The moment you’ve all been waiting for: 2011’s Thor. Is it the God of Movies, or just yet another blonde chasing Natalie Portman around and shooting lightning?
I know one person who really likes this film, but I honestly cannot stand it, and neither can the friends that I’ve discussed this film with. It’s not that it’s a bad idea, it’s that there is nothing particularly right with it. This is prove that good visuals do not a good film make – and neither do the effects. I’ve been flipping back and forth between whether or not to write an article about Thor as a character, because he’s still a fairly common character type among superheroes, and one that I cannot stand.
I’ve been known to come down pretty hard on superhero origin films. Still, it might not be true that they are all the same film. Spider-Man told a story about how being arrogant and greedy got your uncle Ben killed, and when you give that up you can become the hero. Iron Man told a story about how being arrogant and self-absorbed was bad, and that it was better to be an arrogant narcissist who also cares about other people. Green Lantern told us that you can’t be quite as arrogant as self-absorbed as Hal Jordan from Emerald Dawn, because even in today’s film environment nobody could quite support someone that entitled. Thor is the one that tells us you can adapt a story fitting for a thirty minute children’s show into a feature length film for adults and still sell tickets.
I can’t even pretend to be interested in Thor. That was hard right off the bat: as I’ve shown above, superhero origin films are generally “be less arrogant, get over other negative traits, and then become a hero”. This wasn’t true in Man of Steel, where the arrogant and greedy person was killed by a tornado, but it’s generally the case. Sometimes it’s simply “be less arrogant and self-absorbed than the villain is”. And add some CGI. Sometimes this can be overlooked – Peter Parker starts off with some sympathetic traits, like being the victim of bullying, which makes his transition to “out for himself” somewhat more believable – where in Thor, every time the customer opens his mouth, it’s clear exactly what the entire plot of the film is going to be about. He is an arrogant jack-ass. You can’t look at this character’s smirk without seeing “this is a story about how being less arrogant and aggressive will make you the hero”. He is ultimately unlikable and telegraphing the fact the story is about becoming more likable later does little to resolve this. Neither does the fact that Loki is clearly playing him like a fiddle.
Ah, yes, Loki. The second time I watched this film, I briefly entertained a reading where, if you have never picked up a comic book in your life, you might not be aware Loki is evil until near the end. Something like Attack of the Clones, when if any actor other than Dracula had been chosen, you wouldn’t have known Dooku was the Sith Lord until he revealed his penchant for red lightsabers and Force lightning. Unfortunately, this reading lasted a few seconds into Loki’s conversation with Thor in which, minutes after Frigga tells Loki that there is hope for Thor’s return, when Loki states that Frigga is the one who demanded Thor’s banishment.
Even ignoring this, for a story about mythic creatures, the sense of scale just feels…off. Loki is trying to kill a group of warriors who recently killed a giant monster. In the comics, he would send a fire-breathing dragon just to kill Thor. What does our Trickster God do in Thor? He sends an assassin robot. Was this mandated as part of the “aliens, not gods” thing? That they had to use Sci-Fi assassins instead of Fantasy ones? This seems fairly ridiculous, considering that even Thor states that on Asgard, Sci-Fi and Fantasy are the same thing.
Despite my complaints, there are some things that Thor does right. The action scenes look good, when they are not pausing for a transformation sequence that would make Sailor Moon say “Wow, that’s gratuitous”. Most of the scenes with the humans, either for drama or comedy, work fairly well. Agent Coulson would become the breakout hit of this film, who succeeds perfectly in the kind of arrogance you would expect for someone certain they are working for the right side, bystanders be damned. He’s the hero the movie needs, not the one it deserves. I also really like the fact that Thor has a female friend who is not a love interest, but the fact that she is his love interest in the comics makes me concerned for both the longevity of this idea and for Natalie Portman’s character.
While I do like a few of the ideas in Thor, I ultimately felt that they would have worked far better in a different movie. One protagonist is unlikable and the other is, if anything, too likable – she’s a blank slate with very little in the way of character other than “I liked that girl. She was alright.” For a trickster god who at times seemed to have planned for every contingency, the villain was a fool, although if this can be taken as an origin story, that makes sense. Finally, the lesson of the story is telegraphed entirely too easy for something with a budget of millions of dollars. Every problem I have with superhero origin films, and more besides, reside here. Watch only for the sake of your children or if you really love the action scenes.