Review: Thor

[Over the next three weeks, I will be taking a look back at the three movies that are leading up to the release of the Avengers. We start today with Thor.]

The Avengers is a super hero team-up movie and will feature Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Captain America (Chris Evans), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, no really!), Jeremy Renner and Scarlet Johansson as some people I’ve never heard of, and Thor (Chris Hemsworth). In anticipation of this great big mash up I’ve been watching some of the Marvel properties that are involved in tying this whole thing together.   First up on the list was Thor, the 2011 flick staring Hemsworrh, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Kat Dennings, and Stellan Skarsgård.

Thor is in many way two separate movies.   The first is a wholly CGI production focused on Asgard and the succession to its throne. Here we have Hemsworth as Thor getting ready to become the new king before an invasion by ice giants distracts him and eventually gets him exiled to Earth by his angry pop, Hopkins as Odin the All Father, for nearly starting a war with a bunch of blue tinged CGI baddies.   The second movie, and the much more enjoyable part, focuses on Hemsworth’s arrival on Earth, his discovery by Portman, Dennings, and Skarsgard, and the attempted cover up by the Men in Black like S.H.I.E.L.D.

Let me say right up front that Thor is extremely well cast.   Hemsworth is very believable as Thor, his arc of arrogant prick to appreciative son reads a true and while it may lack emotion resonance it never approaches the point of laughable disdain. Hemsworth and Portman also have great chemistry, you really believe that the New York Jewish Pixie and the huge Norwegian Stud really do want to get it on.  Hopkins is perfectly acceptable as Odin and Tom Hiddleston is nice and oily as Loki the Trickster god.   And in the Earth bound portions of the movie Dennings and Skarsgard do a nice job in their standard roles as sarcastic chick and smart guy with Germanic accent.

That being said there is a large disconnect between its Earth and Asgard portions.   The Asgard portions are, quite frankly, utter shit.   The CGI is overwhelming and obvious.   The Ice Giants never attain the level of real threat due to their obvious CGI nature.   My reaction to the Ice Giants was basically, “Ok look, big blue CGI dudes against a CGI background.”   It’s hard to get invested in such a patently artificial threat.   From Thor and his low rent Lord of the Rings crew to Loki’s attempts to seize the throne of Asgard, the whole thing felt very low stakes.  When the bulk or your movies dramatic moments take place in front of a green screen you have a real problem.

The Asgard disconnect was especially highlighted by the Earth sequences.   As noted before Hemsworth and Portman have real chemistry, Skarsgard does his usually good work as the smart guy with the accent and Dennings is a nice addition as the (Political) Science assistant helping Portman seek out the Astrophysics  anomaly that eventually produces Thor.   On top of which Clark Gregg does a nice job as head of the Men in Black like dudes from S.H.I.E.L.D.   All of the Earth bound scenes really pop and have a nice sense of humor and a real sense of danger when actual humans come into play.  There’s some good running around, a big metal dude shows up to stomp some shit, it’s good fun.

Then for some reason we have to return to Asgard, and those scenes featuring Thor and his generically eclectic crew of chums, are completely airless and without any real stakes. It’s hard to get invested in a series of CGI battles centered around the throne of a CGI kingdom, especially when the movie keeps hinting the Hopkins will return from his “Odin Sleep” to affect the outcome anyway.  Sure enough Odin shows up at the last minute, banishes Loki and has a nice little moment where Thor delivers a bit of exposition about how he’s going to be less of a dick from here on out.   Then Thor goes to visit Idris Elba’s (seriously its Stringer Bell in the white-est movie ever) gate keeper character to learn that Portman’s improbably attractive astrophysicist character is still looking for Thor down on Earth.  Roll Credits. All in all about 60% of this movie was unengaging while the engaging portions down are Earth ultimately felt meaningless.

Looking forward Thor does a nice job setting up the character for future iterations.   Hemsworth is very charismatic and it’s easy to see why you’d want to see him in more movies, even if it is to reprise the somewhat boring Thor. Thor also does a nice job of pushing the pieces in place for The Avengers, with Agent Colson, references to Tony Stark, as well as the fact that the big bad in The Avengers will apparently be Loki.  It’s also easy to see the path toward Thor 2, who wouldn’t want to see Hemsworth, Portman, Dennings, and Skarsgard getting into a new series of adventures somewhere in America?   Hopefully the film makers will have the sense to leave the CGI kingdom of Asgard out of the movie the second time around.

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