in 3D, Cineworld Glasgow, 03.05.11
It was always going to be a difficult ask. As noted in many places, the story of Thor, and his hammer, was always going to be the most difficult of the Marvel Avenger superheroes to translate from comic to screen. In fact, it may well be that the only reason it was even attempted was so that Thor could be established and take his place alongside his fellow Avengers in next year’s collective film, because watching this film, it’s a wonder the concept ever made it to the big screen. Indeed, the whole origin story, after a decade and more of comic superhero films is so stale and tired now, it will come as a relief once Captain America is over with later this year and the scriptwriters will have to come up with something new. What’s that X-Men: First Class andThe Amazing Spider-man are coming soon? Perhaps we will become entrapped in an endless loop of cinematic origin stories, doomed to seem the same characters in the same plots repeated every decade until the Gods of Asgard put us out of our misery.
To aid its chances of success, Marvel Studios brought in Kenneth Branagh to direct, and although Thor himself is played by relative unknown Chris Hemsworth (unless you’re a big fan of Australian soap Home & Away), there is some strong casting in the supporting roles with Stellan Skarsgard, Anthony Hopkins, Idris Elba, Rene Russo and Natalie Portman all featuring. Unfortunately, any credibility this impressive roster of talent lends the film quickly dissipates once the plot starts to unravel.
Branagh’s Shakespearean background should have lent itself to the scenes of high drama in Asgard, amongst the Gods, as Odin (Anthony Hopkins) tries to rule over his two troublesome sons, Thor and Loki (Tom Hiddleston). But the cast all seem to be channeling the spirit of Brian Blessed, constantly booming stale dialogue at each other and suffering from bouts of short tempered-ness. Once Thor is banished to Earth for disobeying his father, the tone shifts quickly to some poorly executed slapstick comedy, before Thor quickly overcomes this to learn a valuable lesson and change as a person – all in the space of about 24 hours it seems. Although Hemsworth looks the part, he acts like someone who has just landed a massive role in a Hollywood blockbuster having learned his trade on teenage soaps. Natalie Portman continues her post-Oscar bizarre career choices – having deservedly won the Oscar and Bafta for her brilliant performance in Black Swan (2010, Darren Aronofsky), a vital, dynamic and worthy film, she follows a failed rom-com with Ashton Kutcher, No Strings Attached (2011, Ivan Reitman) and the risible Your Highness (2011, David Gordon Green) with this unconvincing portrayal as physicist, Jane Foster. Skarsgard looks confused throughout, Hopkins bellows a lot, Rene Russo makes a welcome return to our screens, only to be completely under used. Idris Elba is once again wasted – it seems Hollywood doesn’t know what to do with him, but having given us one of the most iconic characters in TV drama in recent years as Stringer Bell in The Wire, surely they can find him something better than the bit part he is lumbered with here. As Thor’s friends in battle Jaimie Alexander, Josh Dallas, Tadanobu Asano and Ray Stevenson are saddled with the worst of the dialogue, while at the same time proving themselves to be amazingly inept warriors, whom Thor has to keep continually rescuing.
The plot appears to be distilled down to the very basics, condensing (and in most cases discarding) years of comic material in to under two hours, so that all the action takes place over a couple of days, apart from an opening prologue, giving the characters no time to develop. The romance between Thor and Jane is deeply unconvincing, as his ridiculously quick grasp of everything human, having never visited Earth before. There’s fun to be had equating Thor and his hammer to Oedipus complex myths, as separated from his massive tool Thor becomes weak and effeminate (he even cooks scrambled eggs for his new friends), falling in love and learning polite manners, even failing, literally, to ‘get it up’ as he can’t remove the hammer from the stone in which it is embedded (in a recreation of the Arthurian sword legend) until he’s got his mojo back. Once he has become a new man though, he overcomes this bout of impotence and, fully working hammer restored, gets back to being a macho man. Hollywood logic applies too in the usual ways – Gods of a different planet, who left Earth hundreds of years ago, have chosen to speak English as their first language apparently, as has every other spieces in the expanded Universe, which makes it handy for the American and British audience, but defies any kind of cohesive explanation.
Seeing the film in its 3D version, the visuals were a massive let down. Much of the early action scenes take place in darkness, and with the barrier of glasses it’s difficult to make out much detail in the overly quick cutting and murky lack of colour. The fight scene on the planet of the frost giants is nothing more than a confused mess. Each of Thor’s friends get to display their fighting prowess, but it is all lost in murky grey haze. The usual complaints of 3D are all present – why are some shots still in 2D, leaving the viewer playing a guessing game as to what is and isn’t 3D? Most of the film is spent with the background annoyingly out of focus, and as usual the computer effects are glaringly show off. 3D headache and sore eyes ensue as one tries to make out what is actually going on in the battle scenes. The film is also hampered by a barrage of annoying sounds, determined to split the ear drums of the entire theatre with the loud thuds of Thor’s hammer, combined with all sorts of badly designed whizz, bangs and hums. So Thor takes its place alongside every other 3D film that has woeful underwhelmed with the gimmicky technology, that adds absolutely nothing positive to the film experience and only serves to distance and distract the viewer. I suspect I would not be so critical of the visuals if I had done the sensible thing and seen the 2D version.
As with all the Avenger films recently – Iron Man, Hulk, the main plot and character are subservient to a film that doesn’t yet exist, so there are tiresome references to S.H.I.E.L.D., Clark Gregg reprises his role as Agent Coulson, and Samuel Jackson crops up for another oblique Nick Fury cameo post-credits to hint at the film to come. It’s the longest build up in cinema history and became boring about three years ago. Here, Thor is stuck with a random introduction of Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), who crops up for one scene, does nothing and then disappears, only around long enough to mark his involvement in next year’s film.
Still, if all Marvel required from this film was to introduce another Avenger while making a few bucks, they will no doubt be quite satisfied. As a stand alone film it is average, as a 3D film it is poor. As an experiment to utilise the talents of Branagh it is a failure.
Film Rating: 2 out of 5.