Thor

It begins! It continues! Then it ends!
★★★
☆☆
Released: 
2011
Director: 
Kenneth Branagh
Starring: 
Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hiddleston
The Setup: 
Adaptation of the comic.
Discussion: 

I've been strangely susceptible to the blockbuster season so far--even the new Transformers movie looks like something I want to see [I draw the line at Pirates of the Caribbean]. I assume it'll just take sitting through a few of them to cure me of it. But while I'm in it, this movie looked like it might be a pretty good thing to see! And while it was perfectly fine and entertaining enough, to be sure, it's also quite straightforward and bland, steadfastly refusing to raise the pulse. I was amused after it ended, but by now, the next day, I'm a tiny bit contemptuous of it.

We open with Natalie Portman as Jane, who is somehow conducting research into wormholes by hanging out in the New Mexico desert. We never really find out the details, which is probably for the best. There's a insta-tornado, and they end up hitting a guy with their truck! Then we suddenly flash to how he happened to come there. He was on his planet Asgard, where his Dad Anthony Hopkins is about to make him king when there's a plot by some Frost Giants [FGs], their enemy, to steal the lost ark or whatever they have chilling in the basement. Thor is pissed and wants to bring the attack to the FGs, but Dad is all like "No, let us be wise and wait," while brother Loki, rival to the throne, stands around looking worried.

Thor goes down the disco runway to this gun that essentially shoots them to other planets, where they fight the FGs until Dad has to come and rescue them. Dad is pissed. He says Thor isn't responsible enough to get the keys to the car yet, and casts him out to Earth. He tosses his hammer out after him, with this whole curse which could have been a bit clearer, given the confusion it causes later. Anyway, this is how Thor ends up in the desert, with some powers but not all, which is also unclear. But whatever.

Things then just kind of proceed. The government impounds his hammer, which is stuck in the ground, allowing for a sort of sword-in-the-stone kind of thing. Thor bonds with Jane, who conducts research out of some sort of abandoned restaurant lobby. Stellan Skarsgard is on hand as a Norwegian who recalls all this Thor stuff from his book of fairy tales. This complication, that complication, etc. Meanwhile on Asgard, Dad clutches his heart and announces "Oh! It's the big one!" and falls asleep. So he's in this sort of inexplicable sleep while Loki grabs power, and pops by Earth to tell Thor Dad's dead and by the way, he can't come back.

Eventually some giant robot with a death ray shows up to inflict some damage, and at a certain point Thor's hammer comes shooting over to him, since he has now learned humility or something, though everything has been all so bland you may not have been able to tell. Just take the movie's word for it. Then things continue thick and fast with Loki hatching some evil plot, Thor going to stop him, more battles, and finally it's over.

Okay, the good parts and the bad parts. The good parts are that there's something a little goofy about this story, happening equally on to planets, and supplying a lot of unusual sights, such as this whole otherworldly city, this other race of frosty blue monsters [you know the Freeze Miser is there somewhere], sudden tornadoes, gleaming stainless steel robots, and stuff like that. And there's just something appealing about not having to deal with the whole typical learning to use sudden new powers, or deciding to fight crime after losing one's uncle/parents/hamster, blah, blah. I also appreciated that Portman's Jane doesn't have to be a ninja in her own right and is charmingly dazzled by this new guy. And the whole thing has a steady forward movement.

And that is precisely the nagging problem. It has no shape. It just begins, moves steadily forward, then ends. We were nearing the end, and I recall thinking "But it doesn't even feel like it has gotten started yet." It does have the shape of a series of comics making up one arc [thus this issue might have to do with Marvel itself behind the script], but with comics you get a little bit of time between each chapter and that provides natural ups and downs. Here... well, lets amend the popular saying to observe that if every moment is special, then no moment is special. This battle, that battle, this giant monster, that giant robot... it's all just handled the same, no moment has any particular weight, the stakes do not rise, and finally it ends. It was kind of the same problem with Iron Man 2 [which is what makes me think maybe Marvel itself may be the issue]. I get that movies as we knew them are dead and the model of the blockbuster is the roller-coaster ride, but you know, even roller-coaster rides have ups and downs.

So ultimately, just mediocre. Perfectly pleasant, but so is Cream of Wheat. It's a little sad to think that young moviegoers will come out feeling this is a "good" movie simply because it's entertaining and not awful. As usual, my movie buddy Howard had the perfect sum-up line. We had just walked out of the theater and were discussing what we just saw. I said that you couldn't tell the climax from the rest of the movie, and he nodded, looked a little puzzled, then asked: "Which was the climax?"

Should you watch it: 

It's your time, how you kill it is up to you.