The dual-review film criticism site: first a spoiler-free review, then an in-depth Alternate Take.
Thor

Reviewed by Martin Zeller-Jacques.

Director Kenneth Branagh
Length 114 mins
Certificate 12A / PG-13
Rating ****------
Filmmaking: 2  Personal enjoyment: 2

Photo from the article Trailer.

After a string of recent sub-par superhero romps including the execrable Spiderman 3 (2007), the dumbed down Wolverine (2009), as well as the disappointingly off-target Iron-Man 2 (2010), Marvel Studios need a home-run (or at least a base-hit) if they’re going to avoid letting all the air out of their planned Avengers adaptation before it even hits the screens. But Thor, unfortunately, is a palpable miss.

Adapting the Odin-son was always going to be tricky. There’s an element of intrinsic naffness to the material which just won’t go away. Marvel have tried to lend the project an air of gravitas, bringing Kenneth Branagh in to direct, finding an ideal lead in Chris Hemsworth, and getting Anthony Hopkins to fill the now-mandatory ‘respectable thesp to win over the doubters’ role. Yet Thor still ends up feeling like the meandering, two hour trailer which, of course, it is. However they dress it up, this isn’t really a movie in its own right. Its job is to whet our appetites for more famous adaptations to come, such as this Summer’s Captain America, X-Men: First Class, and of course, The Avengers.

Thor opens with a brief sequence in the New Mexico desert, showing us Thor’s arrival on Earth, before switching to a long explanation of how he came to be banished from Asgard. This ponderous first act treats us to a lot of pat exposition and sub-Lord of the Rings-style visuals. The design of the film, which might be impressive if it were only a still image, has little depth - Asgard is a forest of digitally gleaming spires, while Jotunheim looks like the Snow Miser’s lair from The Year Without Santa Claus (1974). Meanwhile, despite some game performances, the characters are just as broadly drawn, with their elaborate costumes standing in for genuine characterisation. The sole exception is Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, who shows a subtlety and depth unusual in a Marvel movie villain, though by the third act he’s either too bored or too confused to bother anymore, and commences to Mwah-ha-ha with the best of them. Hiddleston carries the first act, however, sustaining a bit of interest until Thor is banished and Odin goes for a nap (really!), leaving Loki in charge.

Once we get back to Earth, things start to pick up again. Natalie Portman may be a bit of a stretch as an ingenious boffin, but she’s always a watchable screen presence, and Stellan Skarsgaard is on hand to be charmingly Scandinavian (which is more than most of the Asgardians manage). As for Hemsworth’s Hero, without his powers or his hammer, Thor is just a big, handsome guy with a winning smile, and the one really promising touch is that he never loses his arrogance or self-assurance. As a result, some of the fish-out-of-water material works well. Yet there’s something disappointingly unambitious about it all. In comparison to, for example, Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), in which a frightened kid teaches Arnold Schwarzenegger’s invincible robot killing machine the value of human life while the world crumbles around him, Hemsworth’s oafish Norse god has to be taught not to smash his coffee cups in a diner because it makes Natalie Portman feel a bit self-conscious. There are seeds of good material here, but the film is in such a hurry that it takes no time to let them grow.

Unforgivably, despite its pace, it’s also rather dull. The action scenes are all anonymous crashing about and lackadaisical pro-wrestling choreography, and the 3D effects fail to add interest to proceedings. We have an invasion of Jotunheim and a lot of giant-smashing, then a bit of perfunctory fisticuffs with an Anthony Gormley statue, punctuated by an emotional turning point so hackneyed that it was also used Pokemon: The First Movie (1999), and then it’s back to Asgard for more hitting things, and then we get the credits. At the end of this we are given the only piece of information in which the film shows any real interest: as the final reel rolls we are promised, ‘Thor will be back in The Avengers’. If they’d just put that at the beginning, they would have saved us all a lot of time.

This review was published on April 30, 2011.

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