Thor [2011]

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.

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5 Responses to Thor [2011]

  1. tog42 says:

    I thought the supporting characters did exactly what they’re supposed to; help tell the story of the main protagonist. They convey who they are and what they’re about in a few crucial scenes or lines but other than that they fulfill their role in the story. The big problem in Ironman 2 was that they forgot this; they spent too much time fleshing out all of the supporting cast and forgot about the villain, leading to an unsatisfying resolution.

    I’d agree that the romance was weak but don’t know if it was really intended as an out-and-out ‘transformative love story’. He is banished to Midgard by Odin to learn humility. He had to learn to care about others and Jane was part of that but I don’t think the entirety of it. The insertion of a simple scene showing the passage of time, a few weeks or months, where Thor lives as a mortal would have sold him coming to care about this realm and it’s inhabitants.

    Here be spoilers…

    Finally, it is a conceit of the superhero genre that the hero will win. Their actual powers (or lack of) is irrelevant; Spider-man will win just as surely as Superman or Thor because he is the hero of the story. It is what the hero sacrifices in the struggle for victory that matters. In the film Thor must first lay down his life to save his friends. It is that sacrifice that proves him worthy of having his powers restored. Upon returning to Asgard to achieve victory he must destroy his means only of returning to Earth and seeing Jane again, as well as potentially sacrificing his life and that of his brother. He is in fact only saved by the intervention of his father at the last second. And all of this is to save an enemy who wishes to destroy all that he holds dear.

    It was a film with some obvious flaws but for me they weren’t substantive enough for hurt my enjoyment of it.

    • mashugenah says:

      I thought the supporting characters did exactly what they’re supposed to; help tell the story of the main protagonist.

      I think this is perhaps the difference between something competent and workman like and something properly good. In most of the really great films, the supporting cast are a delight in their own right, entertaining in their own right. Sure, they’re not important, but they do more than the basic functionality of allowing the story to progress. For example, watching Casablanca, I always get a little kick out of Karl’s discussion with the two German ex-pats. It so wonderfully illustrates the situation, and the personality of Karl – it gives the film a life beyond and outside the love triangle.

      I’d agree that the romance was weak but don’t know if it was really intended as an out-and-out ‘transformative love story’ vs. to achieve victory he must destroy his means only of returning to Earth and seeing Jane again

      You can’t really have this both ways. Either she’s only a small part of his transformation and hence not all that important. Or, she’s become key in his life, and so is a real sacrifice.

      Finally, it is a conceit of the superhero genre that the hero will win.

      Sure. Superheroes win, pretty girls and boys fall in love, thieves get away with the loot. That story-objective is absolutely not important, the journey is key: what do they learn, what do they experience, what choices do they make?

      Compare Thor to Spiderman. To defeat the Green Goblin, Spiderman must kill his best friend’s father, setting up a revenge plotline that will fuel the next two movies (albeit, poorly executed), he must accept the sacrifice of loving Mary Jane (albeit, he comes to his senses later). Straying from the hero’s path in the early part of the film costs him his uncle. All the way along the line, it’s clear to us what is important to Peter, and how his superhero powers interact with those things and force him to compromise and sacrifice and struggle. I got no sense of any of that from Thor.

      Now, if I could, for example, believe in the love story, then the whole thing becomes far more compelling. If I could believe that defeating the, inventively named, Destroyer was a challenge, I could find the whole thing more compelling.

      I think ultimately Thor’s journey comes down to him deciding whether to succeed or fail – but it’s just a simple choice, it’s not a struggle that costs him anything. You obviously feel differently – that he didn’t succeed without cost and effort.

      • tog42 says:

        You can’t really have this both ways. Either she’s only a small part of his transformation and hence not all that important. Or, she’s become key in his life, and so is a real sacrifice.

        As they’re two separate points I believe I can. His transformation came about by learning humility and to think of others. Jane was part of that but so were Erik and Darcy on Earth and Odin and Loki back in Asgard. His relationship with Jane wasn’t an all consuming passionate Twilight love affair but was obviously not meant to be. He cared for Jane and those feelings were growing. I find that far more believable even if I do agree that the romance could have been better executed.

        Now, if I could, for example, believe in the love story, then the whole thing becomes far more compelling.

        Personally, I’m sick to death of a love story being shoehorned into every single action/adventure movie that comes out and would have been happy to have that whole plot excised.

        Compare Thor to Spiderman (I’d point out the Goblin killed himself when he betrayed Peter’s mercy).

        Thor disobeys his father and king, almost gets his friends killed and provokes a war that threatens the whole of Asgard. He is stripped of his power and banished to Earth where he must rely on others to reclaim his hammer… and fails. Then when the lives of his new and old friends are threatened he lays down his life to save them (remember Thor didn’t know he was going to get his powers back). We then have the climax already mentioned.

        Those things sound like compromise, sacrifice and struggle to me but as you say, we obviously feel differently. Given our relative tastes in superheroes that should be no surprise.

      • mashugenah says:

        Kurt Vonnegut once wrote that he never included female characters in his novels because once there was the possibility of a love story, people wouldn’t settle for anything else. Smart man.

        In terms of destroying the bridge, that annoyed me a bit for a slightly different reason. The story of human history is essentially things getting better and better, but the story wherever you’ve got an ancient civilization is that it’s all doom and gloom: they were the high point, we’re the remains. Clearly they had the technology to build the thing in the first place, so rebuilding it should be an inevitability not an impossibility.

  2. Pingback: Hulk [2003] | My One Contribution To The Internet

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