Jeremy's Review: 'Thor's' Hammer Hits With a Disappointing Thud
by Jeremy Kirk
May 6, 2011
Thor, the latest adaptation of a Marvel comic book, had a pretty high hurdle to get over. Not the typical superhero story, the idea of putting a God at the center of a film for audiences to connect with was a tricky one. Bringing Thor's world and the characters within it to life and shedding the apparent hokeyness that comes with that was even trickier. And so it was handed to Kenneth Branagh, a director known for bringing iconic characters to the screen, to undertake such a task. The level of success is unfortunately up and down, and Thor ends up being a comic book adaptation that runs somewhat stagnant with fleeting moments of encouragement shining through.
Much of the problem falls to the movie's pacing. Thor, played here by Chris Hemsworth, and his home world of Asgard are established rather well. There's Odin played by Anthony Hopkins, Thor's brother Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston, and the shaky truce Asgard has with the Frost Giants of Jotunheim. After a series of events and one decided battle led by Thor causes the truce to broken, the hero is cast out of Asgard to our world. There, he meets a team of scientists led by Jane Foster, played by Natalie Portman, and sets out to reclaim his powers and return to his home.
If there is one thing Thor does absolutely right, it's in the character connections and the actors who build those relationships. Performances are usually brought up later in my reviews, but when that element of a film is clearly the most attractive and sturdily executed attribute, it bears being noted right at the outset. Hemsworth as Thor is great. He has the look of a noble God, yet the twinkle in his eye and the cocky smirk he lets slip through on occasion gives you a definite impression that Thor isn't the most genteel of the Asgardians. Thor is bull-headed, sure that what he is doing is right, and this arrogance is what both leads to his literal downfall and establishes him as more than the ordinary superhero Marvel has to offer. And Hemsworth does a near flawless job in emoting all of this both in his actions and in his looks.
Thor tells, for the better part of the movie, a fish out of water story, one that causes the hero to be made fun of, to say or act in goofy ways that bring out awkward looks from those around him. Hemsworth nails this. While he has the arrogance down pat, he also allows the character to be the butt of the joke more than a few times. Also of note should be Hiddleston as Loki, a quiet yet mischievous character who was born to be the villain of his story. However, just as Thor isn't the typical superhero, Loki isn't the typical all-malevolent arch enemy, either. There's an understanding in Loki's actions and not one brought out by obvious character flaws in the more honorable of the characters. It feels natural, and Hiddleston's range is on brilliant display.
Much of the comedy works, a lot of it coming from Kat Dennings as one of Jane's assistants and the Warriors Three, Thor's friends in Asgard who are looking for a way to bring their comrade home. Unfortunately, these characters have little use in the story outside of this ephemeral sense of passing levity. That part of Thor does feel forced.
The action in the film is another matter. Both unevenly paced and hastily executed, there's never any sense of significance to it. An early battle between Thor and friends and the Frost Giants moves the CGI rapidly. We never feel any suspense for it, particularly once realizing the Asgardians are essentially indestructible. The 3D aspect doesn't do Thor any favors, either, and it should be noted that given the option, you should just opt for standard 2D projection. A mid-way set piece at a S.H.I.E.L.D. complex built around Thor's hammer, Mjolnir, is well executed and offers a cameo that will leave insiders more than a little giddy.
And speaking of S.H.I.E.L.D., the build to The Avengers movie is unquestionably felt within Thor. Fortunately, unlike Iron Man 2, it's not shoe-horned in. There's a naturalness to it that is welcome, so that even when some of the agents directly refer to Tony Stark, it's played for laughs, but it comes off more like part of the world and less like Marvel studio execs hand-writing in script notes.
But back to the titular character, charming and perfect as Hemsworth is and as gifted as Portman is in her acting ability, the love story built between Thor and Jane never gets the time it needs to grow. Here we have a God fallen to Earth and the scientist who finds him. After the initial disorientation Thor has to acclimating both to our world and to not having his abilities, the connection between the two gets rushed. There are a few glances, he tells her about magic and science coexisting, and there's a long drive filled with some character-developing dialogue for her benefit. But they just seem to lock onto each other, and for little more evident reason than he's the star and she's the love interest of this particular story.
When Loki sends a giant, robotic creature to Earth to take care of Thor once and for all and said creature begins terrorizing the small New Mexico town Jane and her team have been residing, that absence of weight is noted. It's a superhero movie. You know our protagonist is going to win out in the end, but the ancillary characters, even the faceless extras who make up the population of the town, could and should be fair game. Unfortunately, the light tone drawn out makes it such that any idea of excitement dissipates quickly.
Thor is a long way from either the top or the bottom of comic book adaptations, but it's that middle of the road feeling, that idea that these are characters - outside of Loki - we never need to or even want to revisit that causes Thor to be much less than a success. When The Avengers comes out, maybe the tone will be just right and Thor, God or not, will have a weight about him. As it is, the Mjolnir he flings around looks light, hits even lighter, and, dare I say it, gives off that hokey feeling we feared from Thor in the first place.
Jeremy's Rating: 5.5 out of 10