If you’re looking for a fairly mindless superhero slugfest, then this is the movie for you. If, on the other hand, you’re a fan of old-fashioned elements like plot, acting and strong characterisations, then perhaps you want to spend your cinema/pirated-DVD money elsewhere.
For the uninitiated, Thor is the Norse god of Thunder, a major player in the Asgardian pantheon worshipped by the Vikings of old, and a noted hothead in a culture where feasting, heavy drinking and perpetual warfare is the norm, not the exception.
So forgive me for wanting the Thor movie to be a little grittier than the sanitised, safe for public consumption version that Hollywood has trotted out as their summertime moneymaker. By now it should also be obvious that I’m a bit of a nerd, not only as far as mythology is concerned but also (and far more so) as far as comic books are concerned. In fact, mythology and comic books form the source material for this movie, so I was expecting at least a few nods in that direction from the filmmakers.
Instead, this movie seems more focused on marketing the upcoming Avengers movie than anything else. References are made to Gamma radiation (cue Hulk) and Stark enterprises (cue Iron Man), but few insights are given into Asgard or the history of the Norse Gods. The plot falls victim to the old trap of telling rather than showing. So we are told that Thor’s hammer Mjolnir was forged by dwarves in the heart of a dying star, but we aren’t treated to even a tiny cutscene showing that forging.
As far as the performances as concerned, the biggest disappointment is from the actor I had the greatest expectations from: Anthony Hopkins. Instead of investing his role with the gravitas needed of the King of the gods, he seems to be sleepwalking through his role as Odin Allfather, coming across more like a soap opera dad, albeit a well-meaning one. Even the scene in which he banishes Thor lacks the needed tension and emotion, and his confrontation with Loki makes him appear more needy than commanding.
Surprisingly, Aussie Chris Hemsworth makes for a decent Thor, giving the role as much depth and believability as the stilted script allows. After the extreme heaviness and weirdness of Black Swan, Natalie Portman seems to be enjoying a little break with this role, but is thoroughly unconvincing as a highly-trained physicist. The side characters also fail to make their mark, from the warriors three to Loki himself. Surprisingly, Idris Elba’s Heimdall is probably the most convincing Asgardian there is, despite the fact that his being black (there were no black Vikings, to the best of my knowledge) caused outraged purists, myself included, to take to the blogosphere in protest.
But ultimately, the lack of real energy and conflict, and the desire to give the film mass market appeal rob it of whatever soul it may have possessed. The sets lack the necessary grandeur, the fight scenes lack the needed tension and the CGI is unremarkable at best. Even the weapons and armour of the Asgardians seem plastic and unrealistic. But if you’re watching this purely to get acquainted with another superhero, and if you’re the kind of person who likes searching for easter eggs and clues for upcoming movies, then this one should work just fine for you. Just stick around until after the end credits if you want a glimpse of what the 2012 Avengers movie may hold.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, May 29th, 2011.