer for Rise of the Planet of the Apes (really awkward title) is filled with laugh-out-loud moments and bad sci-fi dialogue. Don’t hold your breath on this one.

Captain America looks like it’ll be another Thor, pulling in big piles of cash while getting middling reviews. The costume looked ridiculous, and I can’t imagine why the US government would create a genetically-modified supersoldier and only arm him with a pistol. At one point, a Nazi pulls off his face to reveal a red, demonic-looking figure underneath. Apparently this is a Captain America villain, but like I said, who remembers Captain America villains?

Last, but definitely not least, David Cronenberg is apparently making a movie starring Robert Pattinson. I love that combination.