Review: The World of Thorcraft

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It’s very obvious that Marvel Studios movies have developed a style and look that’s quite consistent, from the type of villain to the type of love interest to the Stan Lee cameo. On the spectrum of Marvel movies, THOR falls a little bit south of the first IRON MAN in terms of sheer enjoyability, but north of just about everything else.

The good parts of the formula as developed by Avi Arad and perfected by Kevin Feige are just common sense: a reliable, solid director; respected, award-nominated actors in the villain, father figure, troublesome government figure and love interest roles; and a charismatic hero who looks good in a wife-beater. In the typical Marvel movie, science is both the hero’s friend and enemy — he (and it is always a he) uses science to better his own powers, but the forces of evil are always trying to duplicate and better that research, with the resulting showdown between the forces of order and the forces of chaos at about the 1:45 mark.

From here on out there are going to be SPOILERS, so put on your SPOILER PANTS and proceed at your own risk!

There are a lot of good things about THOR. Like:

Chris Hemsworth as Thor! He’s not only easy on the eyes, but has a nice physicality that makes all the hammer and frost giant tossing credible. And he pulls off the quiet scenes, holding his own with Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman.

• Director Kenneth Branagh — this is no groundbreaking film, but Branagh understands grandeur and drama and the fantastic. He takes a weak script and gives it some shape and drive, avoiding pointless shaky-cam and letting scenes breath. It’s a brisk film with no dull patches. Really a great choice.

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• Likewise, Branagh gives the rather large and colorful cast some room to make an impression. Asgard is a crowded place, but the much criticized ethnic casting helps make the characters stand out from what could have been a Nordic ghetto (Am I the only person who has often thought Stellan Skarsgård WAS Ray Stevenson?) Anthony Hopkins kind of phones in his part as Odin, but getting any deeper on the acting chart wouldn’t have added anything. Tom Hiddleston manages a nuanced performance as Loki. Portman’s role is pretty cypherish but she does what she can with it. I was happy to see for ONCE a woman scientist in a movie had a FEMALE sidekick, Kat Dennings‘ Darcy, who gets all the best lines in the first half hour or so.

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• All the hammer shit is AWESOME! Every time Thor smashes Mjolnir into the ground or skins it around or blasts something it’s great! As mentioned above, the action scenes avoid phony camera tricks — in fact, the beginning is a bit underplayed so that the two big showdowns in the end have a lot more impact.

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• This is just a likable movie. When I saw the earliest trailers, I called it “Starman meets Lord of the Rings” and that’s exactly what it is. We start out getting a look at Asgard and the war between the Asgardians and the Frost Giants, led by Laufey (Colm Feore). But Thor disobeys his dad and gets banished to Earth without his hammer, where he meets astrophysicist Jane Foster (Portman) and must learn some humility before regaining his mojo and hammer and defeating SHIELD. It’s a pretty simple story: boy meets hammer, boy loses hammer, boy gets hammer.

• Once you get past the whole “They’re not gods, they’re ALIENS!” thing, you forget about it.

• There are tons of nods towards next year’s Avengers movie, with callouts to all the other heroes and a cameo by one in particular. Lots of fun.

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• The Destroyer is awesome.

• The cameo at the banquet at the end may be the best Marvel movie cameo EVER.

And now the dubious:

• THAT SCRIPT. The performances and brisk direction really hide the fact of how weak it is. First off Loki. Loki is the mischief maker of the gods, a trickster and a shifty character, right? Then why does Hiddleston spend the whole movie looking sad and acting mopey? If Sif hadn’t mentioned that Loki “loves mischief”, you would never have known it. I get that they were going for a more Shakespearian downfall of a noble man who betrays his loved ones out of feeling betrayed himself, but a huge part of the character’s potential was left out.

• Even more troubling, an entire reel that has the whole story arc for Thor seems to have been saved for the DVD! When Odin exiles his son, he also tosses Mjolnir to Earth, intoning that only someone with the true spirit of Thor will be worthy to wield it. And sure enough, when Thor starts out, he’s a likable asshole, smashing up the Frost Giants out of hubris and ego. The early scenes of Thor on earth are a delight, as his smiting and feasting ways make for a classic fish out of water story. And thus the first time he tries to lift Mjolnir, he fails — he’s still an asshole. And then, suddenly he turns into the nicest guy on earth. As someone else at the screening I went to pointed out, Thor probably repents of his ego and becomes worthy ’round about the time he turns into a hot Nordic waiter, serving up plates of hot tasty breakfast, and saying please and thank you, about an hour into the movie. I guess there wasn’t time for a well-developed character arc AND a lot of fights and in-jokes. My big complaint with IRON MAN 2 was that it was all screwball comedy and not enough physical showdown — here, my wish is the opposite.

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• 3D. AWFUL. When are studios going to realize that 3D just makes movies murky and unwatchable? It’s obvious that a movie wasn’t shot for 3D when the credits are the only thing that looks any good.

• Marvel Studios is notoriously cheap/budget conscious and that’s beginning to make all their movies look the same. I thought the Destroyer was the coolest looking thing in the movie, and that’s the only thing that was lifted straight from Jack Kirby. Everything else — costumes, Asgard, SHIELD — looked like something we’ve seen a zillion times before–like, in THE FANTASTIC FOUR. And that’s NOT a compliment. The early scenes of Thor and his companions riding mighty steeds over the rainbow bridge of Bifrost was cool and all — but it really did look like it was set in Azeroth. Marvel has access to the greatest production artists and designers on Earth — it would be great if they actually started to use them. I liked the movie, Asgard and Bifrost more than Dan Nadel did, but I agree overall with his note that the designs in this movie were dull. I dunno, maybe Marvel is trying to make its whole movie universe look like one world. They might be succeeding a bit too well.

• Likewise, get a new composer! The THOR score was totally forgettable.

• I realize despite my moaning about the above, Marvel is not going to change anything because their movies make shitloads of money — THOR is going to do very well and sell tons of plastic hammers, and set up the Avengers, so mission accomplished. Surely not for the last time, I weep an inward tear for the never-to-be Darren Aronofsky Wolverine. THAT could have been the greatest superhero movie of all times. But it also never could happen…and thus Aronofsky departed the project to “spend more time with his family.” Sigh.

Even with my complaints, THOR lands squarely on the list of watchable superhero movies. It kicks off this summer’s comic book movie crop with a standard that other films will be lucky to match.

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Comments

  1. Totally agree with all the good point, but I think the score was FANTASTIC and I quite liked the costumes.

    What was the cameo in the banquet scene? I totally missed it.

  2. Great review.

    We watched Thor in 2D. It was either a crappy film with a lot of really GREAT bits, or an only average film that squandered it’s moments of awesomeness.

    I should caveat that with saying that we did enjoy it. The great bits were REALLY great. But as a chap who likes movies as much as he likes comics, I need these Marvel movies to be MOVIES, and more often than not they’re actually a collection of scenes, that waste any gravitas or drama or fun built up in an individual section by not having a strong filmic narrative.

    I have trouble knowing who to blame for that. There are moments where Branagh handles his cast superbly, but he feels compelled to try for Hollywood cliches which another director might be able to pull off but he fails at miserably. And I’d blame that on the edit, or on the fact that the film was written by five people – I can’t think of a truly great movie that was written by more than two – except that Branagh’s Frankenstein suffered exactly the same issues.

    Like Iron Man 2, and actually like a lot of recent movies, there are scenes that seem to go nowhere, but at the end you feel like the bits you WANTED to see more of were rushed. The Destroyer looked and moved great, but the battle with it was weirdly muted, and over very quickly.

    And considering how preoccupied parts of fandom have become with female characterisation and representation in movies and comics, this film seems to be getting something of a free pass for the blunt tokenism of a cardboard placeholder Sif – whose sole distinctive moment is to ask another woman about the men in their lives toward the end – and the incredibly badly written Jane Foster role.

    I spent half the movie thinking the usually wonderful Portman was ruining the whole thing, and then she did something tiny and nuanced in a scene which seemed to have slipped through the edit by accident, and I realised it was the writing at fault. The truth is we’re never really given a convincing reason why people follow her, or why she and Thor have the Big Love – again, an issue with the flawed movie notion that it NEEDS to be a Big Love.

    I propose a theory worth considering: Everything we like about her character is actually something we like about her two primary supports. Kat Dennings and Skarsgard are so likeable in their roles that everything near them gets reflected loveliness.

    (Funnily enough, this isn’t the first place that I’ve heard the complaint that Thor’s change of heart isn’t well realised, and that was something I felt was pretty real, albeit a little rushed. Hemsworth doesn’t truly impress me in the role until that wonderful scene where Loki visits him in captivity. The way I see it, not being able to lift Mjolnir brings home his situation, and soon after learning of his father’s condition and his mother’s denial of him short-circuits his arrogance. For such a major plot point it could do with not happening in ten minutes, but it makes sense to me.)

  3. Should have written a better review. Thor the movie along with this review..SUCKS

  4. Julián Gutiérrez says:

    I seem to be the only one who got bored with Kat Dennings… Darcy wasn’t even comic relief, was an annoying sidekick with lotsa common places.

    The whole ‘Asgardians as aliens’ thing makes a lot of sense actually, Robert Downey Jr. once said the Iron Man Films had this sort of grounding in reality and if You tossed gods in the picture, it might be hard to pull off, so portraying them as aliens is an effort to make it work. Besides, if they’re aliens, who says there aren’t black or asian asgardians?

  5. BiffordMichael says:

    Didn’t catch the banquet cameo either…also the post-credits scene left me cold as well…other than that I thought it was an awesome night at the movies!

  6. I thought Hiddleston was decent, but I totally agree that he was too sad and mopey. I wouldn’t mind all that if he was also chilling and deadly, but he just seemed emo and confused. Not a very exciting antagonist, IMO.

    Still, the movie was good. And I kinda dug the score :)

  7. Aren’t all god appearances aliens? I think it’s more easily to accept that these magical, mystical figures are aliens, not gods.

    I enjoyed the film. Many of the battle scenes felt like Kirby pages blown up to fit the screen (and that’s a good thing!)

    The film never sagged and while it would have been great if they could have fleshed out why Thor feels so strongly for Jane Foster and his redemption, it would have added a good half hour to the film. As it was, Thor’s reaction to the news that Loki delivers, being the beginning of his turn around, worked for me.

    As for the banquet cameo, was that Walt Simonson?

  8. On a TV commercial Thursday night I SAW who the cameo super-hero is. Great choice though.
    EXCELSIOR!

  9. no really, who was in the Banquet cameo? I didn’t catch it.

  10. Yup – apparently it’s Walt at the banquet.

    http://www.bleedingcool.com/2011/05/06/stan-joe-walt-and-the-thunder-god/

  11. R.J. Ryan says:

    I don’t know who PD’d THOR but the production designer on the first IRON MAN was J. Michael Riva — a legend in the business and certainly not a “cheap” pick. He did GOONIES for crying out loud!

  12. James W says:

    Are they aliens-not-gods, though? Sarsgard calls it “another dimension” in the epilogue, Asgard the place obeys no physical rules whatsoever, and the Asgardians display no more understanding of their “technology” than the humans, making it Magic to them, too.

    I agree about the production design being really, really shallow, and the terrible script – not so much “boy gets hammer back” as “ambulatory hammer saves boy in transparent plot device #48″. Speaking of which: Odinsleep! How handy!

    What Branagh avoids in unnecessary shaky-cam, he sure makes up for in unnecessary dutched-cam. Holy meaninglessly slanted horizon, Batman! The only thing in the movie more distracting than Natalie Portman’s false eyelashes.

  13. Dave Elliott says:

    Louise Simonson and Ralph Macchio are also at the banquet. Really nice touch. When I saw Walt I did a complete “Wha?” Glad they did it. Hope to see more of him in the directors cut. ;-)

  14. @James W: “Speaking of which: Odinsleep! How handy!”

    Well, yeah. Of course it was handy, that’s why Jack & Stan used it in the comics all those years ago.

    Say what you want about this script, but if it wasn’t for these handy plot devices I doubt we’d have had any super hero or adventure comics in the last 50+ years.

  15. Volstagg looks nigh on waifish.

    Anyway, I’ll see it in 2.5 hours!

  16. Kirby invented the idea of “space gods”–they’re aliens with magical technology. Don’t ask, just buy it!

  17. lots of differing opinions

    I think it is the new gold standard. While the Iron Man movies are great, they are still grounded in reality. The technology is ahead, but so was Flubber and K.I.T.T. With Thor, you have inter-dimensional super beings who live in a Kirby city! Now that’s comics. It took exactly the right mix of humor, effects, and drama, but it absolutely works. They really don’t shy away from anything in the comics but make it perfectly approachable to new people. I think Branagh’s direction in pushing back some performances to let the new guy define Thor is classic “working with a new Hamlet.” I thought all of the performances just got better as the movie progressed. I can’t wait to see Thor interact with Robert Downey now.

    Spoilers:::::::

    I thought the enchantment went away for Thor when the symbol disappeared. So the act of being humbled before the hammer (and his father) released it — only he didn’t know it. Not sure.

  18. No wonder I didn’t get the cameo. No way would I have recognized him. That’s cool, tho.

    Umm… the more I think about this movie the less I liked it. The truth is, the Thor mythos is just too big for one movie. It is big, big, big. I wish they would quit doing origin movies. That’s the problem. You have to do the origin and THEN an actual plot. It’s too much. The HULK Reboot handled this well, but of course that is getting swept under the rug, too. Bummer.

    Yeah this movie stunk. To say the script is weak s too generous. It’s embarrassing. It’s pathetic.

    But the casting for THOR was great. And I disagree about Sif. All the side characters were really thin… but she had a good line or two and was as well-rounded as any of the warriors.

    I will say that “Nordic talk” did come off really weird. When the Warriors’ Three showed up at Foster’s lab was especially hollow.

    whatever.

    Let’s hope CAP is better.

    I didn’t stay for the post-credits thing, which is a bummer.

  19. hikaru says:

    “THOR is going to do very well and sell tons of plastic hammers”

    I think you just made Mickey Mouse cum in his pants.

    A Vincent D’onofrio cameo would have been sweet, oh yeah.

  20. Dave Miller-lad says:

    Oh, Heidi, STOP! You’ve spoiled me enough :-)

    But seriously,I look forward to reading your review after I’ve seen the movie. While not as big a draw as Downey Jr, Chris Hemsworth seems charismatic and likable and has a much harder job to pull off than Downey had.

    I’m sure it will be great fun. And the idea of having all these characters together next summer is almost impossible to visualize.
    Dave

  21. Badpenny says:

    So I saw Thor today. It was pretty good but it wasn’t as good as I’d hoped it would be. I have to agree with most of Heidi’s review.

    I think my standards (fair or unfair) were a little higher because this is the first Marvel movie of the summer and anticipation was high and because I thought Brannagh would bring something unique to the Marvel world, but this looks like it could have been directed by any fairly competent, generic director.

    So, what I liked about it; SPOILERS!!!MAJOR SPOILERS!!!!

    Hemsworth. He sells this completely. He overshadows every single actor in the movie. And that’s kind of sad considering the movie has Skarsgard, Portman and Hopkins in it.

    The Frost Giants. The scenes with the Frost Giants are great. The confrontation between the Frost people and Thor, Warriors Three, Loki and Siff is excellent. Thor cuts loose in spectacular fashion, letting the Hammer rip through everything and everyone.

    The Destroyer. These scenes are also pretty good. The scene where Siff rams a spear through the Destroyer is one of the best scenes in the movie.

    Thor vs Shield. Another of the best scenes. When Thor tears through Shield agents trying to get to his hammer only to discover that he still isn’t worthy. Good stuff. As was Hawkeye’s cameo.

    What sucked…

    The script. Heidi is right. Very disappointed in the dialogue. Thors dialogue is serviceable. Hemsworth does his best to make it work. The big problem is everybody else. Because everyone else reads wooden and boring. The dialogue is at times cringe inducing. The dialogue in the comic book was usually pretty bad as well. This is why I had hoped that Brannagh, given his credentials, could make the dialogue pop. It doesn’t.

    The Rainbow Bridge. WTF? It looks like a sheet of Plexiglas with Christmas lights inside. The visuals regarding Asgard were just too restrained for me and looked at times like nothing more than gussied up geometric shapes on someones computer and at other times like it was shot in a Ramada Inn Ball Room.

    Hopkins, Portman, Skarsgard. Portman looks as convincing as an actress in a film that she was obligated to make after making an Oscar winning movie first and is sad because she thought she could get out of the contract but couldn’t. Skarsgard should never play a good guy. Never. And then there’s Hopkins. I wish they could have CGI’d Hopkins to make him bigger somehow. He looks like Billy Barty next to Hemsworth. I think Max Von Sydow would have been a much, much, MUCH better choice. I think they’re giving these “father” parts to Hopkins because of some new Actors Union rule. Damn Unions.

    And I know Helen Mirren was probably too expensive and the role is relatively dialogue free, but even with practically no lines Russo is still pretty bad.

    And then there’s the big “Donald Blake finally becomes worthy of the Hammer and transforms into Thor” scene. This is without a doubt the winner of “THE BIGGEST SCREWED UP OPPORTUNITY IN A MARVEL FILM TO DATE (AND YES, THAT INCLULDES FILMS LIKE DAREDEVIL, ANG LEE HULK AND GHOST RIDER” award.

    The one thing I was waiting for….the ONE THING I was waiting for, after all I’d seen, was for a worthy Thor to march into the Shield base, pick up that fucking hammer, slam it on the ground, lightening crackling spectacularly and transforming into fully armored, winged helmeted THOR! Instead, we get a dead body raising his hand and catching the hammer as it fly’s by. I’ve seen old Shazam episodes that had better lightening induced transformation scenes. Mighty Isis had a better transformation scene. This was unforgivable.

    So definitely not perfect. Definitely not at the level of the Iron Man films or the first two Spider-Man films or the Ed Norton Hulk. But it’s…ok.

    However, I am now removing my eggs from the Thor basket and am now placing them in the Captain America basket.

  22. Badpenny says:

    @Nicolas Papaconstantinou

    re: “this film seems to be getting something of a free pass for the blunt tokenism of a cardboard placeholder Sif – whose sole distinctive moment is to ask another woman about the men in their lives toward the end”

    If it wasn’t for the fact that everyone in the movie with the exception of Hemsworth is a cardboard placeholder then you might have a point.

    Sif actually has one of the most flashiest scenes in the film when she spears The Destroyer. She doesn’t have any less lines than the Warriros Three, in fact, she’s probably ahead in that department as none of the other warriors three have a single memorable line of dialogue. Someone also went out of their way to make sure Kat Denning got to do her thing and lucky they did because her brief screen time outshines almost all of the male players with the exception of Thor and Loki.

    So the whole thing about female representation as lacking is kind of laughable when it comes to this movie.

  23. I saw it again this weekend (It’s been out here for a week in the UK). I still think it’s a good film. In fact, I get the feeling there was a lot more sub-plot (like the romance etc) that got edited out to make a swift film. I’ll be interested to see the DVD extras on this one.

    Still far better than the mess that was ‘Iron Man 2′

  24. James W says:

    @Richard John Marcej: “Well, yeah. Of course it was handy, that’s why Jack & Stan used it in the comics all those years ago.”

    Adaptations are not duty-bound to reproduce the weaknesses of the source material. Quite the opposite!

    It’s weird, we’re never given a reason for Thor’s coronation at the start – could it be that Odin knew he was due for an eponynap? A “soon I will enter the Odinsleep, perhaps for the LAST TIME” (jeopardy) would’ve helped that bit go down a lot smoother. Nothing could save the Helping Hammer, though. Sorry.

  25. There weren’t enough scenes of Thor or Loki getting their helmuts knocked off of their heads, but other than that – I was like a kid at the candy concession stand. Enjoyed it a lot!

    ~

    Coat

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