May 6, 2011

THOR: Hammered

More articles by »
Written by: Mitch Salem
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Watch It At Home:  The God of Thunder Musters a Tinny Roar.
Put it this way:  the new superhero epic THOR cost something like $150M to produce, required the diligent services of hundreds of professionals over a period of 2 years, is being presented with all the trappings of IMAX, 3D and super-stereo, and yet there’s not a moment in it as exciting–let alone as much fun–as last night’s paintball episode of “Community.”   Now “Community”s paintball episodes are completely awesome, so that’s a fairly high standard… but still. 
Thor isn’t the worst superhero picture to come our way (remember the Fantastic Four movies?  the Joel Schumacher BatmansSuperman:  The Quest for Peace?), but it may be the most underwhelming.  Marvel presumably hired Kenneth Branagh to direct because of his association with Shakespearean drama (it certainly wasn’t because of his action movie chops), and under his helm the picture presents itself with extreme seriousness–the hero’s backstory is interweaved with Norse mythology, which here takes place in an Asgard located in outer space, and Thor himself, not a mere immigrant from his planet a la Superman, is essentially a god.  The Asgard scenes take place in massive, fake-looking sets that look like they were re-lit from Cecil B DeMille’s Egyptian palaces in The Ten Commandments, with equally phony CG landscapes that seem modeled after the matte paintings in David Lynch’s version of Dune.  In case that wasn’t enough, no less than Anthony Hopkins was brought in to roar his way through the role of the one-eyed King Odin, father of Thor (if I was hearing correctly, he’s called “Allfather,” although it’s not clear if that’s his convenient last name or a salute to his parenting skills).  

As written by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne (from a story by J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Protosevich), the Asgard section of the tale gives Thor (Chris Hemsworth) an evil brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston)–we know Loki is evil because he’s made up to look like Richard E. Grant (unlike Thor’s robustly Aryan good looks) and he turns out to be adopted–who plots with the nearby ice people (kinged by Colm Feore behind a lot of digital effects) to take advantage of Thor’s impulsive arrogance and depose Odin, banish Thor to Earth and take over the throne.  But not to worry, Thor still has 4 warrior buddies on Asgard–a fat one, a hot babe, an inexplicably Asian one, and one who looks oddly like the young Kenneth Branagh–to protect his interests.  Meanwhile, back in banishment (specifically New Mexico), Thor crashes to Earth right in the path of spunky, lovely young scientist Jane (Natalie Portman, this having been shot before she knew Black Swan was about to change her career), her kooky sidekick Darcy (the criminally underused Kat Dennings, from Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist) and mentor Erik (Stellan Skarsgard, Hollywood’s go-to professor).  This will come as a shock, but spunky scientist Jane finds herself falling for the hunky god-in-exile, while he learns a handy lesson about appreciating humanity and accepting self-sacrifice, which is useful because–did I mention?–only when Thor shows he is worthy can he regain possession of his magic hammer Mjolnir, which apparently has been watching “Camelot” on Starz and is stuck immovable in a rock until such time as a worthy god can retrieve it.  And since this is a Marvel movie and everything has to lead to their megafranchise Avengers picture next year, Clark Gregg from Iron Man (and eventually Samuel L Jackson) are lurking around, although how Thor will connect with SHIELD is left unclear in this installment.
And you know what?  All of that, as dumb and dense as it is, would be fine if the movie were just enjoyable (try talking yourself through the storyline of Batman Begins one day).  Branagh does some things right–he gets humor from Hemsworth, Portman and Dennings in the fish-out-of-water New Mexico scenes, and Hiddleston is a fine villain once you realize he’s going to act like the “trusted” family friend in 1940s movies who turns out to be a Nazi spy.  There’s also one genuinely cool CG moment when a giant robot Loki’s sent to Earth manages to reverse itself back-to-front without turning around.  But Branagh doesn’t know how to edit the action sequences–he completely muffs the big moment when Thor regains his powers–and the script, which probably went through many more writers than those credited, dribbles off at the end, so the final confrontation between Thor and Loki has so little impact you expect the real climax to follow.  (The 3D, as increasingly expected, is virtually without impact.)  Even the coda scene (you have to sit through all 10 minutes of credits to get there, unlike Fast Five, which mercifully lets the audience go after the first couple of minutes) delivers less of a set-up for the next chapter than you’d hope.
Thor‘s florid tone is completely different from the more sophisticated, character-based wit of the Iron Man series (not to mention those of the two failed Hulk movies), which makes one wonder just how they’re planning to bind them all together for The Avengers.  But that’s next summer’s problem.  The good thing about summer blockbusters is that they’re like buses–if the first one that stops doesn’t look like a comfortable ride, just wait and there’ll be another.  The buses have just started to run for Summer 2011, so let’s hope the vehicles to come have better engines.
(THOR – Paramount/Marvel – 117 minutes – PG 13 – Director:  Kenneth Branagh – Script: Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Don Payne (story by J. Michael Straczynski, Mark Protosevich) – Cast:  Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard, Clark Gregg, Kat Dennings, Idris Elba, Colm Feore, Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Josh Dallas, Jaimie Alexander – Wide Release)

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."