Thor directed by Kenneth Branagh; written by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Don Payne, J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Protosevich
On more than one occasion, in response to a negative review of a mainstream film I’ve read comments to dissenting critics along the line of “turn off your brain”. Sometimes I do wonder what the advantages of such an action would be. I can’t say, though, because my natural penchant for overanalyses prevents it. Less than halfway into Thor I found my mind wandering asking questions that I knew wouldn’t be answered and wondering how a film with five credited screenwriters could fail to address so many rudimentary issues. It’s a prelude to the imminent Avengers’ film, a picture which I’ve all but forgotten about, and in this instalment we’re introduced to Thor – the hero from another realm. After indiscretions at home in his home kingdom of Asgard he’s subjected to a life on earth.
The film is comprises two parts in one. The first is an Asgard a place that is Grecian legend inspired, but sounds and looks like Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. Odin has two sons, the overwhelmingly blonde Thor and the Loki, who’s given enough penetrating close-ups for us to assume that this shall be our villain for the next two hours. Thor, unwisely, wages war against a land that Odin defeated some time ago and for his imprudence Odin banishes him to a life on earth. Earth is where scientist Jane Foster is conducting a research of obscure foundation and as Thor crashes into her, literally, it leads to the derailment of said research when a group of men in black begin investigating the meteorological madness that has followed Thor’s appearance on earth.
Next to the lavishness that comes with the Asgard portion of the story the New Mexico portions seems especially bland, which is unrotunate because there’s a whole number of more interesting scenarios. Chris Hemsworth is a lot of fun as the male lead and Natalie Portman, who’s relegated to playing more than “Girl” is much better than the role deserves. They work well together, in a kitschy way. I couldn’t help but let my brain run away with me, though. I immediately found myself asking why Thor, who’s legend has been recounted in stories of old (which a character observes) would happen to fall to earth in what is the conspicuous. It’s the least of the issues, though, because I’m not adept at the logics of time travel so I’m hardly the best candidate to discredit the filmmaker’s intent with. The oddest thing about Thor ends up being one of is most unintentionally hilarious – the adeptness with which Thor adapts to earth living. It’s such an odd state of affairs that I begin wondering whether or not Asgard’s inhabitants are cognisant about the other realms. Thor seems unfazed by concepts like cars and civilian clothing of the 21st century, but still has a predilection for cup smashing and 11th century mannerisms. It’s both frustrating and entertaining. In a scene that I cringe and smile at Thor walks into a pet store and audaciously demands a horse.
As such Asgard, by default, seems to come across as the better of the two halves even if it’s far from perfect. The storyline of the warring brothers seems especially rote even if Hemsworth is credible, and Tom Hiddleston the delivers the film’s finest performance as the tortured Loki. The worst thing about this portion of the film is that each time has the potential to develop as a significant character the story moves from him. His final scene (not counting that eye roll inducing epilogue) is excellently done and makes me wish that the film had been a character study of him.
Anthony Hopkins and Stellan Skarsgård are two stalwarts who do much more than you’d expect with their roles. Taking into account all the terrible films Hopkins has been in lately, he’s quite good in this managing to induce his de facto regal Brit role with a whole lot more charm than I expected (shame that Rene Russo couldn’t have been given more to do, though). In the end the film manages to be (marginal) success because the actors, and Branagh at times, throw themselves into the insipid story. As far as the translation of legendary stories to screen goes, it’s no Clash of the Titans. Thor makes for a way more harmless venture. And that, I suppose, is a bit of the problem. It’s completely harmless and ineffectual.