Thor Review: One Realm and Some Other

Marvel’s Thor hit Netflix recently, giving me a chance to catch up on all the excitement behind its release last year. I caught it just in time, too, with its colossal brother The Avengers currently sweeping box offices. Having now seen them both, it’s clear that they delineate drastically in their intention and value. It is the difference between a filler film and a spectacular one.

Thor gives viewers a world that seems to brim with imagination, but its potential is never realized. It is, quite frankly, the requisite exposition for Thor in preparation for his greater role in The Avengers, as well as for his future ally Hawkeye and the villain Loki. It’s an origins story through and through. Not like Captain America, which expands beyond the origin of the hero toward an ultimate showdown with his antagonist; or even of Iron Man, who has fared better in two movies already.

Thor’s conflict lies with himself, his father Odin, and his mischievous brother Loki (the laser-eyed martian robot doesn’t count). On paper, the Asgardian god of thunder faces familial drama with a layer of political tension. On paper it worked and, I imagine, continues to do so. As I mentioned in my post on The Amazing Spider-Man, comics have the unique advantage of having conflict evolve in a serial fashion. Like good television, the story has room to breathe. As such, I’m afraid much of the endearing and fantastical story of Thor is lost in its movie rendition.

Thor‘s flaws are better exhibited by what is done right. Much about the Asgardian Thor and his world draw the viewer in. I can’t imagine an actor playing the starring role better than Chris Hemsworth (who showed off even more acting bravado with his role in Snow White and The Huntsman). He seems to get exactly what the comic hero is, and he is just serious enough. Exiled to Earth for his hubris, or excessive pride, – a tragic character flaw that can be found as far back as Homer’s The Odyssey – Thor must regain his other-realm nobility and humble himself to goodwill. All the while, his envious brother Loki takes advantage of his brother’s absence and schemes to sit upon the throne himself by various cunning means. This is all well and good, and it is brimming with possibilities to further the story.

There is no lack of vision in the kingdom of Asgard. The CGI backdrops are mostly convincing, but what really grabs the viewer are the incredible costume and set design. The gilded armor of Odin and Loki are majestic to behold as are the brief glimpses of the kingdom beyond. It is unfortunate we are not treated to the rest of the populace apart from their brief presence during the introduction. It makes the otherwise impressive Asgard seem desolate. If the whole city is so built for Thor and his colleagues, it is no wonder that pride brings such problems as it does.

Thor‘s issues stand out all the more because it has a great villain. Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has domestic issues. His envy of Thor’s claim to the throne is amplified by the discovery of his condition as a frost-giant bastard. As a result, he pledges loyalty to neither race but to himself. Lacking the brute strength of his brother, he relies on cunning and trickery to gain power. He is a sympathetic villain because he is wholly driven to gain what Thor took for granted. Hiddleston, like Hemsworth, has full mastery of his character and alone provides as much drama to the plot as one character is able to give.

The problem with this movie is Earth. The humans amount to three scientists, or two and a journalist, or a student.

It doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that one of them is played by Natalie Portman and after a single night of stargazing, the now love-stricken Thor has an epiphany that sets him on a very fast course to regain his power and restore peace to Asgard.

Rhythm returns to Thor during its final act, unsurprisingly, because we are once again in Asgard and at the center of the conflicts that reside there. But by that time it is too late; within ten seconds of the robot’s attack, I was besieged by a series of action shots meant one-by-one to appease the marketers: Dr. Pepper, USA Today, 7-11, and Donut Land. It’s no wonder the small Earthen town is so devoid of color. It lacks for sponsors.

There is a master plot to Thor, but unlike Thor’s hammer, no one seemed to uncover it. At the least, it was a decent exercise for Hemsworth and Hiddleston. Now that The Avengers has succeeded, let’s hope Thor 2 will get some breathing room.

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