By Bush’s Beard

Often during the cold winters of my childhood in Colorado, I would curl up by the fire in our home as the winter snow swirled around the windows and crack open an old weathered Thor comic book. Sprawled on our bearskin, I would read of the adventures of the brash and brave Norse god of thunder Thor and of how he matured into a wise god. To be completely honest, I always identified more with the trickster Loki than with Thor, the brawler. That treasured comic book was from the good old days of Marvel – when plot mattered more than hype and characters even more so. Nowadays, it seems that Marvel sees their comics just as free advertising for their movies and merchandising.

On May 6th, Marvel revealed the latest stepping-stone to 2012’s The Avengers. I was mildly excited – it was a part of my childhood and yet, I was afraid that the Marvel movie assembly line had butchered it to sell more tickets. On the one hand, Kenneth Branagh seemed like the perfect director to depict both the Shakespearean dialogue of the Aesir and the inter-galactic battles that were sure to occur. On the other, Heimdall appeared to have been a victim of a new desire for political correctness. As big a fan of Stringer Bell as I am, I worried that The Wire’s Idris Elba was not the best choice for the vigilant Norse god.

Turns out he was the best actor in the whole film.

Yet, after watching the trailers, I found myself sitting in a theater on a Friday night, waiting to be transported to Asgard, Jotunheim, or even Midgard. And I was. If nothing else, Thor certainly portrays the futuristic Asgard of the comics perfectly with shining metallic buildings soaring up as towards the camera. Branagh uses the CGI perfectly for the setting of the film. The film also introduces Thor perfectly, tossing his hammer lightly from one hand to the other as he strides arrogantly to Odin’s throne, impatient to become ruler of the Nine Realms. Chris Hemsworth gives a brilliant performance as Thor. On earth, he portrays the warrior as a relic of past times in the modern age, almost a very ripped version of Don Quixote. He also has great chemistry with Anthony Hopkins’ Odin. When Thor offends his father – one can feel the disappointment dripping off of Odin’s words as well as the guilt in Thor’s voice. These, however, are not the best performances in the film. That honor goes to Mr. Elba – who I regret having doubted. His Heimdall is august, loyal and suitably frightening. He truly is the perfect guardian of Asgard and his casting was obviously in recognition of his immense talent.

That is about all that works in the movie, unfortunately. The comic relief provided by The Warriors Three, Thor’s sidekicks, simply isn’t funny and detracts from the generally serious tone of the film. Loki has almost no character development and doesn’t come off as nearly malevolent enough. In fact, at the end, his motivations become nearly inscrutable as the writers attempt to throw in a last-minute twist. The CGI Jotuns look fake – and the action is often indiscernible thanks to a last-minute conversion to 3D. Let’s just say the 3D didn’t add much – and often detracted from the action. It feels as if Marvel chopped a good 30-40 minutes of palace intrigue out of the film at the last minute, probably because the producers at Marvel thought there weren’t enough scenes of hammer smashing stuff. What they forgot is that action scenes are boring without backstory or buildup.

What remains of the plot is very scattered, but it was as I was walking out of the theatre, puzzling over what actually happened that I stumbled upon a rather novel idea…was it trying to be a metaphor for the Iraq war?

At the beginning of the film, Odin has essentially captured and locked away all of the Weapons of Mass Destruction of the universe in order to protect the Nine Realms from the Jotuns and other invaders. In response to a small fringe group of Jotuns invading Asgard and to impress his father, Thor invades Jotunheim and soon realizes that he is out of his league. This brash action sparks a war that threatens all of Asgard…does any of this sound familiar to the oft-repeated liberal narrative of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?

Yet, for all of that setup, Thor goes nowhere. In its very anticlimactic third act, the writers scurry around and tie everything up, but leave the audience entirely unsatisfied. It appears that Marvel can’t write good endings – just look at Iron Man. Unfortunately, Thor underwhelms me, as have all Marvel produced films so far. The best Marvel adaptations so far have come from outside Stan Lee’s house. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and Bryan Singer’s X-Men are still the only films in my Top 5 Superhero movies that don’t star a certain Dark Knight. At the end of the day, Thor is but a mediocre diversion rather than a grand epic. Let’s hope for more from Captain America.

2/5 Indians

–J.P. Harrington