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.