OH, HAI Loki. OH, HAI Thor.
Pass through my portal? Sheeeeeee-it.
As a disclaimer, I went into Thor having read none of the comics (I was not a comic book reader as a kid) and with no expectations or loyalty to the characters. I thought it looked cool, I liked the casting, and I was very interested in what Kenneth Branagh would bring as a director, given that he was known primarily as a Shakespearean actor and director, and not someone who comes to mind when you think of “summer entertainment”. I was also curious what drew Natalie Portman to the project. Was the script that good (unlikely) or is she really a closet geek? She certainly doesn’t need to do this kind of movie anymore. If I were to rank this among the 4 big comic book movies this summer (X-Men: First Class, Captain America and Green Lantern being other others) according to my level of anticipation for them, I’d probably have ranked it second behind X-Men. I liked the idea of being introduced to a new fantasy universe in Asgard, but I was hesitant because the effects work shown in the trailers was not all that impressive. Also, almost every advance review I’d seen claimed that the two-thirds of the film that take place in Asgard were not as good as the one-third that takes place on Earth. No matter! I went in with an open mind, not expecting anything great, but hoping it would pleasantly surprise me. Ummmm…it did not.
I didn’t dislike the movie, and I didn’t really like it, either. It was just okay. It’s certainly harmless in the sense that it’s entertaining. I’m willing to bet it will be well-received by general audiences, but I thought there was more potential here. In the end, it just looks like Kenneth Branagh was not ready to be handed the reigns to a $150 million comic book/action/fantasy movie. At the very least, he wasn’t ready to deliver one in the short window that the studios now demand for these summer blockbusters. I blame the movie’s failures first and foremost on the script, and then on the inexperience of the director. Since this seems to be working well for me, we’ll again do the liked/didn’t like format. I’ll try to keep it spoiler free, but where I do delve into spoilers, I shall let you know.
WHAT I LIKED
–Chris Hemsworth as Thor. He does a solid job with the opportunities he’s given, but never really gets the chance to shine. Like most critics, I agree that he’s at his best in the Earthbound scenes, where he does a very good fish-out-of-water routine (this is where the film gets most of its humor). He has the best line in the entire movie when he walks into the town’s pet shop and demands, “I need a horse!” That was one of maybe 2 times I LOL’d during the flick. I look forward to seeing him return in The Avengers, as I trust Joss Whedon will have a better idea what to do with him than Branagh and the screenwriters here did.
–Idris Elba as Heimdall, the gatekeeper dude at the end of the rainbow bridge (which is what they actually call it). I like how they modified his voice, and he has an almost Klingon-like sense of duty and honor, which I really enjoyed. He was easily my favorite character in this movie. Heimdall is white in the comics, but apparently the filmmakers noticed the utter lack of minorities in their cast (Elba is one of two non-whites in the cast), and decided to throw the colored folks a bone ala Michael Clarke Duncan playing Kingpin in Daredevil. The fact that he doesn’t die is a fucking miracle.
-I also liked Anthony Hopkins as Odin, though I just wish the script were worthy of his talents. Regardless, it’s cool to see him hamming it up in a genre movie, and he certainly brings the required gravitas to the role of king of Asgard.
-And of course, it’s always good to see Clark Gregg playing Agent Coulson. An underrated actor if ever there was one. This may actually be the most screen time he’s had in any of these Avengers tie-in movies. Speaking of which, look for a couple of very quick references to Tony Stark and The Hulk.
-I liked Jeremy Renner‘s cameo as Hawkeye (who he’ll also play in The Avengers), but it was such a brief, throwaway scene that it may have been best if they actually threw it away.
-I REALLY liked Kat Dennings at the Thor premiere:
It’s great to see a young actress with some…curves.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
–The script. The story and screenplay here are credited to 5 different writers, which is typically not a good sign. Some of these people have done great work individually in the past, but once you start putting rewrite on top of rewrite on top of rewrite, overall cohesiveness begans to evaporate. There are no truly memorable scenes, conversations end abruptly, and there are awkward one-liners. For instance (SPOILER AHEAD), the last line of the entire movie is literally, “She searches for you.” After that, it cuts to the end credits, and I was left sitting there going, huh? Very strange.
–The lack of a memorable score/set of themes. This has been a continuing, inexplicable problem with comic book movies. If I think back to all the comic book movies since X-Men started this craze in 2000, only a few (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, and that’s about it) had memorable music that I wanted to own. I don’t understand why this isn’t a priority for the directors of these films. Look, I’m not asking for “The Superman March” every time out, but I strongly believe every big superhero should have a strong theme, and all of these films should have their own motifs and unique musical stylings. In reality, most of them have incredibly bland scores, and sadly, Thor is no exception. Patrick Doyle is a good enough composer, but I think it’s pretty clear this genre is not his area of expertise. The score here isn’t bad, but it’s completely forgettable, and features no themes that I can recall. Unfortunately, it seems that there are only 5-10 composers working today who can truly handle this kind of movie properly. Off the top of my head, I’ll put John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Howard Shore, Danny Elfman, James Newton Howard, Don Davis (the Matrix trilogy), Tyler Bates (300) and David Arnold (Stargate, Independence Day, all of the recent Bond flicks) in that group.
Most of my problems with the film have to do with how the Asgard parts of the movie were handled. During the Asgard scenes (which I’d guess take up 60% of the screen time), it’s a pure fantasy movie, and I think for the most part it falls flat on its face in giving us good fantasy.
–The CGI. The visual effects throughout the film are average at best, but especially lackluster with regards to the Asgard scenes. You can tell about 90% of Asgard was created in a computer, and the place never felt real in the way that the fantasy worlds of The Lord of the Rings did. In fact, the filmmakers and effects guys should have followed the brilliant example set by the LOTR team. Apparently, no one on this crew has heard of a miniature, or a model, or realized that you have to combine practical effects with your CGI to make these fantasy worlds look real. Instead, they went the Star Wars prequel route and simply made EVERYTHING in the computer. When Thor and his boys go to the ice world (whatever it’s called), at no point did I feel they were even on a set. It looked exactly like what it probably was, 4 or 5 people standing on a soundstage surrounded by massive green screens. If you’re gonna do that, your CGI better be Avatar-good, and it certainly wasn’t. The main ‘castle’ of Asgard looks like a giant golden church organ.
–The action. Despite having Vic Armstrong, one of the all-time greats, supervising the action and second unit, the fight choreography is incredibly boring and poorly shot. When Thor infiltrates the S.H.I.E.L.D. compound in an attempt to get his hammer back, he dispatches the soldiers mostly by punching them in the chest and/or pushing them to the ground. And I’m not exaggerating when I say that. When Thor and Loki fight at the end of the film, it should be an epic clash between rival brothers. Suffice to say, it is not.
-I was also disappointed by the sound design. There were a lot of opportunities here for the the creation of cool, new sound effects, and for the most part those opportunities are squandered. When Thor uses his hammer, it should be an EPIC auditory experience. Instead, it’s just meh. And again, I have to blame the lack of emphasis on this on Branagh, because he had two of the best sound mixers in the industry working on the film. Ugh.
-The main bad guys in the Asgard world are the Frost Giants. No, really. I’m sorry, but I don’t see how anyone above age 12 is supposed to find creatures called “frost giants” imposing. On top of that, the fact that they’re all CG doesn’t help, nor does the fact that they look cheesy. They’re 12-foot tall grey demons with dark orange eyes who walk around in their skivvies. Instead of using actual weapons, they turn their arms into giant ice swords. Ooo. And their primary power derives from what appears to be a blue Energon Cube. It’s just really f’n goofy.
-I don’t like that Thor only wears his helmet in one or two scenes the entire movie. It’s a small gripe, and I know the reason is so that we see the star’s face, but come on, that’s a badass helmet! His armor doesn’t look complete without it.
–Rene Russo, who is completely wasted in a tiny role as Thor’s momz. She hasn’t done anything since Yours, Mine and Ours in 2005, and THIS is what she comes back for? I don’t get it. I’d say she came back for a payday, but Marvel is notorious for being stingy with their actors’ salaries.
Back in the real world:
-I’m supposed to believe that Natalie Portman and Stellan Skarsgard‘s characters, who are super smart astrological scientists, choose to live in this tiny, no-name town in the middle of nowhere in New Mexico? This made no sense at all to me. It’s funny, because the Earth/New Mexico scenes are relatively low-budget. This tiny town required very few sets and interiors, and looks to have no more than 3 different roads in it. It looks very cheap, too cheap even. And they give no logical reason why scientists of this caliber would be calling it home. On top of that, they work out of what appears to be an abandoned restaurant or something. It just didn’t seem right. The movie reportedly cost $150 million, and I’d say that about 20 of that was spent on the New Mexico scenes. The rest appears to have been spent on manpower creating the mediocre CGI.
From reading this review, it probably comes across that I didn’t enjoy the movie more than is actually the case. I just thought there were a lot of blown opportunities from top to bottom. If you’re not as nerdy or picky as I am, you’ll probably enjoy the flick a lot more than I did. If you were interested in seeing the movie at all, I’m certainly not saying you shouldn’t, but if my concerns mirror yours, your expectations should be drastically lowered. I had fun watching Thor, but it didn’t click with me the way I hoped it would. Plus, it’s easier (and more fun) to point out a film’s flaws than it is to praise what it did right. I’m not expecting this summer to produce a lot of high quality films, but summer movie season is always fun and I’m glad it’s underway. But if you’re choosing between this and Fast Five this week, go see The Rock vs. Vin Diesel instead.
POST-CREDITS BONUS SCENE SPOILERS AHEAD:
I of course stayed for the bonus scene at the end of the credits, as has become the custom for Marvel movies in the leadup to The Avengers. In this one, Stellan Skarsgard is brought into a S.H.I.E.L.D. ‘base’, where he meets Sam Jackson‘s Nick Fury, who opens a mysterious briefcase to show some glowing blue object that Fury proposes is potentially a source of unlimited power. I’ll have to do some research into what this thing was, but I didn’t recognize it from the Thor movie. The big reveal is that Loki is in the background watching them (he’s invisible to them), and we’re lead to believe he will soon make an attempt to take and use this power source. It doesn’t have that wow factor that previous bonus scenes had (like the one after Iron Man 2 where we first see Thor’s hammer), mainly because in Thor, we’ve just seen Loki as a primary villain, and he wasn’t all that impressive. My concern is the rumor that Loki is going to be the main villain in The Avengers, and the fact that this scene gives those rumors credibility. I’m not sure if it was the writing, Tom Hiddleston‘s performance, or the nature of the character itself, but I wasn’t that impressed with Loki as a bad guy, and I don’t know that he could be the memorable villain that The Avengers requires. The rumors could be false, but all of these bonus scenes have eventually led to something else, so Loki didn’t appear there just for shits and giggles. What I’m personally hoping is that it was merely a setup for the Thor sequel and not for The Avengers. If that’s the case, I’m fine with it, but if it’s a wink and a nudge that Loki will feature prominently in The Avengers, I may have to throw the red challenge flag. Anyway, that’s my two cents on that.
I gave Thor 2.5 stars out of 5 on Flixster, and a 6/10 on IMDb.
As summer movie season continues, I actually have pretty high hopes for Bridesmaids next weekend. I’m hearing good things, and the trailer is very funny. I think guys will be able to enjoy it, and women have been waiting for their own raunchy, R-rated comedy like this for a long time. Let the inevitable “it’s The Hangover for girls!” comparisons begin.