Epic. Outstanding. Absolutely breathtaking. At long last, a superhero film that keeps things simple, coherent and cohesive. Technically brilliant. Pulse-pounding action with heart, that’s not simply there for the sake of being there. Such words would probably resemble my rough draft of a one-paragraph review… of Spider-Man 2.
That landmark film still stands (or rather swings) as a testament to superhero movies, to action movies, to movies. Faithful to its source material, faithful to cinemaniacs, Marvel’s masterpiece was everything that Thor, directed by Kenneth Brannagh and distributed by Paramount Pictures, has failed to become, like so many of its recent brethren.
The latest comic book caper is a bundle of fantastical jargon. It features its titular Norse god, an arrogant war-monger who wants his home of Asgard to go to war with its long-time natural enemy, the Frost Giants, who occupy the frozen wastes of Jotunheim. Big Papa Odin soon intervenes, disapproves of his son’s reckless actions, strips him of his powers and exiles him to Earth. Meanwhile, the mischievous Loki is already planning his cliché coup against the incapacitated king, who for whatever reason is engaged in some sort of cryosleep for the rest of the film – I sort of dozed off around this point. So, thirty minutes into the movie, we’ve got Thor, Odin, Loki, Asgard, Jotunheim, the Frost Giants…. A cluster of names that mean little else than we’re in fantasy territory.
Then, Thor pulls a U-turn, with a fair fraction of the film’s focus on the hammer-wielding hero’s exile on Earth. Now a mere muscular mortal, Thor’s as stupidly stubborn as ever. We’ve seen this kind of plot before. He meets a girl, she teaches him social interaction, and by movie’s end, our hero has matured. Well, forget all that, because the said maturity that would normally encompass two hours seems to emcompass no more than two minutes. To save words, the character development sucks.
Here’s my biggest problem. Thor has no idea what it’s trying to be… it’s all over the place. We started with a fantasy film, and now we’ve got a human tale, a personal story between a mythological man and cinema’s classic love interest who, believe me, is not so classic here. Natalie Portman plays the astrophysicist who encounters him, and she’s about as useful to the plot as a pair of bricks are to a silky dress, only serving two purposes: to blanket our ears with technobabble, and to look incredibly horny every time Chris Hemsworth is on-screen… doubly so if he has his shirt off. But there’s not even enough time for the romance to bloom, as Brannagh keeps taking us back to Asgard (or was it Jotunheim… hell if I know or care), where Loki has taken control. It’s the definition of disjointed as, in the end, we get several plots which all feel incomplete.
I’ve never been a proponent of CGI, mainly because it’s been abused way too often by lazy filmmakers. Action is only as exhilarating as its established characters and story… then the effects become truly special. Again… Spider-Man 2. In Thor, it’s nothing special. There’s CGI explosions, CGI battles… yawn. Flashy but tiring, there’s no substance behind the gloss.
Whether you’re a die-hard comic book fan, or whether you’re just a cinemaniac, it’s hard to recommend the routine and redundant. Thor is an action-packed, effect-laden, infantile mess of a movie… sure, it’s fun, it’s entertaining, you’ll have a few kicks… But great films aren’t about having a few kicks. They’re about lasting value. Great superhero films have always involved a human story, a personal struggle that we can relate to – Spider-Man 2, Dark Knight, Iron Man etc. – but Thor’s sole personal struggle is our own sitting in a theater with glasses we tempt to chuck at the protruding images in front of us. The love interest is undeveloped and pointless, the main hero is an obnoxious jerk who achieves personal growth with no visible challenges to his self, and half the picture is just CGI and fantasy lore that lack any sort of heart or reason in the world for you to care. My advice: save your money and wait for Marvel’s X-Men First Class and Captain America. I dare say, knowing Marvel’s standards, they can do little worse.