Thor Review: Let’s Talk Details

Posted by April 20, 2011 Comment

If you’re anxious about reading a review and learning too much about this film but still want to know whether the cinema ticket’s worth your hard-earned money here’s a summary: Thor is a brilliant, epic, and often very funny superhero movie that is very much worth your while. It’s so huge in scope that the big-screen experience is more than a luxury, it’s the only way to enjoy the daring, dizzying scope of Kenneth Branagh’s vision. See it.

You still here? Let’s talk details.

Thor’s great, but it’s by no means perfect. It suffers, especially, from a somewhat lumpy beginning. It’s as if Kenneth Branagh doesn’t trust us, his audience, to spring straight to the mystical realm of Asgard from the get-go, so he gives us a short funny action scene with Jane Foster and her smart-mouthed intern Darcy first, then cuts to a Norse mythology prologue before getting to the start of the film proper and then dumping us back into the Jane Foster scene again.

Another Achilles heel is the film’s soundtrack. There are inevitably occasional slightly cheesy moment in the film, and Patrick Doyle’s workmanlike underscore slings in the quasi-Elgar motifs in a way that tends to flag up the clumsier moment in the script rather than build depth and dimension.

And after all, we really don’t need to look down on one more kneeling actor yelling ‘Noooo!’ at the sky do we?

That stuff’s nitpicking though. The sweep and scope of the film is intoxicating, and Loki is at once a more understandable and more devilishly inscrutable villain than the comics generally suggest. His fiendish plot evokes that ‘one baffling step ahead of the hero and the audience’ thing that The Joker had in The Dark Knight but more plausibly. After all, he’s not just some psycho with chivvied-up cheeks – he’s The God Of Mischief.

Natalie Portman is ravishing as Jane Foster – now an astrophysicist rather than a nurse – and it’s easy to see why Thor might be charmed by her. It’s less easy to see why she might go for Thor. Chris Hemsworth looks terrific and is in spectacular shape, if I looked like that I’d never wear a shirt again, but necessarily comes across as a total nutjob when he falls from the sky raving about his Asgardian home. I don’t think many smokin’ hot astrophysicists would fall for such an evident fruitloop, no matter how ripped he was.

Of course, if Branagh built in the two or three weeks it might take for Foster to accept that the mentalist that she kept running over with her van was the Norse God Of Thunder it would probably be a pretty long film, so it’s probably reasonable to let that question slide.

There’s some fun stuff about Don Blake MD as a nod to old guys like me who remember him. Thanks Marvel!

One of the things that I was intrigued about was how Thor might play to conservative Christian audiences in the bottom half of the USA. Bear in mind that some people took it upon themselves to protest outside a Harry Potter movie because they considered it likely to promote witchcraft – imagine how they’d feel about a flick promulgating and entire rival pantheon of gods.

Ken’s got a fix for that.

The production design of the movie – in particular the Rainbow Bridge – reminds one forcefully of Arthur C Clarke’s aphorism about the difference between science and magic. As if the message isn’t clear enough, Natalie Portman recites the quotation verbatim about two thirds of the way through the film.

Overseeing the Rainbow Bridge is Idris Elba as Heimdall. Some people questioned how a black actor might be cast as a Norse god. Well, it’s not an entirely unreasonable question I suppose but given that we’re talking about transdimensional beings who just happen to look like human beings and the Asgard of the movies is quite a multiracial affair (notably, Hogun of the Warriors Three is played by Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano) it seems like quite an academic debate. Besides, Elba has a lot more to do than just act as Asgard’s doorman and he is terrific in the part.

Linguistically, the film’s a good deal less flowery than I imagined. In the funnybooks, Thor and his fellow Asgardian tend to speak in a rather ‘olde worlde’ manner. It was that aspect that made me think that Branagh was a brilliant choice for the director’s chair.

The later plays of William Shakespeare provided almost every popular English phrase or saying that their near contemporary The King James Bible didn’t. Branagh’s one of the few directors that have turned in film adaptations of those plays that have managed to deliver a naturalistic and conversational tone while retaining the poetry. Despite that the various Norse deities on show speak recognisable modern English, without a thee or thou to be heard.

Both Thor and Loki change and grow as a result of the events that occur in the film. They are, as a result, markedly more interesting characters than you might remember from the comics. A friend of mine once suggested that he’d happily watch an Iron Man prequel movie called Tony Stark: Rich Asshole in which the son of a billionaire weapons designer did nothing but chase supermodels and install state-of-the-art cocktail cabinets in his office. There could be a similar parallel story to be written about Young Thor – the recklessly cocky junior god who has never known loss or failure and has therefore never learned the valuable lessons that those two teachers bring. Loki’s growth through the film is similarly worthy of more exploration.

Everything happens a little too quickly, both character development and plot move along faster than is plausible even within the context of a story about interdimensional travel and superpowers. Still, Branagh has the tricky problem of explaining to an audience who may never have read the August ’62 issue of Journey Into Mystery the backstory and capabilities of a hero who in his own way is about as powerful as Superman, but not remotely as well-known. The film moves along at quite a clip, but regrettably it needs to – there’s a lot to pack in.

Things that are packed in include; a grounding in the history of the Asgardians’ conflict with The Frost Giants, a blossoming romance between Thor and Jane Foster, a serious amount of laughs most of which are sparked by Foster’s assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings), some great swashbuckling nonsense with The Warriors Three, a substantial Hawkeye cameo, some Odinsleeep, some fights, and a whole bunch of sweeping aerial shots of an Asgard that looks like the world’s biggest shiniest pipe organ.

One thing that has marred a number of comicbook adaptations – and Marvel, being world leaders in superhero flicks are particularly guilty of this – is the way in which the third act devolves into an Action Figure Smackdown™. Two Iron Men or Hulks (or Hulk-shaped beings) or whatever bang away at each other for ten minutes and it’s increasingly evident that there are no real actors involved in the CGI spectacle and it’s not only sometimes hard to keep caring about the outcome, it’s sometimes a shade daft.

Thor manages, except for one short sequence, to avoid that pitfall. I hope he doesn’t fly too much in The Avengers though, it’s a serviceable effect but it’s still somewhere near the fringes of silly.

Overall Thor is great fun. I’d happily see it again. I’d even more happily see a director’s cut where things unfolded at a more leisurely pace but perhaps I’m in the minority there.

There’s a FANTASTIC bit in the credits. Remember at the end of old-school Bond movies where you were told ‘James Bond will return in The Hildebrand Rarity’ (or whatever it might be)? There’s one of those. I was the only person in the audience fool enough to cheer, but it was a magical moment.

One last thing.

It must be awful being Samuel L Jackson’s Mum. Not only do you have to sit through a two-hour film to catch the bit your son’s in, you have to endure a near-interminable crawl telling you who the 3D compositors and whatnot were. Even if one of the effects people is called Jor-El, it’s a long old wait just for a thirty second Avengers teaser.

(Last Updated October 30, 2013 7:43 am )