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Friday
May062011

Thor

With the summer movie season officially taking off this weekend, there’s one question on everybody’s mind. Is Thor any good? The word on the street seems to be a resounding “yes,” but having just sat through it, I’m forced to counter with an unfortunate “no.” It’s not a disaster by any stretch of the imagination, but it lacks what many of the other Marvel properties have: an interesting central character. While more problems pervade Thor than just that, it’s more than enough to keep it from becoming anything more than a mediocre attempt at pleasing the comic book fan base.

Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is the king of Asgard. For centuries, he has protected the universe from evil, namely the Frost Giants (who are as bland an enemy as their name suggests). After defeating them, he took their source of power, the Casket of Ancient Winters and kept it safe in Asgard. Now, in the present day, he is preparing to step down from the throne and hand his legacy off to his son, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), but before he can do so, the Frost Giants attack, somehow finding their way into Asgard. Despite his father’s wishes, Thor heads to the Frost Giants’ planet and starts a war. Because of his arrogance and stupidity, he is banished to Earth and stripped of his powers. Now his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is king, but he has an unforeseen hidden agenda.

Thor, quite simply, is not a compelling character. On his own merits or when compared to other superheroes, he fails to muster up any reason for us to care about him. The rationale behind his fighting never goes further than “just because.” Think about Spider-Man or DC Comics’ Batman. Those characters didn’t fight “just because.” They fought because they felt compelled to do so. They had demons from their pasts that gave them a reason to combat evil. They never asked for that life, but suffered through tragic events that led them in that direction. In their recent movie adaptations, they have been written and portrayed as three-dimensional characters. Thor, on the other hand, has no emotional pain scratching at him. He just fights because he’s told that’s what he is supposed to do. He even finds pleasure in it in the film’s early moments, starting a fight when none is needed.

This is no fault of the actor, I should say. Chris Hemsworth has everything required of this character: a deep voice and muscular body, which is to say very little. That’s not to suggest he’s a bad actor (his short stint as the soon-to-be-dead Kirk at the beginning of 2009’s Star Trek was quite good), he just isn’t given the tools to do anything other than run around and yell. Like most first entries in a superhero film franchise, Thor is an origin story, but the character simply doesn’t have a deep rooted past like many other superheroes (or at least he doesn’t as presented in this movie). This provides little leeway for emotional growth and prohibits Hemsworth from developing the character.

Thor is a film that is incredibly hard to take seriously, yet it asks you to do so for the majority of its length. One can’t help but look at the goofy costumes (some of which look like they were purchased for $9.99 at a local Halloween shop) and laugh. What really holds it back, however, are its fake looking effects. While it’s probably safe to assume they were rendered that way to keep with the film’s comic book origins, it strips away any sense of realism or danger. When a character gets hit and goes flying through the sky, your sense of fear for the assaulted is quickly replaced with disbelief because of the film’s obvious artificiality.

I can't explain the admiration flooding in for Thor. While I’m sure many have completely valid reasons for enjoying it, I suspect just as many are too easily dazzled by special effects and fail to see how shallow it is. Spectacle is fine, but without a compelling story to drive it along, it means nothing. Unfortunately, Thor sacrifices its story for the spectacle. If anything, it should be the other way around.

Thor receives 2/5

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