Right out of the gate, Thor has a very different feel than its three predecessors in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You want to know why? It’s not because the opening scene recalls Twister so closely that Natalie Portman has to clarify that she is an astrophysicist and “not a storm chaser.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that, to be clear; if you’re gonna throw back to some vintage 90s disaster-movie schlock, you could do a hell of a lot worse than Twister. And it’s not because Kat Dennings, fresh off of, uh, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist in 2008, is in the mix, although that sure is random, and I do wonder how that casting decision was made. No, the reason Thor feels like such a departure for the series, at least to me, is this: although the previous movies are inarguably part of the “superhero” genre, and are themselves responsible for the genre’s somewhat inexplicable, money-printing popularity, the superhero protagonists of those movies, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, are both brilliant scientists who scienced their way into superhero-dom. Implausible, sure, but still purportedly explainable within the universe as it’s described to us viewers. Thor, the protagonist of Thor, on the other hand, lives in space and shoots lightning out of a massive hammer, and the only explanation offered for those qualities is that, well, he’s a Norse god, goddammit, and quit asking so many questions.
That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of enjoyment to be had in taking in the pyrotechnics, but Thor does feel like it belongs in an entirely different movie series, one significantly more divorced from the strictures of quasi-realism that Iron Man and Hulk half-heartedly proffered. Once I got over that initial shock, though (“shock” because that’s what Thor does to you with his lightning bolts, get it?!) and decided to treat Thor as the kind-of silly diversion it seems to want to be, I had a good, if not quite transcendent, time with it.
But while we’re on the subject of silly: man, some of these costumes and sets. Asgard, home of Thor and Loki and Odin and a slew of other Norse warriors, exudes very heavy notes of sticky, sticky vibe, and I’m pretty sure it’s an amalgamation of every World of Warcraft zone I explored back in 2004. There are crazy moons hanging all akimbo up in the sky; pointy, mirror-plated spires jutting upwards; and conveniently placed portals designed for teleportation to, you know...the other zones. Also, that “Bifrost” that Idris Elba is guarding? I wasn’t born yesterday, Marvel: that’s Rainbow Road from Mario Kart, and I won’t hear otherwise. The costumes are a similar mix of genuinely cool and kind-of-embarrassing: Thor’s dark chainmail and heavy red cape effectively convey “royal warrior”, helped in no small part by the fact that they’re sported by one Chris Hemsworth, beefy as all get-out; and Idris Elba’s Heimdall is truly, madly, deeply badass, and I’m appalled that he never got to actually cleave anyone in half with his gibungous sword; but Loki’s default garb is distressingly Green Ranger-esque, and his helmet looks so dumb that I immediately understood both why he puts it on so rarely and the origin of his inferiority complex. To be fair, when you’re the costume designer outfitting celestial Norse gods, you’re bound to come up with a few stinkers.
But let’s move on from aesthetics. Thor is a sort of hybrid space soap opera/fish-out-of-water comedy, which to my knowledge is a new genre, and while the juxtaposition of the wildly different tones can be a little jarring, the plot rockets merrily along (a little too briskly in some respects, but I’ll get to that later), and by the time Odin exiles Thor to earth for being a hotheaded ass-kicker who started a war with the Night King from Game of Thrones and Loki starts smirking all suspicious-like, you know a storm’s a-brewin’. Before it hits, though, Thor must acclimatize to Earth, where he has been temporarily stripped of his hammer and his powers and must thus try and act like a regular human, albeit one who happens to look like Chris Hemsworth, so not that regular at all really, at least not judging by the reaction of Natalie Portman, who stumbles across Thor, lurching around in a corn field and yelling about hammers, and instead of being like, “hey, this homeless man could use a hot meal and some medication”, decides to pursue a sexual relationship with him. Thor’s antics on Earth are otherwise funny for all the right reasons, though, and Hemsworth, in 2011 relatively unknown outside of Cabin in the Woods, showcases some legit comedy chops and seems to relish, say, jubilantly smashing his empty coffee mug in an unassuming diner and proclaiming thunderous demands for a top-up. Maggie, my intrepid co-pilot in this exploration of the darkest corners of the MCU, unfavorably compared this section of the movie to A Very Nutty Christmas, a Lifetime movie we had the opportunity to recently experience, wherein a nutcracker magically brought to life must also play-act at being human and then teach humans about the meaning of Christmas and win Melissa Joan Hart’s affection in the process, and Maggie’s certainly not wrong, although I do hold that Thor does it marginally better.
The rest of the story, which involves Thor shacking up with Natalie Portman’s curious, science-based mini-commune, tracking down and reappropriating his hammer after SHIELD and Agent Coulson get their hands on it, and then, in a final showdown that refreshingly does not feature this installment’s Big Bad warping the protagonist’s exact powers for evil purposes, confronting Loki and a huge mech with a toaster oven face on the dusty streets of a New Mexican city. That’s a dramatic oversimplification, but I don’t see much need to address various other plot complications outside of listing them here, since a good number of them seemed dubious at best and/or extraneous: first, there’s a lot of weird, unexplained Norse mysticism (#ThorLore). Odin, for instance, in the middle of a heated conversation with Loki, straight up goes to sleep and then remains asleep for most of the movie’s remaining runtime. My first thought was “heart attack”, but he’s ODIN for chrissake, and when I did some quick googling, I learned that he’d actually entered into a state referred to by Norse scholars as, well, “Odinsleep”. Hmm...okay. Another example: Thor can apparently only regain his strength and full set of special moves (including but not limited to hammer-spinning, lightning quakes, and launching himself around battlefields like Raiden) if he “proves himself worthy” or some similarly fairytale-sounding requirement, and he does that by sacrificing himself to Toasterface. Cool, but again: the rules of this game were not made clear at all.
Happily, that last example works as a lead-in to my remaining big issue with Thor. The first third or so of the movie is spent establishing Thor as the pinnacle of arrogance, a warrior of prodigious strength who listens to no one and is concerned only with himself, a man who takes what he wants and expects to rule Asgard because that’s his birthright and he thinks he’s entitled to it, dearth of leadership qualities be damned. Thor’s personality, though, which is not presented as particularly flexible, especially considering how many hundreds of years he may have spent developing it in space (I’m not sure what the exchange rate on time is up there), is chucked out the window within what appears to be about forty-eight hours of his crash-landing on Earth and meeting Natalie Portman. Now, I recognize that Natalie Portman is attractive, but if the implication is that Thor couldn’t find any comparable lady-warriors in Asgard and it took meeting this Earth-woman to really knock his socks off, that seems mighty questionable, especially considering the movie spends no time at all explaining just what it might be that Thor and Jane like about each other so much. They’re both hot? At some point, Selvig, basically winking and nudging Thor, says to him, “I’ve seen the way she looks at you.” Well yeah, fella - Thor looks like Chris Hemsworth! Everyone’s looking at him that way! I recognize that Thor is a movie featuring famous actors and actresses, and I understand that if I start interrogating why everyone in Hollywood movies is so damn good-looking I’m biting off way more than I can chew, but my problem here is that the only reason the movie proposes for Thor and Jane’s mutual attraction is that they are, in fact, a hot actor and actress. And that only matters because Thor’s attraction to Jane seems to be the basis for his robust personality overhaul and protective feelings towards the whole planet. It wouldn’t matter in, say, The Notebook, because Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling finding each other irresistibly sexy is the whole point of that movie, and the stakes there are far less global.
If it’s not yet clear, there’s not much about Thor’s behavior on Earth I found convincing. By morning number two of his exile, he was serving up scramby eggs for his adopted family of scientists, wearing Jane’s ex-boyfriend’s leftover clothes (Jane’s ex-boyfriend was as big as THOR? She has a type, and it’s “Fucking Humongous”), and to all appearances completely at ease with his new lot in life, which seems like it should be a lot to swallow for a man who expected to rule a colony of warriors in space and continue shooting lightning bolts at will. I won’t go so far as to say I disliked Thor - it made me laugh, and I was entertained throughout, if only because there was so much wacky stuff to gawk at - but it didn’t feel as smart as the Iron Man movies, which, to me, remain the torch-bearers in the MCU at this point in my perilous journey.
Bits & Pieces
- I didn’t pick up on too many tie-ins to previous MCU movies in Thor. Some bystander asked if Toasterface was “one of Stark’s”, which is a nice callback and a fair question; Hawkeye showed up very briefly, and that surprised me, since for some reason I had the impression he was a much later addition to the team; and of course Agent Coulson and SHIELD showed up for a dose of their requisite snark and mystery, respectively.
- I didn’t mention “Lady Sif and the Warriors Three” - Thor’s merry gang of campy warrior buddies - at all because I fully don’t expect to ever see any of them again and they didn’t play any notable role in the story aside from looking like they’d just wandered out of a cosplay convention.
- I had a little trouble keeping straight who is stronger than who in Thor, which I think is the movie’s fault, and that worries me going forward given how many superheroes this universe is about to start juggling. Near the end, Loki staff-lasers Thor off of the side of a building like he’s a pesky moth. I just...I thought Thor was stronger than that, that’s all.
- Kat Dennings’s deadpan comic relief hasn’t aged too well (assuming it was hilarious in 2011). I’d like to live in a world where iPod jokes reign eternal, but, sadly, I do not.
Lewis Beard is an intrepid bloggist of diverse interests writing from his home base in Atlanta. You can find previous noob-centric posts on the MCU at his blog page, www.run4itmarty.com, where you’ll also be able to enjoy his musings on Chick-fil-A’s menu and video games, if that’s your thing. If you’re more into music, head over to www.thewirelight.com.