Thor (Paramount Pictures, PG-13)

Thor turns out to be the type of CGI circle jerk for which I have no patience at all; everyone’s talent is wasted, your money is wasted, your brain cells are wasted.

 

 

Although last week’s Fast Five seems to have been the first blockbuster opening of the year, box office analysts have been looking to the new Marvel comics adaptation, Thor, as the real first movie of the summer blockbuster season, when the studios pull out their big guns—action movies, sequels, special effects-laden pictures, superstars, and everything else that brings audiences to the movie theatre in droves (supposedly). And if Thor is any indication, we’re facing down what will be one of the more irritating and derivative summers of recent memory. Despite its mostly good cast—the guy who plays Thor, Chris Hemsworth, is a relative unknown, but the supporting roles are filled out by such reliable players as Stellan Skarsgård, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Kat Dennings, and even Ichi the Killer’s Tadanobu Asano—and a director known for very good Shakespeare adaptations (Kenneth Branagh), Thor turns out to be the type of CGI circle jerk for which I have no patience at all; everyone’s talent is wasted, your money is wasted, your brain cells are wasted.

While Thor’s source material is, like so many other recent summer tent pole pictures, a comic book, it hems closer to Fellowship of the Ring in its (in this case faux) epic scope and patient unfolding of the events that lead to the film’s central conflict than most comic book movies. Here we have a world, Asgard, which is ruled by Odin (Hopkins). Odin has two sons, Thor and Loki (Tom Hiddleston), and he needs to pick one to take over his throne. Thor is crazily powerful and also plain old crazy, whereas Loki is much calmer and more thoughtful, but lacking in the sheer brute force that Thor brings to the table. After hotheaded Thor decides to engage Asgard’s archenemy in a series of fight scenes that feel like throwaways from a PG-13 remake of 300, Odin banishes him to another realm, which turns out to be modern-day Earth, until he can prove he deserves to be the King of Asgard.

Immediately upon entering Earth via wormhole, he runs into a crack research team headed by a pretty young girl named Jane (Portman). The government catches on quick about Thor’s presence, and they confiscate all of Jane and her team’s computers, notes, research materials, equipment, etc. Which, of course leads the Portman clan and Thor to join forces, fall in love, and engage in idiotic 3D antics of the sort that I hope go out of style very soon.

I can’t begin to guess why Branagh would have decided to tackle this project, aside from that it must’ve brought him the biggest paycheck of his life. And while most of the aforementioned likeable cast is somehow able to hold onto their dignity here, two people aren’t: Hemsworth and Portman. Hemsworth is no surprise—he’s untested, seems to have been cast strictly on his looks (those looks being 90s Guess ad refugee), and it comes as no surprise that he can’t act and has absolutely no charisma—he looks like he can’t act and has no charisma, and we’re talking about even before you see him try. And then, of course, there’s Portman—she’s said in interviews that the main thing that drew her to taking the role of Jane in this movie is that she was fascinated by the fact that otherwise-respectable and upstanding Branagh was directing it. Too bad she took the bait, as this sticks her with two shitty movies so far in 2011 (the other being No Strings Attached)—up until 2004 I always didn’t like her and didn’t understand why everyone did. But starting with Garden State and Closer I was won over, and up until this year she was very consistently doing excellent work, culminating in Black Swan. But now she seems to have reverted to the types of roles she chose as a teenager and is giving bad performances in them besides—it isn’t just that I don’t like Thor and I’m sorry that Portman’s in it, but that I actually think she turns in a particularly bad, unbelievable, and unlikeable performance here.

And of course the writing’s lazy, the special effects are ugly, and basically everything else is you can think of is wrong with this film. At least there’s a brief Iron Man reference to remind you that not all movies based on Marvel comics suck, though I don’t hold high hopes for The Avengers, which also includes Hemsworth’s Thor, and to which we are “treated” to a dumb, Sam Jackson-led commercial after the credits roll. | Pete Timmermann

 

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