Ah, behold, ye Gods.
We have come across the first true landmark of the Marvel Cinematic Universe since its inauguration with Iron Man. Thor is the film with a plot that is perhaps most universe-expanding in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and especially one that ought to appeal to me. No longer are we grounded on Earth, we move to the Cosmos, to the realm of Norse Figures considered Gods but made a little bit more dimensional aliens. We begin to not just place heroes in the same closed conceptual space and see how the space expands, we’re also starting to see just how many corners that space can stretch.
We’re also making bold yet shitty choices and being absolutely dafty with our properties apparently. While attempting to be just a teensy bit more ambitious than The Incredible Hulk was, Thor sinks a bit lower to becoming my least favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe film to date so far, all based on how much of it is a grand misfire from… OK, it’s not fair to claim it is a grand misfire from the very start or that anything isn’t salvageable of the film, but I will get to that once I let off my steam.
…. Whoosah. I mean, even the soundtrack and I say this as a person who everybody who knew me when I was between 16-20 knew how obsessed I was with Dave Grohl.
Anyway, the tale goes about how Thor (Chris Hemsworth), God of Thunder, brother of Loki (Tom Hiddleston), and son of Fragga (Rene Russo) and Odin (Anthony Hopkins – If I need to tell you he phoned this in, you haven’t seen any performance he gave since Titus. My, how the mighty the fallen), is so entitled and spoiled as the Prince of Asgard that he wants to attack the Frost Giants of Jotunheim for “crashing” a party (although I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume not a single partygoer except Odin, Thor, Loki, and Lady Sif and the Warriors Three knew anybody was in Asgard that shouldn’t have been).
That’s not me being cynical to the film, btw, acting like it’s a flaw that Thor is a dislikable prick. That’s deliberate and actually how it goes. At least, I hope it’s deliberate. Whatever, anyway, after picking said fight, retroactively ignoring that Odin tried to clean up any beef he and Frost Giant leader Laufey (Colm Feore), Odin comes to save his ass by expelling him from Asgard and stripping him of his powers until he thinks about what he’s done.
Again, that’s not exaggeration. I promise. That’s the honest truth.
And to prove I’m not involving my bias in this summary, I’m gonna take a deep breath and admit that the movie was kind of getting good at this point. Sure, Kenneth Branagh doesn’t know how to position a camera at all, trying canted angles all over out of his ass (some of those shots so crooked they can’t decide where to stand), and the Bifrost is so underwhelming as just a representation of the way J.J. Abrams thinks of an abyss, but the opening part of Thor suggests a good movie despite all of that. Asgard looks absolutely gorgeous, to my mind recalling a colorful and heightened throwback of the old glorious movie fortress work of Victor Fleming and Michael Curtiz if either of those old filmmakers had read anything by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, spacious and golden and physically limitless. Tom Hiddleston existed and, since we live in 2015 now, you know how well Hiddleston inhabits Loki – physically, mentally, emotionally impressive as a power-hungry figure in the plot that is also unfortunately the only performance that seems aware that stakes exist in this film.
And… I’m going to be straight up and state Chris Hemsworth is an absolute flatline to me as a dramatic actor, but he does do smug dickhead very well. Very well. It also helps that he has dashing good looks to be all “yeah, I know I’m hot shit” (which is, y’know, how Thor is meant to be in this movie again… I hope).
OK, so we got all the great advantages of its opening, even if Hopkins feels comatose well before Odin goes into the Odinsleep and Branagh is still directing. But when Thor comes to Earth (with no inhabiting the body of Donald Blake – something I’m fine with because, as cool as that part of Thor’s story is, that would have been one layer too many with this movie), the film really goes downhill.
First… Oh no. Kat Dennings. Like I’m sorry, but not only is she always the worst, but her character has no actual purpose here. That’s a thing that can be taken out of the film so that it’s just Stellan Skarsgard and Natalie Portman shouting arguments that you can write… if you’re like 12 on 4chan or r/atheism… but not say without losing some kind of shred of dignity you have (since von-Trier-collaborator Skarsgard and Portman are both very talented professional actors who aren’t Kat Dennings, they pull this off without losing dignity, but I know I would if that shit came out of my mouth). Seriously, though, Dennings did not need to happen to this film.
But namely, the biggest problem, what makes me hate Thor too much to deal with it, is the absolutely nonsensical lack of control in tone. Like, for fuck’s sake, Branagh, you based your career on how well you (assumed you could) carry Shakespearean works and yet you can’t decide if you want to make this film as grounded and moralistic as any Nolan-ish Batman flick or if you just want the focus of Thor’s sentence on Earth to be shenanigans and lulz.
Like, that’s seriously the one thing that tips it from “OK, I don’t hate this movie” to “get out of my face with this shit”, Thor is an inconsistent mess from Thor sobbing in the mud at not getting Mjolnir back in control to him cheerfully getting hit with ambulances and ruining the breakfast of people around him. And it unfortunately barely gets itself back in gear to y’know complete a story, what with how much time it spends before it even bothers establishing Loki as the antagonist of the whole picture and the sparse spaces between the actually engaging comic book-esque action setpieces that are just dedicated to watching Skarsgard and Hemsworth get into a drinking match to Foo Fighters.
And what’s left is just another bare stepping stone in the MCU going “Hey, we gots an Avengers movie coming dontcha know?” Well, this was around the point I was starting to get tired of this franchise building without much substance or care for character/plot development (something I feel the MCU suffers from wholly until Phase 2 – only to throw it away again when Avengers: Age of Ultron comes out). Thankfully, I didn’t give up – for the next film turned out to really shock me back into excitement – but man, Thor got me really close to giving up. Really close.