Thursday, May 12, 2011

"Thor" Review

"Thor" operates under the mistaken assumption that Thor is cool. Marvel's unsolicited film adaptation makes no attempt to entice an audience that may yet be unfamiliar with this benchwarmer hero. Peter Parker was a dweeb; Bruce Wayne lost his parents; Clark Kent was abandoned at birth; great comic heroes have compelling origin stories. Our introduction to Thor is as a spoiled warmonger about to ascend to kinghood. Why are we rooting for this guy, again?

Pitting your audience against the protagonist is something a filmmaker the caliber of a P.T. Anderson can pull off, but I'm pretty sure we're supposed to like Thor. Maybe we're supposed to sympathize when daddy takes away his mallet, but once the eponymous meathead is booted from his cushy Asgardian throne, he crash lands on Earth as a colossal buffoon. See Thor get tased. See Thor smash a coffee mug while a glib teenager uploads a photo to Facebook and you'll have an idea just how low the comedy here is flying. Watch your heads.

"Thor" treats Thor with such undeserved adulation that reducing the thunder god to a punch line in the second act comes like a bolt from the blue. Following a foundation of pretentious melodrama set in a Seussian CGI metropolis, even the more successful attempts at humor later on play foreign and weird. And just to keep the audience on its toes, the tone wobbles wildly to and fro like a pair of burly Norsemen on a teeter-totter.

I've got nothing against flawed heroes. Thor's arrogance might have helped make his story worth telling. Instead, the filmmakers (with credit to no less than five writers) waste two hours attempting to redeem him in the audience's eyes. Still, the real problem is that the character is uninteresting. It's more than possible some of the nuance of the comic books has been lost in translation, but I can't think of a single trait that makes Thor (Chris Hemsworth) appealing.

The same goes for the rest of the cast. Natalie Portman plays a scientist who ought to be studying the mysteries of her missing personality, and Stellan SkarsgÄrd plays her mentor, an equally pale placeholder character. Rounding out their misfit team is Kat Dennings, whose character description might as well read: "Social media junkie; loves her iPod, and whatever else those damned teenagers are into nowadays."

The aesthetic of "Thor" is as bland as its players. Director Kenneth Branagh, best known for his Shakespearean endeavors, takes a 'broken tripod' approach to directing this summer tent pole. He has cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos frame half his shots diagonally in lieu of investing in a coherent visual style. Branagh is elsewhere absent as the shepherd of his cast otherwise proven performers mumble their way through the movie.

As if Thor didn't have enough shame to contend with as a D-list superhero, his big screen debut is similarly underwhelming. Instead of making a case for the character, Branagh and a gaggle of screenwriters cement his lame duck status in this bludgeoningly boring popcorn flick. Even undiscerning cinemagoers looking for little more than a two-hour refuge from the summer sun have better choices available to them. Comic book aficionados likewise have no shortage of spandex to look forward to in the coming weeks.

After years of warming the bench, Thor finally got called into the big game, only to slip up and sustain a career-ending injury on his first play. That's gotta hurt.


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