Big Screen Brain: Thor

I realize I’m a good month behind the times with this review, but I only just saw it and seriously: this is a movie that badly needs to be blogged about.

The problem with Thor isn’t that it is all style and no substance, exactly. Both elements are there in about equal measure. But there is nothing that feels genuine, so beyond a few relatively cheap laughs involving drunk physicists and/or overly hammy culture clashes, any true enjoyment there is to be had is so deeply buried under thick layers of fluff and mishandling that one needs to work way too hard and think way too much (to wit, be me) to find it. And after all that effort, what there is to be found is hardly worth it.

One major conclusion I’ve come to in thinking about Thor is that I’m over the CGI craze. The artist-technicians created an amazing fantasy environment in Asgard. It was larger than life, beautiful, filled with almost mind-boggling exquisiteness, and yet I remained totally disenchanted. Why? Because absolutely none of it was real. I couldn’t really appreciate the beauty (or even the work it took to create it) because all I was thinking about was the fact that almost the entire movie must have been shot in front of a green screen. And having that image in your head pretty much contaminates the whole experience.

Magnificent shiny castles are considerably less impressive when you’re plagued by the idea that They Don’t Exist At All. My mind immediately jumps to Peter Jackson‘s Lord of the Rings trilogy and the production work done by WETA Workshop. The fantasy environments (Rivendell, Lothlorien, Moria, Mordor, to name a few) were scaled models that were superimposed to create backgrounds in the correct scale. So yes, those scenes were also mostly green-screened. But they were layered with a few real-size constructed environments and there was a physical structure, albeit a miniature one. No matter how good CGI technology gets, there will always be a difference between what is real and what is, for lack of a better term, illustrated. I like to think I’ll always be able to tell.

The other production elements of Thor are of sufficient quality at best. Costumes were well enough but nothing spectacular. The music did it’s job, but no more. The coolest thing was probably the SFX makeup for the Frost Giants. That was admittedly Pretty Sweet.

Of course all that is just dressing. My long-winded disappointment with the amount of CGI is a peripheral complaint, a distraction from what truly disappointed me about this movie. Namely, the story and the telling thereof.

The superhero narrative, the modern model of the Classical hero story, is not complicated or difficult. It is the most basic of arcs, and all a storyteller has to do to succeed is hit all of the essential elements. And yet somehow, Thor fails.

Thor reads like someone bit a big chunk of it out of the middle. We see arrogant, boorish, warmongery, pre-transformation Thor at the beginning of the movie. And at the end of the movie we see noble, dignified, self-sacrificing, post-transformation Thor. Which is all well and good and fitting with the hero journey storyline…except that the transformation never takes place. At the very least, it is far too subtle.

The tender moments with Natalie Portman (I honestly don’t remember her character’s name because, really, she’s basically just Natalie Portman) and Thor’s inability to pull his hammer out of a rock are, I can only assume, intended as moments of character growth. Unfortunately, they seem more like opportunities to reveal to the audience deeper, more sensitive layers that Thor already possessed. Yes, there is a distinction.

I feel that part of the problem was an underestimation (or perhaps a misunderstanding) of Chris Hemsworth. Visually, he fits the “hunky and dumb” bill to a T. But his emotive abilities as an actor are truly outstanding. Recall, this is George Kirk of JJ AbramsStar Trek, the guy who appeared in only the first five minutes of the movie and somehow still managed to steal the show – y’know, the guy whose performance still makes me cry every time even though I’ve seen the movie an embarrassing number of times at this point. Even from behind a beard and flowing locks that seem to mysteriously grow when he dons an overly shoulder-padded cape, Chris Hemsworth brings full emotional life to his character – perhaps more than he ought. It is clear that sensitivity is his natural element, Viking brashness an act. Instead of wondering how he got to his mature end-of-movie character state, we wonder instead why he wasn’t shown that way from the beginning. I do, anyway.

Perhaps a contributing factor to this lack of sequence and clarity in the hero’s personal journey is what I found to be an over-emphasis on the personal journey of the antagonist. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed every moment of Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) descent into villainy, particularly when his Frost Giant face is first revealed. But his story also seems somewhat out of sequence because his reasons for evil are revealed over halfway through the movie. And those revelations are presented the way Thor’s ought to have been: as happening in the moment, rather than as an unveiling of things already present and in motion. It seems there was some confusion about which was truly the main, important character (you’d think the title might have tipped someone off). As a result, hero and villain stories were switched in terms of emphasis and the overall plot of the movie felt awkward at best (weak at worst).

There is little else about Thor worth noting – no, not even Anthony Hopkins. Stellan Skarsgard, maybe. The Asian Viking is weird, I will grant you, but we live in a world that badly wants for political correctness and multiculturality (even when it makes no sense) and so that must go uncommented as well. Also because talking about the Asian Viking would force me to point out that the rest of Thor’s BFFs – Broadsword Barbie, Gimli, and the Scandinavian Musketeer – are equally ridiculous. And I don’t want to do that – that would just be mean.

When all is said and done, Thor is definitely a letdown and definitely the failed child in the pre-Avengers movie family. The only part of it I genuinely enjoyed was the post-credits clip featuring Nick Fury and a reminder that The Avengers Movie Will Be Here Soon And It Will Be Awesome. So I’ll concentrate on looking forward to that…and just pretend that Thor 2 isn’t going to happen.

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  • Bansith Grace  On July 12, 2011 at 2:44 AM

    :). Thank you. Haven’t seen the flick yet, but pretty sure your review is gonna be the best part. Wit is so rare theses days, and witty even rarer.

  • Boycool  On July 12, 2011 at 6:03 AM

    Nice to see your blogging hiatus lasted less than four months! Nice to see that you reviewed a movie I saw yesterday. Cool commenting template.

    I think you hit the nail on the head about the CGI. As my old-school dad* put it, “When half the movie’s filmed in front of a green screen, what is there to watch?”

    As for the plot, I found myself too distracted** to care about it. Well, that and I read the summary on Wikipedia two months ago. Once you look past the illogical plot points*** and super corny romance, this is a decent movie. Putting the hammer on Loki’s chest was cool. Devoting ten minutes to Jeremy Renner showing off his crossbow was not. Joss Whedon directed the post-credits scene. And on that note, I’m going to make an omelette.

    * “Yeah “Avatar” looked real… for a cartoon!”
    ** Dad, Christina Ricci was NOT in “Corina, Corina”. Oh look, Stellan Skarsgard! He’s Norwegian, right? Oh look, Natalie Portman! Did she get an Oscar for “Black Swan”? Oh, look Asgard just ends! That’s like “Pirates of the Caribbean”. Stellan Skarsgard was in “Pirates of the Caribbean”. Why does Anthony Hopkins have a dent in his eyepatch? Ray Stevenson looks different. Why are they giving so much attention to that chick from “Kyle XY”? That isn’t Cary Elwes, is it? Why is Stan Lee so purple?
    *** How did Norwegian children’s writers know what would happen in the future? If the Asgardians built the bridge once, why can’t they build it again.

  • Boycool  On August 9, 2011 at 5:48 AM

    And what about Captain: America: The First Avenger?

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