Contributor: Henry T.
Story by J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Protosevich
Screenplay by Ashley Edward Miller, Zach Stentz, and Don Payne
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
I am all for comic superhero films despite this lingering sense of worry about superhero fatigue and over-saturation. That said, I came into “Thor” with very little expectation and wondering what I was going to see. After watching it, I don’t think it was an outright disaster, but that something felt missing. The movie ran about 130 minutes and I thought it could have used ten more minutes to smooth out some of the resolutions. I spent most of the time afterwards discussing how “Thor” might be connected to next summer’s blockbuster “Avengers” film and I don’t think that was Kenneth Branagh’s purpose. Last summer’s “Iron Man 2″ started the Marvel studio on this course and it had to continue here.
“Thor” is entertaining for a large part of its running time. But there is a feeling of the film just doing more service and hinting at a larger universe of a completely different film that made me wonder why the filmmakers should have just created a film that stood on its own. It is a film that is visually stunning and a great technical achievement. However, the plot isn’t on solid footing by the end. It’s a downfall that’s becoming a common thread with superhero films nowadays.
The film starts off with a staggering amount of exposition into the backstory of the conflict between Asgard and other realms, specifically their war with the fearsome Frost Giants. It is arguable whether this exposition is necessary, though the filmmakers had to figure that some of their audience isn’t well-versed in the “Thor” universe. It is entertaining exposition, connecting ancient Earth Norse mythology with more sci-fi elements and a classic takeover-of-a-kingdom story. Anthony Hopkins does regal very well as King Odin and his presence is missed when he’s left out of the narrative for the second half of the film.
Brothers Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Huddleston) have a good chemistry together that isn’t explored all that much once Thor gets banished from Asgard and Loki makes his move to the throne in place of a comatose Odin. I liked the events going on at Asgard (despite some small bit of confusion from me as to who was where) more than what occurs in the place where the audience is going to have more connection: Earth. I wished there could have been more exploration of Asgard as the film went along.
I think it’s because there’s a difference in the sense of scope for what was going on in both worlds. Asgard and the other realms is a large place and there’s a war going on between two of the realms. On Earth, the film confines itself to what is happening in a small New Mexico town where both Thor and his awesome hammer weapon, Mjolnir end up. Thor is discovered by a team of scientists led by Eric Selvig (Stellan Skaarsgard), Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), and Darcy (Kat Dennings) once he’s banished from Asgard. The hammer is quarantined by government officials from S.H.I.E.L.D. Branagh and the screenwriters never leave the small New Mexico town so while that may keep things more intimate (the goofy humor and romance between Thor and Jane especially have this small scale feel to it), the plot never feels like it gets going while on Earth. Asgard has a coup going on and all this material about Thor’s friends making a rescue attempt through the Bifrost that is really effective.
The romance between Jane and Thor suffers from this piecemeal approach that makes it feel disingenuious at times. Disregarding the fact that a gorgeous woman like Natalie Portman could ever play an astrophysicist, Jane Foster is not a well-rounded character. Hemsworth and Portman give it their all in trying, but their connection barely registers and the romance is quickly set aside in favor of returning Thor to Asgard. It becomes unclear how Jane changed and softened Thor from the arrogant brute to the wiser, more thoughtful “god” at the end. I never got the sense as to why Thor loved Jane and was willing to sacrifice a further connection with her at the end.
At best, he liked her because she was curious about him and regarded him as this Norse god. The action sequences were evenly placed between Earth and Asgard, and they were all competently done, though they lacked the stakes to make things truly exciting. Lots of swords clanging and really cool uses of Mjolnir added to the impression of making the film more of a technical achievement rather than building a good story. The cliffhanger is going to be resolved somehow in the upcoming “Avengers” film. I don’t know how I feel about that. It heaps a lot of pressure onto the “Avengers” film and takes a lot of the heat off of this film. Again, like with “Iron Man 2,” this film is not allowed to stand on its own. That is mainly what bothered me the most about this film.
I think “Thor” is good if you come in cold with no expectations. The cast is game for anything thrown at them. Hemsworth makes Thor go from unlikeable to likeable through the course of the film. He is the only character that has a somewhat complete arc from start to finish. The Earth characters are static for the most part, and the sniveling Loki becomes the only interesting part of the Asgard universe. The film has to be considered a slight disappointment if you look at it as another big piece of the ever-growing puzzle that is the Marvel Avengers universe. It keeps the film from being self-contained and able to tell just one singular story. These ties, unfortunately, to an unfinished and unseen film cannot be ignored.
The studio doesn’t want you to ignore it if you take all of it (post-credits tag included) under consideration. In that way, it actually has an episodic feel to it that is one part of a larger series. It rushes by character development moments in favor of plot and momentum. The plot is the chief problem, though. It is weak in some crucial spots, and the action and mythological elements don’t do enough to compensate. It was a good film, though I felt it could have been better.