Josh: First, the boring shit that no one reading CHUD actually needs…
Thor. God of Thunder. Has an all-powerful hammer. Part of the pantheon of Norse gods that were re-purposed by Marvel Comics decades ago into comic book characters. Now a Marvel Studios motion picture. Story follows this Thor guy (Chris Hemsworth), who lives in the space realm of Asgard with his mighty king father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and his sketchy brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Thor is snotty and battle-hungry so Odin takes away his powers and banishes him to Earth where he meets a sexy scientist, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), her Scandi mentor, Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), and their big-boobed ironically detached intern, Darcy (Kat Dennings). S.H.I.E.L.D. takes special interest in both Thor and his super hammer, while a war is brewing between Asgard and their old foe, the Frost Giants. Blah blah, romance, rainbow bridge, monsters, hammer to the face.
Alright. Let’s do this thing, Oli.
First off, I haven’t read a single issue of the Thor comics. Ever. Being Scandinavian and from Minnesota, I read a lot about the Norse legends when I was a kid – where Thor had red hair and a mighty beard – but as far as Marvel’s Thor is concerned, my biggest previous exposures to the character were Adventures in Babysitting and the made-for-TV movie The Incredible Hulk Returns. So I was walking into this movie blind. How about yourself?
David: Well, I’m not exactly Scandinavian, but I have read some Thor comics as a lad. But mostly, my exposure to him in the comics was with the Avengers…and in a certain Hulk TV movie back in the day. With the whole grand Asgard setting, Thor wasn’t going to be one of the easier Marvel properties to be adapted to film. I could easily imagine it as some super-cheese-filled ’80s disaster that looks better through the filmstrip of a kid’s memory rather than actually revisiting it as an adult, ala Masters of the Universe. By that reckoning, would there have been a more cosmically divine casting for Thor than Dolph? Hardly.
But we’re in the here and now, and regarding the casting of the thunderer, Chris Hemsworth is terrific. The guy looks the part, he works both ends of the emotion spectrum – from despair to comedy – well, and he’s got star quality. He owns as Thor here and he looks phenomenal both in the As-garb and out. If you match him up with Downey’s take on Tony Stark, I’d still give it to RDJ, but Hemsworth is definitely breathing down his neck. I’m really looking forward to seeing him in The Avengers, because his portrayal of Thor is better than I would have hoped for.
Josh: Seconded. While I quite enjoyed this film on a popcorn entertainment level, one of the things that I thought held it back from Iron Man greatness was the casting. Though, Hemsworth was certainly not one of the weak links. I was one of many who scoffed back during pre-production at Hemsworth being chosen over Alexander Skarsgard, but actually watching the movie I cannot imagine Skarsgard in the role. He’s got too much of a lazy wickedness in his eyes; he actually would’ve made a solid Loki. But Hemsworth is perfect. He sells the almost boring confidence of the character, the bravado, and the straight-faced seriousness, while remaining just playful enough to make the character likable. Plus, the dude is fucking HUUUGE.
David: Before I started seeing clips and trailers for this movie, I wondered how much of the ye olde Asgardian lingo they’d be pumping into Thor, with his “varlets,” “verilies,” “mayhaps” and whatnot. The answer is not so much, but Hemsworth was still able to be that classic-style noble, but unrepentantly brash, warrior. And that was the perfect backdrop for two quick comedic scenes where he rages his indignation at being threatened by a taser and later a needle. Without a doubt, Hemsworth was the single best thing about the film…which is handy, considering he’s the title character.
Tom Hiddleston as Loki is right up there with him, and his take on the character wasn’t entirely what I was expecting. I was anticipating Loki to just be evil from the get-go, because that’s always how he’s been portrayed. But Loki actually evolves during the story and his anger with Thor and Odin end up coming from a very understandable place, especially in the latter instance. He’s not just the villain plotting his big scheme, rather a petulant son and entitlement whore who nevertheless is seeking approval of his father, even after finding out that he had been lied to his entire life by him. Even when he makes his move for the throne of Asgard, he has a chance with the Frost Giants to make his ascension permanent by eliminating Odin. But he doesn’t take it, because he wants to prove to everyone, especially Odin, that his own worthiness shouldn’t have ever been overlooked for consideration by his dad. Odin had ended up raising a pair of arrogant sons; but whereas Thor is provided with the opportunity to change, Loki isn’t.
Josh: You know, I’ve been seeing/hearing a lot of praise for Hiddleston as Loki, and while I didn’t think he was terrible or anything, I also didn’t find him particularly engaging as our Big Bad. Something was missing for me. Though he certainly comes off much better than the rest of the Asgardians, who range from average (Hopkins, doing basic Hopkins) to groan-worthy (Rene Russo; whose idea was that?). I was especially bored with Thor’s flunky quartet of buddies. Keeping in mind that I know nothing whatsoever about the comics, the only one of this bunch to really convey a personality of any kind to me was Ray Stevenson as Volstagg, the doofy glutton. And as much as I generally like Stevenson I did not like him here at all. Why cast Ray Stevenson if you don’t want him to play a Ray Stevenson character? They couldn’t find any boisterous fat dudes out there for the part? I know only so much blame can be heft on the cast, but none of these actors have enough spunk to shine in such wildly underwritten parts — I never even remotely gleaned what the deal with the Cary Elwes looking motherfucker was; at least the other two were an Asian and female, which had to pass for “character traits” here. Only Idris Elba has the energy to fight through the script he’s been given. With fairly little to do, Elba is pretty awesome as Heimdall, who is basically Scotty from Star Trek here, controlling the transporter beam on Asgard’s avenue around the universe, the Rainbow Bridge (btw, every reference to the Rainbow Bridge made me think of Mario Kart’s rainbow road. That shows were my nerd card is at).
David: Yeah, beyond the big throw down with the Frost Giants in the first act, the Warriors Three and particularly Sif were virtually abandoned by the story. Sif is someone who has been a love interest for Thor since right around the beginning, but here she’s the distaff and uncredited member of the Warriors Three. And agreed on Ray Stevenson as Volstagg: completely wasted. Volstagg is a guy who’s always down for the smiting, but if there’s a rack of lamb off to the side, it’s a toss up. Kudos to Idria Elba though. First off, anybody who complains of his being in the flick simply because of a racial issue is an idiot. Anyone who sleeps on his talent is an uninformed idiot. He’s badass as Heimdall, a character who I didn’t really know to be a badass from the comics. I had the chance to ask Elba if he’d been in consideration for Luke Cage or The Black Panther. I’d put him on my short list for either of those guys.
As for the Midgardians, again, victims of a script that while effort was made to keep it tight, it’s almost too snug. Portman really can’t do much with Jane Foster as written here. Her biggest dramatic moment in the movie is getting wet when Thor has his shirt off. It’s like she was more in lust with Thor than in love with him. Kat Dennings is surprisingly comedic as Jane’s colleague. And Stellan Sarsgaard does more than with which he’s been given to work. I’ve heard complaints about SHIELD being wedged into the story. I didn’t see SHIELD as the problem, but as a necessary step that goes beyond this movie, considering how these pre-Avengers films are being crafted. What I did like about the script where Earth is concerned, however, is that the whole Thor being a fish out of water / being from another world and having to adjust to being an Earthling scenario was mercifully kept to a minimum. If this had turned into E.T.hor it would have sunk the movie, despite Hemsworth’s performance.
Josh: I’ve seen similar complaints elsewhere about S.H.I.E.L.D. too. But I kind of liked their upped presence in the film, as we’re moving closer and closer to The Avengers it is making the Marvel Studios universe feel very comprehensive. For example, I liked that the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents just assume the gigantic metal monster sent to kill Thor is actually a Tony Stark creation. I suppose all their stuff does sort of render the film feeling like an episode of the “Marvel Studios TV show,” but that’s really the least of the film’s problems.
My casting issues aside, Thor‘s biggest trouble is that it is too short, storywise. A lot of the film’s run time is eaten up by the lengthy set-up in Asgard, but that was fairly relevant shit that needed to be there to establish our hero properly. And I was grooving on the film during all of this. I actually loved how stupid and fake Asgard looked. Though I was a bit disappointed with the design of the Frost Giants, but to be fair I had literally been reading the Robert E. Howard’s Conan adventure “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter” while waiting for the film to start, and the description of Frost-Giants in that was much cooler — beards of ice and such. Anyway, point being, I was with the film through this lengthy Asgard phase, and I was also with the film during the wacky fish-out-of-water phase when Thor first lands on Earth and is blundering around looking for his hammer. As cheesy as the scene was, I dug the balls-out silliness of the sequence when the various townsfolk threw a tailgate party while trying to pull Thor’s hammer from the stone Odin placed it in, full on The Sword in the Stone fashion.
But then shit just started moving too fast. Indeed, Portman struggles valiantly with her role, and a romance that unfolds far too fast and far too easily to be taken seriously. I can accept that this lonely, spazzy scientist would immediately be drawn to Thor. The girls in my theater went batshit when Hemsworth first took his shirt off. But I had a much harder time buying that Thor would immediately be drawn to Portman. For one thing, he has just been cast out of his home by his father. He has no superpowers anymore. Dude has bigger fish to fry. On top of all this, Thor is the crown prince of Asgard, and the most badass warrior in his realm. Not to be base here, but if Thor isn’t practically choking on pussy, then I seriously don’t know who is. Natalie Portman is a pretty little lady with an adorable smile, but come on… Thor wouldn’t give a shit about her at first. We need time for things to happen organically.
In the end though, I could have lived with the romance getting the short-shrift, cause, really, who gives a shit? The bigger narrative woe was that the film spent so little time on Thor’s redemption. The romance can be cutesy and slight. The redemption angle is important to take seriously, and there is no way to do that when the film doesn’t take it seriously either (as far as time allotted). Given that the film is 114 minutes long, I can see why they wouldn’t want to make it longer. In that case, something needed to go. I agree that it was interesting how Loki developed slowly as a villain, but given what a limp villainous presence he ultimately was (sending a metal monster and Frost Giants to do his dirty work), a lot of his organic development felt like a time waster to me. Possibly I’m underestimating how much Marvel and Kenneth Branagh thought they would be fooling the audience with the reveal of Loki’s true nature, and I also suppose on a different website we might be delivering major spoilers here, but I never read Thor comics and I know Loki is his nemesis. Obviously he is going to turn against Thor at some point. If he isn’t the villain, then who is? Not much of a twist.
As is, all the Asgard in-fighting and machinations with the Frost Giant homeworld felt like they were distracting from what the film is supposed to be about… Thor. The movie wasn’t called Thor & Loki after all.
David: Too short? Nah. I didn’t come out of it feeling like I got the short shrift story-wise, although as we mentioned, there were characters who did get shorted. Too busy, though, perhaps. With the ping-pong action between Asgard and Earth, SHIELD, the Warriors Three, Portman’s crew and the FGs, something had to give, and yeah, it was mostly the romance between Thor and Jane Foster. If she were to catch Thor’s eye, rather than all the Asgard supertrim in which I’m sure Thor indulges, then yeah, it would be her quirkiness and complete difference to them. But aside from a starry night discussing the nature of the nine realms, there really just isn’t too much more to be mined from it as presented here.
But yes, I also liked that little bit about the rednecks (do they have rednecks in New Mexico?) trying to see if they were worthy of the hammer. For some reason it came off to me as “have your picture taken with a zombie” kind of idiocy. And I too enjoyed the SHIELD agent quip regarding the Destroyer. Likewise, I do think you’re right on about the escalating presence of SHIELD mattering as a build up to the big prize. What most disappointed me, though, were the Frost Giants. In the comics, Frost Giants look like giant mini-glaciers, but these came off more as unused extras from either LOTR or Harry Potter, to say nothing of the Frost Giant Dog or whatever the hell that giant skinned Bantha was.
One thing that didn’t disappoint as much was the production design for Asgard and the special effects. Asgard was a nice mix of magic and science, just as it is in the comics. It had an ethereal look to it, rather than being just some far off planet. I mean, it had a waterfall that emptied into space for cripes sake. It’s sort of came across like if the Olympians did Disneyland, but not in the obviously shitty way. Asgard is really the only place that the 3D was needed. The gangway leading up to Bifrost popped. But on Earth it was hardly noticeable and not necessary. If you see it in 2D, I don’t think you’ll be missing much. At least the 3D it wasn’t posted in after the fact.
Josh: They have rednecks EVERYWHERE, Oliver. Everywhere.
I thought the 3D was slightly above average, which is only to say that I didn’t find it distracting or head-ache inducing. But it failed to add any richness or texture to the film. I wouldn’t pay extra money for it, that’s for sure. And yeah, that Frost Beast Thing was shockingly late-to-the-party feeling. 15 years ago that could’ve been something, but it is just so goddamn easy these days to toss in a giant CG monster and hope for a Return of the Jedi rancor moment. Though I did enjoy how Thor killed it.
All in all I’d say that the film turned out fairly well — despite all the negative things I’ve just said. I liked it more than Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk, although I had much higher hopes for both those film. Thor was a hard sell from the beginning, especially when placed against the more real-world based heroes we’ve been getting used to. Asgard is just inherently silly, as is the whole concept of Thor, but it seems like Branagh understood that, playing the Norse segments of the film in kind of early-80’s fantasy kitsch. Hemsworth is the big win of the film. And I’d actually say Kat Dennings has the second biggest win here, managing to walk away unscathed from every scene (as an actor, I mean). Her type of character is usually insufferable, always jabbing detached and snarky comments into moments that unintentionally break the tension or reality of a scene, but the lady sells it. Which is all the more noteworthy given the huge number of side-characters in the film who make absolutely no impact on the mind.
I definitely had fun. This is a “fun” movie, far more so than it is a “good” movie.
David: So it looks like we’re jibing on most of our takes with this movie. I too had fun and in terms of Avengers pre-films, would stack it a couple of notches below Iron Man and a couple above both Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk. A good measuring stick for me with how the film should do with audiences is the wife, who accompanied me to the screening. She had zero knowledge of who Thor was in regards to the comics, yet was engaged for the entirety of the film and appreciated the humor. The audience was live for it and it was a good night at the movies. Despite deficiencies in the execution of the main love story and some of the characters, I think Kenneth Branagh found a good formula for the most part considering the subject matter.
Chris Hemsworth can write his own ticket after this movie and rightly so. He delivered maybe even better than countryman Hugh Jackman did in the first X-Men. Thor is a nice piece in The Avengers puzzle, and really the best context in which to take the film rather than a standalone fable.
both Josh and David give it
Out of a Possible 5 Stars