"Thor" looks content, but at the same time is waiting for something wonderful to happen. After watching his film, I know the feeling. (Photo: Associated Press via Marvel Studios)

I finally saw “Thor,” the film adaptation of the Marvel Comics mythos based (loosely) on the character of the same name from Norse mythology. I sought refuge from God’s Judgment by going to another for escape, only to receive a hearty but unenthusiastic pat on the back.

In fairness, I did enjoy myself to an extent. It was a fun movie, and there were few glaring shortcomings. The dialogue and scene setups suffered from the dredgery of action film formulitis, but there have been far worse screenplays brought to life recently (in particular Robert Redford’s “The Conspirator,” a truly terrible and inorganic script made worse by overacting).

Everything else, however, was done adequately well. The casting was, for the most part, effective. Hopkins was a good fit for this version of Odin, played as a peacemaking King concerned with his ruthlessly aggressive elder son Thor and the younger Loki, who himself battles an obvious inferiority complex. The respective actors were able to portray not only their roles effectively but their relationships; at no point did you feel the trust Thor had for Loki waver, and to the credit of the script, it doesn’t give him much reason to. One of the main drags on the Thor comics under so many writers was that Loki was so far over the top he was hard to swallow and his treatment from his peers even harder. Why would anyone in Asgard trust someone who’s burned them so many times? Instead, “Thor” paints Loki as a jealous who is so effective in his manipulation that nobody – at times not even Loki himself – is aware of the depth of his deceptions and past or present trespasses. Actor Tom Hiddleton plays this balance well, only making a spectacle of the character when the character makes a spectacle of himself, particularly when his manipulations culminate in his ascendancy and his villainous status is fully realized. At no point do you question Loki’s motives or actions, and they come across as organic given the circumstances.

The same unfortunately can’t be said for Natalie Portman, who in this film collects a paycheck in the most pathetic and embarrassing manner possible as a wholly unbelievable pixie physicist, phoning in a performance so distractingly pedestrian at times that I nearly groaned. Chris Helmsworth, owing to his far more uncertain status in Hollywood, doest put in an effort and is far more believable despite having the more boisterous and ridiculous role.

The biggest problem in the film, however, comes with the fact that like so many other Marvel efforts, it seems more care was put into avoiding the pitfalls of comic book films rather than reaching to make the film better. “Thor” is enjoyable, but with such great resources at their disposal and especially the brilliant Kenneth Brannagh at the helm, the film revels in its mediocrity in a manner that’s equal parts disappointing and disillusioning. It’s a fine action film, but wholly absent is the sense of an epic that should accompany a character and events so powerful and grand in scale. “Thor” doesn’t reach or strive to be more than it is, a quality that made Christopher Nolan’s two films in the “Batman” franchise – “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” – universally praised and adored. Fans loathe the comparison and call it unfair, but how fair is it that so much money, hype, and talent is put forth towards a movie that presents itself as an all-out epic but then performs as a prelude to another, presumably better, film? Is it fair that, like “Iron Man 2,” we are asked to simply look past the film as a piece in its own right and instead think of it as a pre-requisite for a later course?

Ultimately, “Thor” doesn’t strive to be anything other than not bad. Which is fine, except the folks behind this budding franchise of comic book superhero movies culminating in the get-along gang smashfest “The Avengers” are clearly more interested in the end game than the journey itself. The result is a film that strives to portray the story of the Norse God of Thunder but instead delivers on a passable action movie starring a big guy with a magic hammer.

“Thor” promises a romance, but only delivers on a one-night stand. Yet, somehow, you’re the one leaving money on the counter as you leave.

Speaking of which, check out this Associated Press headline from Sunday afternoon:

Stay classy, AP. Stay classy.

6 Responses to “Thor” passable, but revels in its mediocrity

  1. Ann says:

    What a shocker! I didn’t think it would live up to recent comic book movies based on the previews and Natalie Portman. LOVED “Watchmen” and even “Iron Man”.

  2. Steve says:

    I loved the scenery, costumes, and acting of this film. Thor and his universe felt more like Flash Gordon than Superman, and that’s a good thing. I think the love story was the only truly mediocre part of this movie, actually. Owe it to the fact that all superhero movies now seem obliged to include a romantic subplot, the highly esteemed Dark Knight film included. When a superhero movie can be confident enough in its characters and its story that it doesn’t need to try to go after all audiences at once, that’s when great films will be made instead of merely good superhero films. Instead of throwing in a love story “for the ladies,” they should just focus on making good characters and focused stories. Because ladies like those things, too. They would have enjoyed a story about a two brothers vying for the attention of their father if it was well-told, whether Thor was making kissy time with Natalie Portman or not. And I wouldn’t say Portman’s performance was terrible per se, because if it was terrible, I probably would have remembered something about it.

    • Steve - Really good point re: the romance angle and something I was going to touch on, but didn’t because I wanted to focus on the movie rather than writing a treatise on comic book movies. That said, in short: you’re absolutely right. In “Batman Begins” the romantic sub-plot really weighed that movie down, and it did in this as well (though I don’t think the two are comparable in terms of quality and execution). What made “The Dark Knight” the better Batman film was not just the addition of some great cast members, but also the fact that it wasn’t distracted by traditional and sexist notions of what appeals to the female demographic. It seemed almost silly to shoe-horn it into “Batman Begins” and even sillier in “Thor.” It is worth noting as well that the first “Iron Man” had the tension between Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, but did not develop into a full-on romantic sub-plot and was all the better for it.

      Other areas I left out because they really didn’t factor into the review/make it a better film: I didn’t love the costumes, but it was going to be very hard not to make them appear ridiculous and I do commend them for not crossing that line. The scenery was fantastic in the throne room and especially the Rainbrow Bridge. Idris Elba was such a great choice as Heimdall and with his placement and costume was hands down the most visually stunning aspect of the film. Going back to scenery, however, the choice of a small New Mexico town was a lazy counterpoint to Asgard and really dragged the film down with what felt like goofy interludes with characters that had no right being on the set of “The Last Picture Show.”

  3. Sue says:

    I loved this movie – enough that I’ve already seen it twice in the theater. I’ll admit – there is a certain quality of the film that appeals to me that maybe doesn’t appeal to you.

    But I’m also a fan of comics and the movies based on them, and the only complaint I had about this movie is the same one I’ve had about others – it felt like they tried to squeeze too much of a 50+ year old story into one movie.

  4. ebs123 says:

    I did not see the movie but I think that its purpose is to set up a back story for the Avengers movie.

  5. kimelodic says:

    I usually like the comic based action films, but this one fell short for me… way short.

    “..Natalie Portman, who in this film collects a paycheck in the most pathetic and embarrassing manner possible as a wholly unbelievable pixie physicist, phoning in a performance so distractingly pedestrian at times that I nearly groaned.” – I did groan. Loudly. Rolled my eyes and sighed quiet a few times as well.

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