When I saw that Marvel was making a movie around Thor I was intrigued because it’s just so ridiculous as a premise. First, my earliest associations with Thor were via the annoying sister in Adventures in Babysitting, so the Asgardian hero was starting at a deficit.
Private Pyle, please kick this kid…
But more important than the influence of Elisabeth Shue vehicles is the narrative idea of a Norse God (ça veut dire: immortal) versus some sort of evil and powerful thing (pick anything from the Marvel universe up to and including Galactus) seems silly. When you get to comparing gods to men, even highly mutated men, aliens or sentient robots, the plot’s conflict seems silly: the god is going to win (barring some MacGuffin to hold back the immortal). With annoyance and nullification of narrative jeopardy in mind walking in, I came in with fairly low expectations.
Handling annoyance concern was deftly done by Chris Hemsworth. To his great credit, Hemsworth understands that his role as the gorgeous lunkhead need not be without humor. The best scenes are where he plays up his overly “Jr. High Kids Mock Shakespeare” dialog, or mis-applies Viking custom or his royal lineage for maximal camp. A particularly funny scene about wanting more coffee smashingly applies all three of these facets to great comedic effect. It’s quite possibly the best scene in the movie.
The screenwriters rightly understood the danger of the nullification of jeopardy problem presented by having a god as a protagonist and side-stepped it by keeping the essential battle away from Thor and forces external (barring obligatory popcorn-fare CGI battles with Frost Giants), but rather sets up the battle to be internal: Thor v. Himself, Thor v. Family.
Thus the framework for the movie is solid, but the plot internals and the character interaction turn it from a strain on the suspension of disbelief to being flat-out dumb. On the up side, the movie is dumb like the characters Chris Klein plays, or Amanda Seyfried in Mean Girls: it’s not an evil dumb like Pearl Harbor but more of an “Oh Brother!” kind of dumb.
The first killer to the difficult-to-believe story was the characterization and character interaction arcs. Nothing sums up this difficulty so much as the non-existent romantic chemistry between Jane (Portman) and TarzanThor. These two have as much sexual chemistry as my whiteboard eraser and 0.5 mm. lead. I can, for no reason, think of any reason Thor should admire her, be in lust with her, be fascinated by her, be entertained by her, or be humored by her. She’s pretty enough, I guess, but there’s no juice in their on-screen chemistry.
Let’s think of it this way, you have an immortal perfect-10 of a man (judging by the sighs of ladies in my audience and others). How is a researcher going to hook his eye and heart? She’s going to have to be unorthodox: funny, exciting, intelligent, passionate, a good dancer, something. Our Jane exhibits none of these qualities. I could never see any part of their interaction which would make Thor want to be anything but “just friends” with her. On the other hand, the indie-sexy Kat Dennings manages to seem exactly like the kind of a quirky researcher that Thor might be amused, humored, and then felled by (referring to the hammer Mjolnir: “What’s meow-meow?”).
That’s my “meow-meow”
This is something Margot Kidder got right in her portrayal of Lois Lane: she could never be tough as Kal-El in the physical world, but she could have sass and allure, brains and guts and somehow seem a fitting balance to him for the audience. Portman never gets this right.
Speaking of Margot Kidder, the famously bad “Can you read my mind” scene from Superman is a great litmus test for Thor. When we see that scene of Lois (a mortal) and Kal-El (effectively, a god) flying through the sky we see both her body and her heart alight on this super man. When we see Thor explain the Yggdrasil to Jane (“you had my heart at ‘nine realms’”), I think we’re supposed to have the same reaction. But instead of Thor and Jane’s night under the stars being dopey, dream-filtered, and sweet like Lois and Superman’s night above the clouds, it seems dopey, period.
The way hokey romance should be done
Jane’s desirability in terms of a female is completely undone by the appearance, on Earth, of Sif, Thor’s battle buddy. Fierce, beautiful, brave, also immortal, also seeming of Asgardian royal lineage. She’s a much better catch than the research scientist bore.
Speaking of boring, the nemeses are boring. Loki is boring as a Lex Luthor principled evil nemesis driven by “Thor is too tempestuous to rule.” The big metal baddie is boring; as far as summer popcorn movies go I expected a much cooler final battle between a Mjolnir-wielding Thor. The Ice Giants are boring. Actually, not just the antagonists were boring, the good guys were boring too. Odin was boring. Heimdal was pretty boring too. The Asgardian back-story was boring. The team battles of Thor and his buddies were boring. I’m too bored of them to even write about their failings.
Further the Norse myths have so much richness (and not-boring-ness) in them: Odin trading an eye for wisdom, runes, Loki’s suspension under the poison snake, etc. All that richness was untouched and smushed into the explanation that “clever aliens are indistinguishable from (gods or) magic.” Come to think of it the director, Branagh, inserts Arther C. Clarke’s direct quote about sufficiently advance science being indistinguishable from magic as a ham-handed bit of dialog. While Branagh is wiling to be ham-handed in references that demote magic into science, he is unwilling to draw some imagination-stoking parallels that hint at our science scratching the surface of unleashing magic. Let’s remember that movies, especially fantasy movies, should inspire dreams and imagination. If magic and science are one where Thor comes from why not be explicit with something like:
THOR: You say this One Stone of yours…
JANE: [interrupting] Einstein.
THOR: Einstein, right, discovered light, mass, and energy were one? That is the start of our science as well. Look in the sky Jane, see the aurora? What is it?
JANE: It’s light, multi-colored light.
THOR: And the rainbow?
JANE: It’s light.
THOR: And so it happens that we of Asgard come to Midgar – Earth via your amusingly named “Rainbow bridge.” In time, your science will unravel the secrets of our magic, provided you stay safe from the many dangers as yet unknown to you of the Nine Realms?
THOR: Yes, like the Ice Giants. But we of Asgard are sworn to protect the peace my father has set among the Nine Realms. The peace that I may have broken for good.
JANE: You broke it?
THOR: Yes, in my pride (etc.)
or remind us how integrated Viking life is with our own
DARCY: To Jane The MacGuffin will occur on (look to clock) Friday at noon
THOR: Appropriate that the gate will close on the day named for her, she always had a taste for destruction! I am amused by this.
SELVIG: Damned Norse sense of gallows humor. Help me put this anti MacGuffin in place!
Here’s a bad sign. Somewhere around the third act I looked at Lauren and we started laughing. I don’t remember why, we just did.
Mjolnir, forged in the heart of a dying star, might be able to knock back Ice Giants, but it couldn’t shake off the boulders of boring that held back Thor from ever getting any energy or bounce to it.
Here’s what’s good:
- Kat Dennings
- Chris Hemsworth is funny
- Stellan Skarsgård as Erik Selvig is a real Scandinavian and his gravelly, accented voice reminded me of the coolness of “What if the Norse myths were real”
- We’re closer to an Avengers movie
- Marvel keeps continuity
- Hints at the Marvel character universe
- Bow and Arrow Sniper tracking Thor in the Mjolnir-containment camp: That’d be Hawkeye-to-be?
- Selvig: “My friend, the foremost researcher on gamma radiation.” Hmm, Hulky.
- To Coulson: “This one of Stark’s?”