I felt like starting this review with an anguished cry. I wanted to LOVE ‘Thor’, but instead I feel indifferent. As someone still struggling to come to terms with the disappointment of ‘Iron Man 2’, this is much worse than if I’d actively hated it. With indifference comes the frustration of knowing that it could, and should, have been better.
Firstly, let’s very briefly get the premise out of the way for those who aren’t aware. ‘Thor’ is a Marvel comic-book character based on the Norse God of Thunder (complete with powerful hammer Mjolnir) of the same name. In the Marvelverse, Thor and the rest of the ‘gods’ aren’t actually deities, they are other-dimensional beings, but were worshipped as such by the Vikings. The realm they live in, Asgard, is ruled by King Odin (Anthony Hopkins), who has brought about an uneasy truce with their enemies the Frost Giants, with whom they had been at war with. Odin is ready to crown his successor, eldest son Thor (Chris Hemsworth) when a break of the truce by the Frost Giants causes Thor to defy his father and storm into their homeworld looking for answers with his close friends the Warriors Three and shady brother Loki (Tom Hiddlestone). This defiance causes Odin to strip Thor of his powers and banish him to Earth, where he must learn some humility.
Right, well that wasn’t as brief as I’d hoped but I continue regardless. There are two overriding faults with Thor, the first is one inherited from Iron Man 2, in that the film is hamstrung by the ever-looming shadow of Joss Whedon’s Avengers film coming out next year. Jon Favreau was hamstrung by it and now Kenneth Branagh has suffered the same fate, as he struggles to throw in all the meta-references and cameos required. I can understand that there is a need for this, but do the films really have to be so laden with it? Whatever happened to subtlety? At least S.H.I.E.L.D are given a little more of a role than in ‘IM2’, although it still doesn’t equate to much. What will happen is we will have reached Avengers saturation point long before the film actually materialises (don’t forget we still have Captain America to come) and the preceding films are weaker for it.
The second main flaw is that as much as Branagh searches for a Shakespearean pathos (and who better?) in the material, it just isn’t there. It has potential, with fraternal and paternal squabbles including gods, but at the end of the day it is still a film based on a comic book about a man thumping skulls with a giant hammer. While watching, I tried to use that as an excuse for the film, but because of the distinct lack of irony in the delivery, it just doesn’t work. One suspects Branagh MAY have pulled it off, but wasn’t given the edit he wanted due to trying to fit in all the Marvel stuff. It’s a shame, as Hemsworth, Hopkins and Hiddlestone try gamely to achieve it.
Of the lesser faults, Natalie Portman could have been replaced with any other actress who can pull off ‘pretty-but-bookish-and-doe-eyed’, and the “romance” between her and Thor is laughably unrealistic; Thor’s lesson in humility on Earth appears to have been learned over one pitcher of beer; Loki’s intentions are back-and-forth, which is interesting to a point, but in a film such as this you eventually need a clear bad guy; the Warriors Three are ridiculously cartoonish and lacking any personality, they are just copies-of-copies of Musketeers.
It’s not all bad news. Asgard is wonderfully realised, the vastness and other-worldliness breathtakingly conveyed. Chris Hemsworth is charismatic enough to prevent being either a cardboard character or ridiculous in the role, and he and Branagh show a deft comic touch with his character resulting in some genuine and intentional laugh out loud moments. Indeed these are almost the best parts of the whole film, brief as they are, but are topped when Thor is in full ‘bringing thunder and pain’ mode. The fight scenes could easily have been overrun with CGI, but that problem is side-stepped with the sheer impressiveness in the style, Thor deploying both up-close-and-personal ugliness and the grand powers of a deity figure. But this brings with it another problem. Once Thor is in this mode, hammer in hand, he is impervious and at no point do you think there is any peril. At least Superman has Kryptonite to be deployed. It’s something that Whedon will have to work hard to overcome in the Avengers film, as not everything works on screen as it does in the comics. How often can Thor lose his hammer before you just start calling him careless?
There is a better film to be found among this, but it’s probably back in the editing suite. Maybe a sequel, after the Avengers film is out of the way, will provide a better platform for Thor and the rest of his Asgardians.
There was a little bit of news early this morning, you may not be aware as hardly anyone is talking about it, but Osama Bin Laden is dead. Killed during a US operation to finally take him. This blog post will be one of the most sanctimonious things I ever write because, in the wake of this news, people appear to have lost their minds.
All over the news and the internet, people are falling over themselves to celebrate Bin Laden’s death, with hordes placing themselves outside the White House screaming “USA! USA!”, toasting to his death and generally partying. This has left a horrible taste in my mouth, it’s hardly dignified. This whole situation is a tough one, as you can’t tell people how to feel, especially those so affected by the events of nearly ten years ago. But one thing they need to understand is this is not justice for those who lost their lives, this is vengeance, pure and simple. I’m sure people will tell me “People celebrated when Hitler died and I bet you would have too!”. Yes, I would have, but there’s a tiny difference there. Hitler’s death effectively signified the end of a WORLD FUCKING WAR. Bin Laden was not holed up in a bunker, committing suicide as his forces were overrun, and his death signifies nothing. Al Qaeda are not the Nazis, and killing Bin Laden will not end their campaign.
He was the face of evil for the west, who need such things to focus their hate on, but tactically his death means absolutely squat. I’ve seen various people on Twitter say “This is what you get when you fuck with America!”. What is “what you get”? If he was the lynchpin of Al Qaeda then “what he got” was ten more years of plotting mayhem as the west fumbled in the dark for him. If he wasn’t, well then celebrating his death is beyond disgusting. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy he is dead. The world is a better place without him, but I will not be rejoicing and dancing in the street. Even those who would oppose capital punishment for serial killers have no doubt been telling themselves that Bin Laden is different. I’m sorry, but he’s not. Evil is evil and murder is murder. You cannot condemn one and not the other, unless you are a huge hypocrite.
This is the culmination of the events of the last ten years. The erosion of a national conscience. Think of all that has happened since that fateful day ten years ago. The clusterfuck wars started because Bin Laden could not be found and America (and I’m including the UK in this as well) did not want to appear weak, well instead we looked dumb. Soldiers’ and civilians’ deaths. Guantanamo Bay. Torture and humiliation of prisoners. Surrendering of civil liberties. Air force personnel laughing as they lay waste below them. Jumping at our own shadows. The mistrust and mistreatment of an entire religion. The radicalising of youth. Think of that and ask yourself, ‘Was Bin Laden’s death worth it?’. Ironically, all this, done in the name of retaliation, was beyond anything Bin Laden could have hoped to achieve when he masterminded 9/11. He didn’t just take lives that day, he took the west’s soul and today proves it.
You can celebrate all you want, I just don’t think there is much to be joyful about.