You've heard me say it before: I am a sucker for any movie that is laden with special effects, space ships, aliens, state of the art animation. I admit it. And it's wonderful to be alive in this time since Hollywood has seen the light (and the profits) and has been inundating us with sci-fi/fantasy/comic book movies and animated features. This is fueled in no small part by the phenomenal success that Marvel Comics has had in translating its portfolio of comic book characters to the screen, the latest example of which is Thor, which opened this past weekend.
As much of a fan as I am, I know that the genre can be uneven, producing such gems as this past year's Toy Story 3, and can also unleash on the world the plague that is Skyline. But I am by nature a positive individual, and I always look forward to the next movie with great anticipation. And being a positive person, I can tell you right up front that Thor is perhaps the very best almost good movie I have ever seen!
"Being the very best almost good movie" should in no way be confused with the word "disappointing," although I was a little disappointed. It's really about the league in which you consider this movie to be playing. With a director Kenneth Branagh, and the acting talents of Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins and Renee Russo, I would have expected this to be in the Big Leagues, a contender for a real blockbuster. The directing, however, seemed competent but uninspired, and the acting ... well, Portman was unconvincing, Hopkins seemed disinterested except for his "Elisabeth, I'm coming to join ya" collapse on the stairs to the stolen weapons locker, and Russo was the first one in the lunch line when the bell rang.
Oddly, having said that, it was acting that indeed pulled this movie as far out of the fire as it got. Chris Hemsworth in the title role did a remarkably good job. He seemed comfortable and believable, and it seemed that he wasn't trying to be somebody's idea of Thor, he just was Thor. He got as much mileage out of the character as the script allowed, and while it was not a lot, it was far more than the script allowed for any of the other characters, and therein lies the problem with this movie. The writers, according to their resumes on the web, have worked mostly in television, and I think that it shows. Thor is more an amalgam of vignettes that fit between commercials than a cohesive story, and like most of television, it is dumbed down and cliché. There were a number of one-liners and gags that made the audience laugh, but they were just that, one-liners and gags, stuck in because a movie should have them, not because they helped flesh out the character or add to the story line. Thor, for instance, in a scene in a diner, throws his coffee cup the floor and demands another, trying to show that his primitive warrior demeanor was out of sorts with the Earth town and time in which he found himself. Yet there is no indication that Thor might have done that at home in Asgard, and certainly is inconsistent with the man who just a few hours later is meekly serving breakfast to his hosts in a cozy family setting. Think about the line "Do ya feel lucky, punk? Well do ya?" Those words were not contrived to be witty, they are what Dirty Harry would in fact say, and they convey a great deal about the person Harry Callahan.
Similarly, the effects in this movie were competent, but they were unimaginative. Although visually beautiful, the various scenes of mythical Asgard reminded me of the television show Sunrise Earth where for one hour, the viewer is treated to the sight and sounds of sunrise in exotic places throughout the world. There is no plot (except the rising sun), and there is no narration. You are simply permitted to observe and enjoy. There were plenty of sweeping views of Asgard, and they were pretty, but they didn't necessarily add to the story.
So was it a waste? Absolutely not. In fact, it was fun, even if it was less than I expected. Don't compare this movie to the Spiderman series or the Ironman movies. Thor can't hold a candle to The Dark Knight. But it is much better than The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It might be compared to The Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, or Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.
And I think it bears mentioning that it is vastly superior to Skyline.
We knew it would be a disservice to Piker Press readers if we didn't do a review of Thor, so off we went to the first showing in 2D. (Forget 3D -- too dim, and it makes me want to barf.)
I've been fairly well pleased by the movies made from Marvel's comic books so far. Some say that they're too simplistic, but I feel that one has to remember that they were COMIC BOOK STORIES, aimed at KIDS. (At least back in my kid-dom they were, though apparently things have changed in 40 years. But that's another topic.) Up front I have to admit that I never even handled a The Mighty Thor comic book when I made my choices at the local drug store. I had a meager allowance, and The Amazing Spider Man and whatever paperback sci-fi Dad didn't have in his collection had priority. Thus I have to say that everything I know about Thor came from library books about Norse mythology, or from the covers of comic books glimpsed in my childhood. The latter would be that there had been blond hair, a red cape, and a hammer. There was a helmet, too, but thank Odin, the movie left that bit of hokum out.
After viewing Wikipedia's The Mighty Thor entry, I'm convinced that blond hair, red cape, and hammer are sufficient for my purposes, and thus, I cannot be said to be any kind of an expert on Marvel Comics' character Thor.
I liked Thor, but thought that it should have been two movies. One would have been the tale of Thor's accomplishments and foolishness in Asgard, culminating in his banishment to Earth; the second would have been his humbling journey as an everyday being, and how he left behind his arrogance and became a protector of mankind. I'd have gone to see both.
If this movie seemed a little hurried in its exposition, that's probably because the studios didn't want to double the budget to bring Thor up to speed to take his place among The Avengers, about whom a movie is already in production for release in 2012. Captain America will also debut this year for the same reason.
Chris Hemsworth was a good choice for the character of Thor. He's nice to look at and doesn't appear stupid. Anthony Hopkins was a perfect Odin with his balance of increasing age and still-formidable presence. Natalie Portman ... well, she's pretty, her makeup was good, and her costumes de-emphasized her abysmally emaciated limbs.
I'd say, "Go see it! Have popcorn! Laugh! Cheer!"
... And hope Thor's as much fun when the Avengers appear.