I must admit that I watched (or experienced) Drive in between watching Thor and reviewing Thor. Seeing Drive had a similar effect on me that fighting had on Edward Norton in Fight Club. I feel like the volume on all these superhero movies just got turned way down. I enjoyed Thor while watching it, quite a bit even. But I was reminded all too swiftly how brief the joys of Thor are. Like Gosling said just yesterday: “Drive is my superhero movie.”
But enough about my own personal dilemma of being distracted with what seems both more imminent and more important. Thor is still a hell of a lot of fun and alarmingly sane for such a cheesy, otherwordly story.
I went into this knowing nothing about the mythology or comic mythology of Thor and the film certainly expected that (so it could appeal to a broad audience). However, from frame number one, the excess of exposition becomes apparent. Astrophysicist Jane (Natalie Portman) and her guardian figure immediately spout off a blatant description of where they are, what they are doing, and why they are doing it. To make matters worse, they are describing this situation (which all of the on-screen characters should already know) to a young and stupid intern. It feels so much like the Inception-Ellen Page problem.
Anyway, the three mortals are storm chasing an astronomical phenomena that we assume will bridge the gap of Thor’s world and Earth. We assume correctly. The narrative literally cuts to Azgard as soon as Thor falls to the Earth. And there we get more blunt narration and obviously linear character arcs.
Anthony Hopkins is a God king who has two sons, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Thor is the heir to the throne. He is also a cocky warrior. His cockiness is obviously his dilemma for the film that he overcomes exactly like Simba in The Lion King (3-D Woot!). Loki is the seemingly good-hearted, but secretly (obviously) jealous younger brother (wait… Scar?). Some evil ice monsters break into their peaceful kingdom as Thor is about to take the throne. He assembles a small army to sort of “poke back” the ice monsters, against his father’s wishes. Thor makes an angry fool of himself and gets banished from the peaceful kingdom. Hence, he falls to Earth in an astronomical phenomena.
Even with the chronologically non-linear motif of starting on Earth and then jumping back to Azgard, linear feels like a good word to describe what happens. It is told in the most obvious way to tell the story in terms of communicating information to an uninformed audience. This is bad exposition. I know this is a stylistic characteristic of Superhero films. It even gives the specific feel of reading comic book squares. But the exposition here becomes overwhelming because it not only presents factual information about the universe the characters embody, but far too much of the narrative as well. The only details that the writers make any effort to conceal are what happens when Thor tries to obtain his hammer and the motives of Loki. And even in these cases, the film doesn’t escape predictability.
There is a twist thrown in at the end, with Loki’s character. But it makes no difference to the characters’ relationships or the actual on-screen action so it hardly holds literary value.
Inevitably, Thor ends up in Jane’s hands. It becomes clear that he and his powers are the key to her scientific research and that he is the perfect candidate as a love interest. And the only one, because despite the fact that Natalie Portman is ridiculously hot, we are supposed to believe that she has shut herself off sexually in order to focus on her research. And because Thor is connected to her research there is some really disturbing Freudian fetishism occurring subliminally. But the film doesn’t explore this analytically at all.
As you can see, I find there to be some pretty gaping and basic narrative flaws to the film. What’s odd is that they are not flaws that reflect the expected difficulties of brining Thor to the big screen. When Marvel announced their intention of creating four separate films for each Avenger before uniting them in one of the most uniqely structured film franchises ever, I, like many others, approved of the idea but was skeptical about Thor surviving as an independent film. As a god, the character and the scope of his universe seems too overbearing to fit with the superhero film genre, particularly the uber-realist direction it has gone lately. But Shakespearean auteur Kenneth Branagh proved the right choice to overcome this issue. While watching the film I found myself totally engulfed in the self-seriousness and politics of the story the way I used to enjoy the Star Wars films (even and particuarly the new ones). I also found myself drawn to it the way I was to Power Rangers as a kid. It was a fun throwback, enjoyable at my age, to something nostalgic. I got the feeling that a lot of people experienced this with Cars 2, while others just didn’t feel it. I didn’t feel it there and I understand why many wouldn’t feel it here. But there is something genuinely fun in the film that transcends the copious amounts of CGI that try to mask it.
For whatever it is worth, the acting in the film is solid all across the board. The real star of the show is the visuals though. The film just looks fantastic and excellently uses dutch angles while on Earth to mirror the sense of displacement in Thor and the events that his world brings. It reminded me a lot of Sin City and Hellboy how much energy the film devoted to displaying something that visually looked like a comic book; they are the literal interpretations.
In fact, all the technical categories are great, including the appropriately thematic score from Patrick Doyle, which might be my favorite score of the year so far. Like everything else in the movie, it is over-the-top fun.
The DVD unfortuantlyey misses out on all of the fun. It is devoid of special features other than a few video game previews. This is a shame too because I’d imagine Branagh would make a great commentary. Even a quick “making of” would’ve been nice. Instead, it’s just push and play this time.
All in all, Thor is worth checking out and it keeps my hope up for The Avengers. Even if that film fails, I have to say I’m impressed with Marvel. For all the shit that gets pretentiously thrown at the superhero genre, it is money-making, critically approved, and more intelligent than the average blockbuster. They are not art films. But they are not without ambition.
And every now and then, they can surprise you. Thor did with its elegant final scene. Looking off into infinity, Thor knows his dream is possible. He has made a sacrifice that he doesn’t regret. And even though he is missing a part of himself, he has hope.