Friday, May 6, 2011

Thor

Well, I went to the midnight premiere of Thor last night.  It was a very enjoyable experience and I had a great time.  But, as with all things in my life, I can't just enjoy it.  I have to take all the joy out of it by picking it apart until it has no soul left.  So, with that intent clearly laid out before us, I hereby present my thoughts on Thor.

Also, be warned that this will contain major spoilers for the film.  If you care about those kinds of things (I do) don't read on.  Also, and this is less discussed but perhaps more critical, this will be a review.  Which means that I will be giving you my opinion on quite a lot of things.  If you do not want to be biased when/if you do see it and want time to formulate your own opinion on the film, I would advise you to not read this.

Alright then.  Moving on.

Thor.  The God of Thunder.  The Son of Odin.  These are big titles for a big character.  Larger than life in fact.  One of the greatest challenges facing any film starring Thor is to get past his larger-than-life existence and find the human personality that we can all relate to.  I would say that this movie succeeds with some success, but it is by no means perfect.

Chris Hemsworth's portrayal is very well done, and I did find myself liking Thor almost immediately upon seeing him.  Hemsworth brings that human quality to the God of Thunder early and often throughout the movie.  Hemsworth was able to sell me the humanity of each moment.  Of course, the actual script is another matter.  A lot of cheating is done to take Thor through the character journey that is integral to the story.  While Hemsworth may be able to sell the emotion of the character, the script is unable to sell me on the actual source of that emotion, resulting in a hollow feeling throughout the pivotal moments of the film.

As will be blatantly obvious to anyone who has been paying attention to my blog, I am a character man.  A movie can have the most astonishing special affects, the greatest action sequences, and the most epic scope, but if it lacks characters that are interesting, that grow and change, and that I care about, I will not like the movie.  Unfortunately, the character of Thor does not pass this test for me.  The main problem is that his development is not earned.  By the end of the movie, Thor is clearly a different person.  However, looking back on the events of the film, it is extremely difficult to say exactly WHY he is a different person.  It seems as though he just sort of fell ass-backwards into character development.  While this may provide superficial satisfaction, it is ultimately lacking in substance.

But wait, you say!  He fell in love!  That's what changed him!  Which is precisely my problem.  Why did Thor fall in love exactly?  What reason was ever given for him and Jane Foster to be in love other than he was the male lead and she the female lead?  She hits him with a car, realizes he is integral to her research, finds out he is a very peculiar and out of place man and they fall in love.  This sounds like a bad romantic comedy, not a realistically developed romantic relationship.  Their relationship did not grow organically from the events of the story; rather, it was forced into place by a necessity for a character-change catalyst.  As a result, Thor's promise to return to Jane and her single-minded determination to find him once the Bifrost Bridge has been destroyed do not come across as a grand romantic tragedy between two separated souls, but a hollow, superficial, and unearned ending.  While I can still feel the emotion of their scenes together, due mainly to the acting abilities of both Hemsworth and Natalie Portman (who is absolutely adorable through this whole film), I have trouble buying it or finding it in any way organic.

Another argument could be made that the catalyst for Thor's character growth not being a result of his romance with Jane but the moment when he finds he cannot lift the hammer.  By casting the spell on the hammer to make it only liftable by someone worthy, Odin also forces Thor to grow up in order to claim his true power.  This argument does hold a little bit more weight, I'll admit.  Being unable to lift his own hammer is a powerful symbol of having lost his identity.  But Thor must learn that power is not a birthright.  It must be earned.  Unfortunately, this doesn't really solve the problem of HOW Thor learns the virtues of wisdom and compassion.  While the moment Thor fails to lift the hammer is a fantastic start for his character journey, ultimately it is just that.  A start.  It brings him down to rock bottom, so that he may be built up again.  But, this building up doesn't happen naturally, it is contrived into being.  The moment the hammer returns to Thor after his self-sacrifice comes across as the exact opposite of what was intended.  It was supposed to be the earning of power, but considering there is no justification for the process through which he became worthy of that power, the moment is the exact opposite of earned.

Of course, that is not to say that all of the character work in this movie is bad.  Far from it, in fact.  Where the characterization of Thor may have fallen flat, Loki's character never failed to be interesting, dynamic, and compelling.  There is a risk when doing a comic book movie that you will make your villain a comic book villain: someone who has no character depth to speak of and only cares about doing evil for evil's sake or because they are crazy.  This is not Loki.  Every step of the way in this film, I can understand and even sympathize with Loki's actions.  Unregarded by his father, constantly in the shadow of his more loved brother, Loki's natural jealousy turned sour in a way that can only be described as Shakespearian. (I wonder why they picked Kenneth Branagh to direct?)

Loki is not evil. He performs some evil actions, not the least of which is the murder/attempted murder of innocents and even his own brother.  But each of these actions is motivated by a desire to impress his father: to get the love and respect from Odin that he always deserved but was always given to Thor.  The fact that Loki is actually the son of Laufey the Frost Giant is merely a plot contrivance and a brilliant mislead as to Loki's true intentions.  He even says himself, upon killing Laufey, that he considers himself the son of Odin.  No, Loki's evil actions are not due to his heritage.  They are the twisted expression of a need to gain the love and respect of his father.  This is what good characterization is.

So, while the characterization of Thor was lacking in substance, the story of the two brothers was not.  Every scene Loki and Thor had together was among the film's best.  The weight and emotion of these scenes felt real in every way the Thor/Jane scenes did not.  Tom Hiddleston's performance as Loki was exceptionally nuanced and only made me want to see more of him.

Ultimately, despite its flaws, this was an enjoyable film.  It was a prodigal son story with a mythological twist.  The visuals were simply stunning and the world-creation was absolutely fantastic.  The action was legitimately thrilling, and I was very caught up in the story of the movie.  Considering just how much fun I had watching the film, and the exceptional storytelling involved in the story of Thor and Loki, I give this film a thumbs up.  Chris Hemsworth played a fantastic Thor that was sympathetic and easy to root for (as Hawkeye points out in the second act.)  I cannot wait to see what he can do with the character when he is given a good script.  And with Joss Whedon both writing and directing The Avengers, I'm not too concerned about that.

Final Thoughts:

  • Favorite Scene:  This is tough, but I think I'm going to have to go with the scene where Loki visits Thor on earth in the SHIELD base to tell him that Odin is dead and he cannot come back to Asgard.  The distraught look on Thor's face really makes me feel for the guy.  He's at his lowest point here: he cannot wield his hammer, cannot go back to Asgard, and believes himself responsible for his father's death.  I love that he naively trusts what Loki tells him.  Loki can lie like nobody's business, but I also feel like there was a twinge of true regret in Loki's power play.  I think that, in the end, it is clear that the two brothers do indeed love each other, which serves to only amplify the tragedy
  • Ooh!  Ooh!  That bit where Loki tries to wield Thor's hammer and finds himself unworthy is absolutely fantastic.  You can tell that he tries almost nonchalantly out of curiosity, but once he finds he cannot lift it, the true weight of what that means to him is written all over his face.  No matter how hard he tries, he can never seem to be as good as his brother.
  • I didn't care for Thor's remark at the end to Odin about how there could be no better father.  Considering that if Odin had been a better father and not shown clear favoritism towards Thor over Loki, much of the nastiness of the story could have been avoided, this comment seemed particularly odd to me.  I've decided to chalk it up to Thor's naivety.
  • I appreciated that the movie followed the long tradition from the comics of having Odin go into Odinsleep whenever the plot demanded he not be around and wake up only when it was story-convenient.
  • I was annoyed with all of the shots that had the horizon line going diagonally across the screen, especially during the first act.  In my opinion, such shots are best used sparingly, if at all.
  • Best Stan Lee cameo yet!
  • The idea that all of the Marvel Studios exist in the same universe is really fun.  There was a subtle Hulk reference, a more obvious Iron Man reference, and an appearance by Hawkeye, who will no doubt get more attention in The Avengers.  Also, who could forget Nick Fury revealing the friggin' cosmic cube after the credits!?
  • Comic book fans will of course know that Dr. Donald Blake was originally Thor's alter ego before it was decided that it would be better just to have him be Thor all the time.  Clever shoutout.
  • I was impressed with how many times this movie made me laugh out loud.  "Another!"  Classic.
  • Heimdall was a badass.  'Nuff said.

2 comments:

  1. I like the character Loki the most for some reasons. His intention was understandable. The most touching part of him was the almost ending of the movie, Thor, when he apologized to his father for failing to impress him and committed suicide. He didn't seem to have true friends in the movie which was sad. I totally think Odin could have done a better job in taking care of his adopted son. He started up un-evil but his intention was built by his father. In one part of the movie, he mentioned that he didn't want to be the king but wanted the equal love from his father like Thor, that told us his intention. I really hope he would turn back to a good people in any point of the movie coming up in the future. He really made a good character especially if he turn good in the later movie.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I agree. The movie did a really good job of making Loki an effective yet sympathetic villain. And that final moment when he lets go of the stuff to be sucked into space was truly sad, despite the evil he had done.

    ReplyDelete