Skip to main content

How did you get inside that cloud? Also, how could you eat an entire box of Pop-Tarts and still be hungry?

Thor
(2011)

(SPOILERS) Thor gets several things very right, suggesting Marvel were shrewd to offset their nervousness over a magical/supernatural, cod-Shakespearean departure from their semi-realist pictures so far by casting Sir Kenneth Branagh as director. Being a luvvie, he's right at home with theatrical tones erupting from thespians hamming it up. Unfortunately, he's also a movie director of negligible pedigree, one who thinks moving the camera a lot represents style and that Dutch angles are evidence of auteurism. There’s not all that much hyperactivity in Thor, the less the pity – even the Dutch angles are more subdued than one’s accustomed to – as its biggest disappointment is that it fails to dig into its cosmic absurdity and really relish the material.


As it is, the movie's pretty much what you’d expect of a budget-conscious representation of a fantastical realm, big on not-very-interactive soundstage CGI and performers in slightly daft costumes (some of them more so for forgoing imitating the actual "ridiculous" costumes of the comics). I say budget-conscious, but at $150m Thor didn't come cheap, which rather underlines the importance of picking a director with more of a sensibility for such spectacle (the blame can’t all be laid at Ken's door; judging by the scene fighting the Destroyer, the effects team had peanuts left in the kitty by that point).  Pretty much everyone previously in the running as director would have been more interesting (Sam Raimi’s version would surely have been kinetic fun, and then there were Matthew Vaughn, Guillermo del Toro and DJ Caruso). 


Branagh's hyperreal world is rather vanilla, matching most of his for-hire big studio efforts are (CinderellaMurder on the Orient Express). Don’t get me wrong, he doesn’t do anything terribly wrong, and as noted he does more than right by his actors, but overall, he doesn’t do anything much righter than Joe Johnston did on Captain America: The First Avenger. This is the Marvel tradition after all; get a workman in who'll service the brand rather than imprint too much personality onto the finished product. Even when that trend has been bucked to some degree – James Gunn, Taika Waititi, Shane Black – it has been in a very economical fashion, as all three came cheap.


OdinYou are vain, greedy, cruel boy!
ThorAnd you are an old man and a fool!

If First Avenger entirely fails to serve up engaging characters, though, Thor largely succeeds. About the worst you can say is that Natalie Portman's Jane Foster is a non-starter; she occasionally gets to smile, but the movie mostly just swallows her up (she hasn’t had much luck with blockbusters). Also superfluous are Thor's merry band of comrades (Ray Stevenson, Josh Dallas, Jaimie Alexander and Tadanobu Asano) and Idris Elba’s gatekeeper. 


But Kat Dennings reels off some memorable lines ("How did you get inside that cloud? Also, how could you eat an entire box of Pop-Tarts and still be hungry?"; "You know, for a crazy homeless person, he’s pretty cut"), even if she has more presence in the sequel, while Stellan Skarsgård enjoys a drinking session with the Norse god as well as delivering forced references to Bruce Banner. Although, his best scene is directed by Joss Whedon (post-credits). Then there’s Ant, doing what needs to be done as Odin, which is to cash a cheque and lend cue-card gravitas.


One thing Thor more than proves is that the public will embrace a piggy-eyed superhero. We dodged a bullet when Daniel Craig passed on the part (unless he did it completely deadpan, à la the Stat, I doubt he'd have carried the humour any better than his Friends from the North co-star Chris Eccleston can), and Chris Hemsworth brings just the right combination of brio, vanity, egoism and genuineness. The problems he encounters are more in the nature of Thor's truncated arc, required to go from banished ("Run back home, little princess"), petulant youth to worthy of his hammer in double-quick time (the Excalibur shenanigans are nicely done, however). The picture is very precisely divided in these terms, Thor losing the hammer at the thirty-minute mark, trying and failing to raise it at the hour point and then finally succeeding at ninety minutes, serving to emphasise the schematic, playing-it-safe structuring. 


ThorYou think me strange?

Thor is built on such calculation, on how to integrate an unlikely and untested – to Marvel and Kevin Feige at that point, in hindsight underestimating an audience that had flocked to Tolkien less than a decade earlier – fantasy element into its "grounded" world of advance technology and mutants. The answer they came up with was two-fold, although they’ve since realised such trappings are rather superfluous and that people will just go with it. One was to emphasise that Asgard still abides by the rules of science – talk of wormholes, how the Bifrost Bridge is an Einstein-Rosen one – and even have Thor come out and say it (of science and magic, "I come from a place where they’re one and the same"). The other was to go the Masters of the Universe route and hedge bets with a Crocodile Dundee/Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home Thor-out-of-Asgard plotline that comprises the movie's sandwich filling. To be fair, that forms a crucial part of his Marvel heritage, but the light-heartedness of the approach is all culture-clash comedy.


ThorThis drink, I like it… ANOTHER!

And it works, for the most part. Thor smashes a coffee cup on the floor of a diner in celebration of a caffeine hit, enters Pet Palace with the exhortation "I need a horse!" only to be told they don’t have any (of the pets on offer he requires "One large enough to ride"). He gets pissed with Eric, or gets Eric pissed, at any rate ("He’s fine. We drank, we fought – he made his ancestors proud") and his antiquated speech is an effectively sustained source of mild amusement ("Know this, son of Coul"). If one were to criticise, the approach stresses how frivolous his learning arc is; both Tony Stark and Stephen Strange have had to become better people to earn the superhero mantle, and while Thor's fall and rise at least represents a different take, it comes too easy.


ThorThere'll never be a wiser king than you, or a better father. I have much to learn. I know that now. Someday, perhaps, I shall make you proud.
OdinYou've already made me proud.

If Thor is transferred to the screen surprisingly well (not giving him the helmet really is a cop-out, though), his brother, "the great manipulator" is the movie’s unqualified triumph. I don’t think Hiddleston would have cut it as Thor (which he was up for); I haven’t seen him anything where he isn’t smooth and refined, and as such, he's perfect for the silver tongued one. It’s amusing to see his manipulations of his blockhead brother, involving to witness his discovery of his true parentage, and more engaging than Thor's plotline to learn that all he really wants is to earn the respect of a father he believes favours his natural born son over him (and let’s face it, he does).


ThorWhy have you done this?
LokiTo prove to father that I am a worthy son! When he wakes, I will have saved his life, I will have destroyed that race of monsters, and I will be the true heir to the throne!
ThorYou can’t kill an entire race!
LokiWhy not? And what is this new-found love for the Frost Giants? You could have killed them all with your bare hands!
ThorI’ve changed.
LokiSo have I. Now fight me!


Thor has changed in rather forced fashion, but Loki really hasn't, except in as much as he’s no longer disguising his impulses from his nearest. On a basic level, there’s something more appealing about a character using his brains to best his opponents, be that through words or illusion. And his letting go of his brother's hand at the climax represents a more "heroic" gesture than many a climax, since it gives him the courage of his convictions. Still, like Eric, his best scene is the Whedon-directed teaser for Avengers ("Well, I guess that’s worth a look"). It’s for good reason that he’s considered the most successful of the MCU's villains, and more popular than a good number of their bona fide superheroes.


Agent CoulsonI'm sorry, Ms Foster, but we're the good guys.

Other aspects of the movie are less impressive. The Frost Giants never take on any kind of threat or menace, something that feels even more lacking in the wake of Game of Thrones’ aesthetically similar White Walkers (and Colm Feore is entirely underserved as King Laufey). SHIELD's also present and unnecessarily intrusive, naturally. Their requisition of Jane’s equipment at least sets them out as an establishment presence one should be suspicious of, but the "eyes up high" sequence devoted to the epic fail that is Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) means he is introduced as he means to go on – an irrelevance.


JaneI still don’t think you're the God of Thunder. But you ought to be!

Thor closes out the Phase One solo superhero efforts, and the takeaway is faintly underwhelming. Iron Man is the only genuine knock-it-out-of-the-park win among them, making Joss Whedon's achievement with Avengers all the more laudable (it's easy to regard it as a fait accompli in retrospect). It’s questionable how sustainable the series would have been had Avengers not inflated grosses for all subsequent outings (Ant-Man aside, arguably). Thor did respectably, much more so than The First Avenger, but neither came close to Iron Man, and Thor has arguably only come into his own through capitalising on the humorous potential of the first instalment in Ragnarok (whether that took it too far is another conversation).


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Popular posts from this blog

I’m smarter than a beaver.

Prey (2022) (SPOILERS) If nothing else, I have to respect Dan Trachtenberg’s cynical pragmatism. How do I not only get a project off the ground, but fast-tracked as well? I know, a woke Predator movie! Woke Disney won’t be able to resist! And so, it comes to pass. Luckily for Prey , it gets to bypass cinemas and so the same sorry fate of Lightyear . Less fortunately, it’s a patience-testing snook cocking at historicity (or at least, assumed historicity), in which a young, pint-sized Comanche girl who wishes to hunt and fish – and doubtless shoot to boot – with the big boys gets to take on a Predator and make mincemeat of him. Well, of course , she does. She’s a girl, innit?

I’m the famous comedian, Arnold Braunschweiger.

Last Action Hero (1993) (SPOILERS) Make no mistake, Last Action Hero is a mess. But even as a mess, it might be more interesting than any other movie Arnie made during that decade, perhaps even in his entire career. Hellzapoppin’ (after the 1941 picture, itself based on a Broadway revue) has virtually become an adjective to describe films that comment upon their own artifice, break the fourth wall, and generally disrespect the convention of suspending disbelief in the fictions we see parading across the screen. It was fairly audacious, some would say foolish, of Arnie to attempt something of that nature at this point in his career, which was at its peak, rather than playing it safe. That he stumbled profoundly, emphatically so since he went up against the behemoth that is Jurassic Park (slotted in after the fact to open first), should not blind one to the considerable merits of his ultimate, and final, really, attempt to experiment with the limits of his screen persona.

If you ride like lightning, you're going to crash like thunder.

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) (SPOILERS) There’s something daringly perverse about the attempt to weave a serious-minded, generation-spanning saga from the hare-brained premise of The Place Beyond the Pines . When he learns he is a daddy, a fairground stunt biker turns bank robber in order to provide for his family. It’s the kind of “only-in-Hollywood” fantasy premise you might expect from a system that unleashed Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man and Point Break on the world. But this is an indie-minded movie from the director of the acclaimed Blue Valentine ; it demands respect and earnest appraisal. Unfortunately it never recovers from the abject silliness of the set-up. The picture is littered with piecemeal characters and scenarios. There’s a hope that maybe the big themes will even out the rocky terrain but in the end it’s because of this overreaching ambition that the film ends up so undernourished. The inspiration for the movie

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) (SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron ’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison. Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War , Infinity Wars I & II , Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok . It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions ( Iron Man II ), but there are points in Age of Ultron whe

Death to Bill and Ted!

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) (SPOILERS) The game of how few sequels are actually better than the original is so well worn, it was old when Scream 2 made a major meta thing out of it (and it wasn’t). Bill & Ted Go to Hell , as Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was originally called, is one such, not that Excellent Adventure is anything to be sneezed at, but this one’s more confident, even more playful, more assured and more smartly stupid. And in Peter Hewitt it has a director with a much more overt and fittingly cartoonish style than the amiably pedestrian Stephen Herrick. Evil Bill : First, we totally kill Bill and Ted. Evil Ted : Then we take over their lives. My recollection of the picture’s general consensus was that it surpassed the sleeper hit original, but Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregator suggests a less universal response. And, while it didn’t rock any oceans at the box office, Bogus Journey and Point Break did quite nicely for Keanu Reev

I think it’s pretty clear whose side the Lord’s on, Barrington.

Monte Carlo or Bust aka  Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969) (SPOILERS) Ken Annakin’s semi-sequel to Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines tends to be rather maligned, usually compared negatively to its more famous predecessor. Which makes me rather wonder if those expressing said opinion have ever taken the time to scrutinise them side by side. Or watch them back to back (which would be more sensible). Because Monte Carlo or Bust is by far the superior movie. Indeed, for all its imperfections and foibles (not least a performance from Tony Curtis requiring a taste for comic ham), I adore it. It’s probably the best wacky race movie there is, simply because each set of competitors, shamelessly exemplifying a different national stereotype (albeit there are two pairs of Brits, and a damsel in distress), are vibrant and cartoonish in the best sense. Albeit, it has to be admitted that, as far as said stereotypes go, Annakin’s home side win

This entire edifice you see around you, built on jute.

Jeeves and Wooster 3.3: Cyril and the Broadway Musical  (aka Introduction on Broadway) Well, that’s a relief. After a couple of middling episodes, the third season bounces right back, and that's despite Bertie continuing his transatlantic trip. Clive Exton once again plunders  Carry On, Jeeves  but this time blends it with a tale from  The Inimitable Jeeves  for the brightest spots, as Cyril Basington-Basington (a sublimely drippy Nicholas Hewetson) pursues his stage career against Aunt Agatha's wishes.

Just because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character.

Pulp Fiction (1994) (SPOILERS) From a UK perspective, Pulp Fiction ’s success seemed like a fait accompli; Reservoir Dogs had gone beyond the mere cult item it was Stateside and impacted mainstream culture itself (hard to believe now that it was once banned on home video); it was a case of Tarantino filling a gap in the market no one knew was there until he drew attention to it (and which quickly became over-saturated with pale imitators subsequently). Where his debut was a grower, Pulp Fiction hit the ground running, an instant critical and commercial success (it won the Palme d’Or four months before its release), only made cooler by being robbed of the Best Picture Oscar by Forrest Gump . And unlike some famously-cited should-have-beens, Tarantino’s masterpiece really did deserve it.

Poetry in translation is like taking a shower with a raincoat on.

Paterson (2016) (SPOILERS) Spoiling a movie where nothing much happens is difficult, but I tend to put the tag on in a cautionary sense much of the time. Paterson is Jim Jarmusch at his most inert and ambient but also his most rewardingly meditative. Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver and modest poet living in Paterson, New Jersey, is a stoic in a fundamental sense, and if he has a character arc of any description, which he doesn’t really, it’s the realisation that is what he is. Jarmusch’s picture is absent major conflict or drama; the most significant episodes feature Paterson’s bus breaking down, the English bull terrier Marvin – whom Paterson doesn’t care for but girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) dotes on – destroying his book of poetry, and an altercation at the local bar involving a gun that turns out to be a water pistol. And Paterson takes it all in his stride, genial to the last, even the ruination of his most earnest, devoted work (the only disappoint

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.