Thor is one of the superheroes that has essentially escaped my notice. He appeared in some cross-overs with Spiderman that I read 20 years ago, but as a concept, as a character, I’ve never been interested enough to find out more. I hadn’t seen any trailers or talked to anyone who’d seen it, and hadn’t seen any of the internet vibe. I didn’t know who wrote or directed it, or who was in it. I went in, as you always should if you can manage, completely cold. It was also, completely incidentally, my first experience of the 3D movie sensation.
It was pretty clear from early on that, once again, this was to be a kind of origin story. Thor displays a stunningly aggressive nature combined with exceptionally poor judgement and is banished from Asgard. His magic hammer is sent after him, in a homage to the sword-in-the-stone: Thor will regain his hammer when he is worthy of it.
From there, the film plays out in three axes: SHIELD’s interference, the political situation resulting from Thor’s banishment, and the inevitably underdone love story between Thor and a mortal heroine. Each, unsurprisingly, resolved quickly and efficiently: a lot of ground is covered in the 100 minutes.
So, the good first. The shot and scene construction is very good. As I was watching I kept thinking to myself that the director obviously new his trade, and it turned out that Sir Kenneth Brannagh was that craftsman. The script is generally workable, there are few clunkers, and as little grandstanding as you could hope for. The acting is competent, though unexceptional. Hardly the expected follow-up for Natalie Portman to Black Swan, but nowhere near a return to Lucasville. Things cruise along at a good pace, so there’s always something going on, and not too much time to stop and look for holes. And as superhero stories go these days, especially origin stories, it’s not unbearably muddled. Finally, the action sequences are generally short and punchy – no hour-long fights between a gorilla and dinosaurs, or two ships pointlessly pounding each other at range around a whirlpool.
That is to say, I’m rather damning it with faint praise. It doesn’t get anything much wrong: you’ll be entertained for the 100 minutes. However, that’s all you’ll get out of it. The story has far too many moving parts, really preventing any one story thread from really working properly. Other than the main hero and villain, the characters aren’t really all that distinctive or characterful, so you’ll struggle to list any identifying personality traits afterwards. In particular, to quote Sara’s thoughtful comment, you can’t believe “in the transformative love story which forms the heart of the protagonist’s emergence as a hero”: it’s too short, too cursory, and just too insubstantial.
My last comment, is the bad. There is a famous sequence in the early Spiderman comics where he is trapped under a heavy weight and about to drown. Over the course of about 6 panels, Ditko carefully shows Spiderman searching for that last inner reserve of strength that will let him lift the weight and not drown. In his body language, in his dialogue, you are utterly convinced that this is the absolute last reserve of energy: he has nothing else. For Thor, the reversals are all sudden: he moves instantly from being defeated to deciding to win, and emerges at the end of each encounter looking better than when he was going in. Victory isn’t a struggle for Thor, it’s a choice. I can’t respect that in my superheroes. He really is, as Nick explained, the superman of the Marvel universe, and we all know what I think about that.