Superheroes are like pop songs: there’s a zillion of them on the market, but only a few become breakout hits. And superhero teams are like albums: a couple of good singles and a whole bunch of filler.
The Avengers, for sure, got more than their fair share of radio play, what with Captain America and Iron Man and The Hulk. But despite his rank as Founding Member, Thor was always a track buried on the B-side.
Thor’s literal strength was also his figurative weakness: he was a god, while comic books were ultimately supposed to be about humans. And he was especially ill-suited for Marvel, which was (at least during the era when I was reading comics) all about teenage angst and relatability, neither of which Thor brought to the table. Thus, he struck me as less a character and more a literal deus ex machine, whose main function was to call down a huge bolt of lightning when The Avengers had been written into a corner.
So I didn’t expect much from the film, and was pleasantly surprised by the opening sequence, which is set in New Mexico and completely dietyfree. That lasts just long enough for you to think that the story will be about Earth rather than about Asgard. But: yeah no. Ten minutes in the movie switches focus to Odin’s Hallowed Halls, and camps out there for a fourth of the running time. It reminded me of the prologue on the Lord of the Rings trilogy, except that was 10 minutes of exposition for 540 minutes of story instead of 30 for 120.
Thor’s arrogance eventually ticks off his old man, and he is banished to Earth to learn some humility. That he is expected to do this while being hit on by Natalie Portman is a major plot flaw, but we’ll allow it because, hey: Natalie Portman. Meanwhile, back in Asgard, brother Loki realizes that his true calling is to become a Total Jerk, and he does a bunch of underhanded stuff to usurp the throne.
Anyway, after an hour of running around the desert shirtless, Thor regains his powers, heads for home, and strives to do right by Dad.
Idiot, you sent me to New Mexico! Burning Man is in Nevaaaaaaada!!
I mostly went to see this film in the hopes that it would suck, allowing me to declare “It’s Thorible!” to anyone who asked. Alas, it wasn’t that bad. In fact, Thor managed to be pretty good despite running afoul of my Superhero Movie Pet Peeve #2. To wit:
The whole story is self-contained. This is when the hero causes the very problem he is fighting to solve, or is just struggling to save his own miserable skin. I understand the point of making the final battle personal for the protagonist, but these circular plots often seem like the hero is more motivated by a desire to undo his mistakes … than do anything, you know, heroic.
I’m glad I wrote that back in 2008, so it doesn’t look like I am just whining about this issue now. (Instead it looks like I’ve been whining about this issue for three straight years, a vast improvement I am sure.) In the case of Thor, the film fails The Great Superhero Movie Self-Containment Test, which consists of a single question: would it have been better for the world if the protagonist had never existed? I’m sure all the SHIELD agents who got punched in the nose for standing around a hammer, as well as the people who owned the buildings that were blow’d up by Giant Norse Robot, would have been happy if Thor had opted for a staycation.
Still! Kinda fun! And Kenneth Branagh turned out to be a wise choice for director of this Hamlet for Dummies, chock full of royal intrigue and doggerel-as-dialogue. It fails as a superhero film but, in an era in which every third film has a leading man in a cowl, that’s ain’t so bad.