I wish I had seen Iron Man (and Iron Man 2, for that matter) in the theater. I avoided them for the same reason that I avoided seeing 300 in the theater, and the list goes on. I thought it looked stupid, just mindless nonsense that I didn’t want to waste my money on a ticket to see. Of course, if I’d have been more forward thinking, I would have realized that I am destined to see each and every film that I pointedly avoid, whether by Rifftrax or the wife’s pleadings, or by realizing that the movie I didn’t want to see is on Netflix Instant now and, well, I guess there’s nothing else to watch. More importantly, though, I get so wrapped up in being this movie critic, the guy who takes even children’s movies way too seriously, expecting them to have complicated shades of morality, thorough plotting, and startling emotional depth. Thinking that way all the time, I tend to forget that sometimes a movie can be fun just for the sake of it. I hear people lauding the joys of going into the theater and “turning off your brain”, but that’s a hard concept for me to wrap my mind around. Ack! Turn off your brain, you fool, don’t wrap it around things! If you can manage the high level of concentration it requires to keep your brain firmly shut down, Thor is a great ride – even better in 3-D.
When you start talking about the specifics of the movie is when it all starts to fall apart. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is an alien from another planet who betrays his father and King by waging an attack on a group known as the Frost Giants, blue folks who live in an ice palace in a different galaxy. As a punishment for this transgression, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) mortalizes his son and banishes him to Earth (yuck!), where he promptly falls in with a group of quote-unquote “scientists” led by a girl named Jane (Natalie Portman, fresh off the fluke of Black Swan). The relationship between the god/extraterrestrial and these humans, particularly Portman’s character, is intended to be the crux of the film. That is, when our hero is banished to the third rock from a sun, his father whispers a curse onto his magic hammer that goes a little something like this: “Whomsoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.” As you might imagine, an early attempt at retrieving the hammer proves unsuccessful: Thor is just too damn unworthy.
It is through his friendship with the humans that he learns to love before the last rose petal falls and he transforms from the beast into a handsome prince once again, or, wait, no, that’s not it. I mean, that is what they’re going for somehow with the movie. There’s some kind of change that occurs to him which will make him the upright and true god of steadfast morality as he once was. It’s not really clear how or why he would change, though, aside from the fact that Jane smiles all goofy-like at him for most of the movie while Kat Dennings provides listless comic relief. Meanwhile, Thor’s brother Loki shows his true colors as it becomes apparent that he is somehow in cahoots with the Frost Giants and has been giving them access to the Norse-god planet of Asgard by finding “another way” into the realm that does not require using the Bifrost, a device which is described by Thor as being a “rainbow bridge”, but actually works more like a cannon shooting clowns across the big-top. In any case, this “other way” is not developed any further. There is some attempt at making Loki into a more rounded character than simply a bad guy, but his plans are strangely demented. Also, when a secret regarding his past is revealed, it amounts to practically nothing.
Ack! What am I doing?!? Turn the brain off! Off, I say! Alright. There’s this really cool battle near the beginning of the movie where Thor and his gang of misfit friends invade the land of the Frost Giants and it’s all in 3-D with a blizzard blowing and ice shooting out of the ground and Loki doing his makin-a-hologram-of-myself thing. Everybody’s slicing bad guys in half and jumping around and Thor’s swinging his hammer and laughing and it’s totally bad-ass. And when he comes to Earth, there are several jokes about how he isn’t used to being mortal and doesn’t relate well to his surroundings. When a doctor tries to give him a shot, Thor bellows with rage: “How dare you attack the mighty Thor?” Then later our hero runs through an outdoor government facility in the rain, cracking skulls and somersaulting and making Jeremy Renner bow down in total freaking awe. Then there’s this cool robot thing which shoots fire lasers from its eyes and then there’s Thor flying around Asgard and Tommy Lee Jones says that.. no, wait, Tommy Lee Jones wasn’t in Thor, he was in the trailer for Captain America which played before the movie. No biggie, it’s all the same. Then there’s the scene where Captain America leads a group of soldiers into a warehouse standing behind his USA shield and firing a handgun. Awesome!
But then… Thor’s friends, a ragtag group of misfits (typically diverse: a fat-man alien, a woman-alien, and an Asian-American-alien), don’t extend beyond that basic description and serve little purpose in the film at all. Their entire role is to accompany Thor on his first battle, then fetch him from Earth when things get rough on Asgard. This could have been accomplished with a single character, or even, I don’t know, Thor just realizing something is amiss when his brother sends a giant flame-throwing robot to come kill him?
Oh god, oh no, I’m thinking about it again. It’s hard not to. But here’s the thing: Thor is what it is, which is to say that it’s a big, bright, softly humorful and moderately actiony pre-summer blockbuster. There is literally no difference between this and Pirates of the Caribbean 4. They seek to accomplish the same thing, which it to be loud and thrilling and special effects heavy and get you in the theater and leave the door open for sequels. Thor exists entirely for its sequel, so much so that the guy at the ticket office informed me as I was purchasing my ticket, “There’s a scene after the credits.” It’s a given by now- a scene which sets the stage for the next phase in this pre-fabricated commercial mythology.
There’s nothing exciting about Thor except that it’s in 3-D, that it’s colorful and has some cool fight scenes, and most importantly – that it’s playing on a big screen. If you don’t see this movie in the theater, there’s no point in watching it at all.