Over the past decade, technology has ruined the movie going experience. Cell phones and such have permeated their way onto the screen and most unnervingly in the theater itself. “They even took my iPod,” mopes Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) midway through Kenneth Branagh’s Thor. Regardless of having the capacity to live, she as much as we, are now in the dark without our precious gadgets. The iPod of course is mentioned because the audience can easily associate with it and the character, through technology not human emotion. Much of that is missing from this film, by no means a disaster of a picture.
Branagh and his crew handle the film with enough craftsmanship to disassociate it when compared to the disappointing Wolverine or the porous Spider-Man 3. It is all fantasy in the end, so it’s hard to complain about the lack of genuine human emotion. Only one character in the film is entirely worth our attention and that is Loki (Tom Hiddleston). It is a fully realized and commanding role, most likely to have been filled by Branagh if only he were younger.
It’s not hard to imagine his fascination with the character. He is of course considered one of the greatest Shakespearian actors of our time and a lover of the multi-layered, emotional marionettes’ role. Loki downright saves the film from being a dismal effort. All other characters merely populate their respective universes and chime in for the next audience cue for laughter or groan as it sometimes was. This also reveals the yang to technology’s yin: masculinity.
The role of masculinity has been reduced over this same decade, whether attributed to the constraints of the PG-13 rating or because it is now vogue to hold someone’s hand and whisper sweet nothings instead of sinking their teeth into the very neck that beckons. Movies are now divided up into percentages. Less than 30% humor and 40% romance is unacceptable. The remaining thirty is now split between story and action. Not evenly split mind you, some action is needed to move things along but too much is too expensive. And I apologize for saying, but Thor’s hammer Mjolnir looks like a toy that will come with your kids’ next fast food meal.
Thor is an origin story of one of the sons of King Odin (Anthony Hopkins) who while in a weakened state, still commands the attention of his people. Their great threat is an uneven truce with the Frost Giants (yes, Frost Giants) a race of beings who inhabit the cold and dark realm of Jotunheim, ruled by King Laufey (Colm Feore). Odin is in control of the Frosties source of power, a blue “casket” of Ancient Winter. He has also collected a small array of other battle spoils that decorate the very bowels of the great realm of Asgard, which is connected to the other 8 realms of the universe through the Bifrost Bridge guarded by Heimdall (Idis Elba).
When an attempt is made by this race to steal back the power source, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) takes it upon himself to gather a legion of his friends to confront the Frost Giants on their home planet, unbeknownst to the bearded Odin. Loki assists in trying to ensure a peaceable discourse. Unfortunately, a battle ensues anyway and the weary Odin is forced to intervene. Outraged by his son’s disobediences, Odin releases him of his power and banishes Thor to Earth, ahead of his hammer Mjolnir, which is now up for taking.
A mere mortal being now on Earth, but still very large, Thor is subsequently hit by a car and tazed in the desert of New Mexico. Enter Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) an astrophysicist who with the help of Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and Darcy (Dennings) are on their own mission of deciphering the mysteries of the universe. The hammer of course has landed elsewhere and is shortly the main attraction in a Sword in the Stone reenactment. Suffice to say, Stan Lee’s cameos keep getting better. S.H.I.E.L.D. (referred to in the film universe of Marvel as Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division) eventually secures the area around Mjolnir and guards it under the direction of Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg). It is now Thor’s journey to reclaim his mighty hammer.
The film bogs down here, taking too much time to reunite Thor and the hammer, however surprisingly brief that reunion turns out to be. It nearly derails by delving into several scenes of Thor being made to be a goofy mountain of a man, a weirdo. “I need a horse” bellows Thor at a pet store clerk. Certainly out of his element, these scenes do nothing to build the God’s masculinity. He simply walks around with a cocky grin, while his three new friends watch opened eyed at his antics. He has no power and neither does the movie for some stretch. Jane at one point giggles herself silly when he kisses her hand. So, cue the romantic angle. Meanwhile, Loki is thrust into being King when Odin falls ill.
There’s not nearly enough action in the film and what is there is repetitive. The special effects at times are suspect (perhaps hampered by dull 3-D conversion). That being said, the mode by which the characters are thrust between planets is spectacular. It all never the less holds its own because of the role of Loki. His reach touches and intertwines with all the characters to a suitable dramatic crescendo. The giant mechanical Destroyer shows up near the end and the noise it makes replaces that of Jim Carrey’s in Dumb and Dumber as most annoying in the world.
Mjolnir is shown prominently in the film but Thor’s winged helmet is mostly absent. In fact, when we’re first introduced to the adult Thor, he’s taking off the helmet. It may have been a wise decision in the end. The supporting characters look and feel secondary of course. A joke by an operative of S.H.I.E.L.D surveying the town in New Mexico reveals this weakness. They do in fact look like the individuals he describes, thus the screenwriters admit to a lapse in originality. Had this film kept to its rumored 135+ minute cut, it would have felt epic and the characters given time to grow. The film’s humor quotient seems to have been one of the elements paired down in the editing suite and mercilessly so.
Hemsworth is serviceable as Thor but I prefer the mechanic in Adventures in Babysitting. Portman is OK but not really given much to work with here. And Skarsgard is only here to set up to his much larger role in 2012’s The Avengers.
Overall, Thor without his hammer is boring. He substitutes destruction and mayhem with knocking back liquor with Dr. Selvig. He’s made to look bubbly and cute, close to gentlemen like. He grits his teeth every once in a while, but too often he’s far from one who would curse at the top of his lungs and walk barefooted on broken glass in a Los Angeles high rise.
2 out of 4