Thor: Don't Kill Yourself Over It

Thor‘s not good. It’s so ungood, in fact, it caused New York Times film critic A.O. Scott to consider throwing himself under a bus. It seems Scott despaired over the realization that “Thor is an example of the programmed triumph of commercial calculation over imagination.” Yeah! Turns out Hollywood’s only in this for the money!

Look, I know it’s tough, A.O.—may I call you A.O.?—but it’s been going on a long time now. Movies as a mass-entertainment form, I mean, a for-profit industry, with the American film industry even more for-profit than most. They grind out a lot of junk, no question about it—always did. But you big-time professional critics have a duty to the public, A.O.! You must steel yourself to go to those free advance screenings! Then, however much it hurts you, you owe it to all the little people out there to faithfully convey what terrible fate awaits them when they pay to see a commercial calculation like Thor:

“Translated into the hugely expensive, culture-dominating realm of big-budget moviemaking, however, the tactic of treating the price of a ticket as an installment-plan payment has more in common with a Ponzi scheme. The purpose of putting this movie in theaters is to make sure you and all your friends go to the next one, and then the one after that.”

You see the horror of it! It’s not enough that they got you to pay money to see a Hollywood blockbuster—those fiends are actually trying to make you come back and see another! What a world! With this kind of ruthless skulduggery marshalled against us, it’s a wonder we aren’t all tempted to throw ourselves under buses like A.O.

Anyway, Thor‘s pretty atrocious, with the home of the Viking gods looking like Vegas on a particularly schlocky day. It’s actually a relief when arrogant young Thor (absurdly buff blonde Australian guy Chris Hemsworth) gets thrown out of Asgard by his father Odin (old hambone Anthony Hopkins) and pitches down to Earth, because then we get away from all that gold plastic stuff that makes up the Viking sets.

On Earth, its corny hijinks all the way, as you might expect. A Viking god, even one stripped of his hammer, is mighty conspicuous, especially when he says things like, “This mortal form grows weak, I must have sustenance.” He meets a hot scientist (played by Natalie Portman) in a cutesy way, when he drops out of sky into the desert just in time to be hit by her careening science-mobile.

Though mortal, he’s not hurt, of course, because he’s about seven feet tall and built like an oak. We get lots of opportunities to admire his musculature, which outshines all the rote special effects in the film.

You could imagine a movie that mainly stuck with that scenario—hanging around the small town in New Mexico to see how Thor fares with the locals. But this movie has a relentless meanwhile-back-at-the-ranch structure, so you keep cutting back to Asgard where Thor’s trickster brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is plotting against King Odin and colluding with the Frost Giants. (I’m sorry, that’s just a terrible name for a fearsome enemy to have. I assume it’s Marvel Comics’ fault. But isn’t that the name of the bad guys trying to take over Christmastown in one of those holiday movies?)

Every time you go back to Asgard, you come down with plastic-gold-set fatigue again. You can’t get any momentum going.

Much has been made of the fact that Kenneth Branagh directed this, the guy who used to do Shakespeare movies. The general critical feeling is that he must be bringing something Shakespearean—i.e., better, finer—to this unfortunate commercial calculation.  (Shakespeare’s own commercial calculations don’t get talked about much in these types of commentary.) But I couldn’t see it myself. Of course, I’m not a fan of Branagh’s Shakespeare movies. Ever see his Much Ado About Nothing? Ghastly. Some real suicide-by-bus material there.

The point is, you don’t need any sudden infusions of Brit Shakespeare to make Anthony Hopkins ham it up in phony elevated lingo, he does that anyway; I bet he does it when he orders a beer. And there’s a long, long tradition of American hamming which assimilated Shakespeare long since, without any help from imported Brits. By Grabthar’s hammer, we can do this kind of crap in our sleep!

Thor‘s not entirely worthless, though. There are a few good things about it. For example, it’s so loud that if you happen to be preoccupied by something bad in your life, you can’t think about it while you’re in the theater. The  soundtrack is so deafening it drowns out your own thoughts, and the 3-D acts in concert by pushing out images to rest on your weary forehead like a compress. Very, very beneficial thing, if you look at it that way. Personally, I do tend to look at commercial entertainment that way; it’s there to provide relief for people preoccupied by bad things, for working class people with real problems who can’t stand thinking about them anymore.

And the movie has a working class hero, too: Heimdall, the Asgard gatekeeper (Idris Elba), who doesn’t talk very much, just stands there doing his job and having to take a lot of shit for it. He’s great.


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