Genre: Comic-book Action
Read: May 9, 2011
Other than Marvel’s apparent desire to pull a kind of cinematic equivalent of the 1980s “Secret Wars” there really aren’t a lot of reasons why this movie needed making. It’s actually kind of bizarre, and I can’t really imagine that the Thor (as in comic) audience is immense. Although maybe I’m wrong. But I’m going to comment on it both a writer/viewer and as a historian of the mythological. Despite being a big Marvel fan in the 80s, I never read Thor itself.
It’s competently cast. Everyone plays their roles as they should, and it’s actually a kinda fun movie to watch, particularly the parts with Thor in the “real world.” This is reminiscent of the scenes in Superman 2 where General Zod kicks ass in that town after arriving on earth.
But notice I say “the parts in the real world.” Because a good percentage, at least half, of Thor takes place off in the strange CGI worlds of Asgard and Jotunheim. After a two-second intro with Natalie Portman (hot but wasted) on Earth we are instantly transported into a giant backstory tour of these bizarre places, complete with voiceover by Anthony Hopkins as “all-father Odin.” There is no attempt to fit this information naturally into the narrative, just a ginormous CGI info-dump. The whole mythology has my head spinning, and I love mythologies. It certainly borrows liberally from cookie-cutter components of Norse myth, but its more like Stan Lee learned what he needed to know from Deities and Demigods (a favorite book of mine circa 1982!). I’m still coming to terms with the weirdness of fusing Norse myth and some kind of alien outer space cosmology. I’m not even really sure which it was supposed to be. Are they aliens that mankind interpreted as gods (most probably) or actually just gods?
There is a lot of cool looking stuff, but there is certainly no attempt to capture the nature of ancient polytheistic deity where gods ARE/EMBODY/SUBSUME multiple aspects of natural and physiological phenomenons. Not that I expected this. Still, one can always hope. There are occasionally masterpieces like Pan’s Labyrinth.
Well in any case, while the imagery is kinda like Valhalla meets Star Wars episode 3 cityscape, the whole Asgardian world just doesn’t make any sense. These like super immortal aliens lounge around with their dark age Viking stylings. And they love hand to hand combat. At least they mostly have beards (HISS directed at films about clean-shaven Ancient Greek men). The action in Asgard/Jotunheim also suffers from the way too much CGI factor, particularly the parts on Jotunheim where the five heroic actors are the only non computer elements. The giant legion of frost giants and the bigass ice-troll creature had that weightless feel. Not as bad as in a repulsive pile of excrement like Van Helsing (the film), but bad.
Still, along with the competent casting we do have competent — albiet uninspired — writing. The film, despite the INCREDIBLY weird mythology, is watchable and makes complete sense when taken at a scene by scene level. This is far far more than I can say of a turd like the aforementioned Van Helsing or various Michael Bey type movies. Maybe it stems from the odd choice of Kenneth Branagh as director (he must have needed to refresh his bank account). In Thor, the characters and their relationships are perfunctory, but they do have a kind of (cinematic) clarity. This basically made it fairly enjoyable. And to tell the truth, if they had built the whole film out of Thor on Earth, focusing on his relationship with the underused Ms. Portman, it could have been a good film.
Instead it was interesting, in a weird crazy mythological way.