By Carl Kozlowski
One of the greatest appeals of superhero movies lies in their ability to take ordinary humans and give them the power to do extraordinary things, whether they’re a teenager flying through New York City shooting webs in Spider-Man or developing a super car and a kickass suit to fight crime in the Batman films. Even Superman and the X-Men films base a large part of their appeal in alien characters whose struggles parallel the daily angst we all face in our mortal lives.
Unfortunately, the latest superhero epic Thor doesn’t have that basic human appeal. Instead, it offers up the incredibly convoluted tale of a Nordic god who falls to Earth when his hubris makes him overstep his bounds and risk the safety of his home planet of Asgard.
The movie kicks off quickly with some impressive fighting between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and a team of Asgardian super-warriors against an evil race known as the Frozen Giants from the icy realm of Jotunheim. The Frozen Giants are hoping to exploit the fact that Asgard’s aging king Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is attempting to hand over his power to Thor, and wage an attack on Asgard during the coronation ceremony.
The sneak attack provokes a desire for revenge from Thor and his closest warriors, and things go haywire when they act on it. As punishment, he’s cast to Earth (a.k.a. Midgard), where he crashes into the desert amid a furious flash of thunder and is discovered by a team of scientists that includes an astrophysicist named Jane Foster (Natalie Portman).
The crash rendered him without his magical hammer named Mjolnir (what IS it with all the convoluted names, too? They’re hard to understand, which only adds to the emotional coldness of the film). It’s key that Thor regain control of it if he’s going to save Earth from destruction by the Frozen Giants and forces unleashed by his own ruthless brother Loki, who learns some dark secrets about his own origin.
Thor is a pretty buff dude with a six-pack that could draw stares from The Situation, so Jane is instantly interested in the guy for more than his mysterious entrance. It’s in these scenes in small-town New Mexico that Thor has its most purely enjoyable moments, as the Nordic god experiences some fish-out-of-water moments that inspire some hilarious comments.
But as the bad forces of Loki and the Frozen Giants come to a head and threaten Earth with a giant metallic, fire-shooting creature, the fact that this movie’s Earth locations are all in a desert town just makes things seem rather unimpressive. It’s hard to fear for the fate of all humanity when you’re only seeing a couple hundred rednecks leaping into pickup trucks to get out of the way of a single alien warrior who looks barely advanced over the aliens from 1950s sci-fi movies.
It’s also hard to buy into the idea that Thor and Jane have some fantastic romance when they basically hang out for a couple of days. This isn’t the long-burning passion that Peter Parker harbored for Mary Jane in Spider-Man, or the magical love of Superman and Lois Lane. It’s two cute people who are kind of nice and basically have a case of the hots for each other — not a dramatic enough angle to sweep us up, with neither Hemsworth nor this year’s Best Actress winner Portman showing much range either.
The movie had a humongous budget, but most of it was spent on the confusing, overdone battles between Asgard and the Frozen Giants in their otherworldly realm. Director Kenneth Branagh, who has spent half his career making Shakespeare movies including a four-hour version of Hamlet, is an odd choice for a superhero flick that’s lacking in Shakespearean emotions.
If only he could have brought any emotion at all to this film, Thor might have been a classic on the order of Iron Man. But if Marvel Films, the company behind Thor, doesn’t dig deeper in the rest of its planned bevy of superhero films, they’re going to run the risk of seeming all too ordinary rather than awe-inspiring.