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May 10, 2011

Movie Review-- Thor: A Marvel of a Fish-Out-of-Water Comedy

Three Stars. Worth seeing, and in theaters, if you can still bear theaters.

I have two reactions to the film. The first reaction was my fresh, unguarded reaction upon seeing it -- I liked it a great deal.

The second reaction was formed after reading critics. At Rotten Tomatoes, 79% rate it as good, which struck me as a bit low -- even if you didn't think it was great, what was wrong with it? Actually, many of the critics giving it a negative review concede that -- there's nothing actually wrong with the movie, exactly, nothing you can point at and laugh and declare a clear mistake, but it didn't work for them.

For some of these critics, it's pretty obvious they simply hate superhero movies and are determined to pan all of them. Which is a valid feeling, certainly -- these are popcorn movies, and silly ones to boot; not everyone is a 12 year old boy or frozen for life at that moment of immaturity, like me -- but it's not a posture that's capable of parsing between "good" and "bad" entries in the genre. If they all suck, they all suck -- not much needing of review. If you went in knowing, for a fact, you wouldn't like Thor, and left the theater not liking Thor, then what was the purpose of actually seeing Thor? Actually seeing the film was irrelevant to the determination. The review could have been written without seeing it.

However, some critics used a word that stuck with me and caused me to re-evaluate my initial positive feeling -- that word was "inconsequential." And I think, on that point, the criticism is on firm ground. Thor is good in many ways, but yes, looking back, when you think about it (and even popcorn movies, if they're really good, can bear the scrutiny of a "looking back" review), the film is light on its feet precisely because it is so lightweight. I don't mean "inconsequential" as regards the film's importance in the history of cinema -- we knew this was never going to be on the AFI Most Important Films list. I mean "inconsequential" in the fictional world depicted in the film -- even by the terms of the film's fictional reality, the stakes presented are just not all that high, and the journey basically takes you from the initial situation to... a slight variation on the initial situation.

On one hand, critics are praising it, justifiably, for being a lightweight, funny entertainment that doesn't take itself very seriously. And that's true, and that's a good thing... up to a point. On the other hand, even a film like this can aim for, and accomplish, something more than that. Thor doesn't, though. It doesn't try. It ambles along affably and enjoyably, and doesn't take any dramatic risks to be something more than a finely-made light entertainment.

Is that bad? Probably not, given the subject matter, but I do think Kenneth Brannagh could have invested more dramatic weight here (not too much; the material won't bear it) and wound up with a surprising, unambiguously-good "almost a real movie" movie.

Instead, he turns in genial, fun comedic romp, which is perfectly enjoyable and well-executed and so determined to be likable it's hard to not like it. I keep using the word "comedy" because while the film, as many films of this genre do, is simultaneously an action movie, and a drama, and a light romance, and a science-fantasy, and a comedy, it is in the "comedy" mode the movie succeeds best.

It's a funny movie. And not "inadvertently funny;" they mean to be funny, and show great discrimination in being funny -- every single joke lands, from a grin to a laugh, with not a groaner or overly-contrived gag that I can remember.

One of my pet peeves is throwing bad jokes in with the good; my mind always gets stuck on the bad jokes, and rather than simply dismissing them simply as jokes that failed, and fixate on them as undermining the rest of the project. There really aren't any of those here -- nothing that breaks the mood as too silly or too dumb, and nothing that even fails in its intended effect of making you giggle.

Of the various skills stunt-choice director Kenneth Brannagh was bringing to the project, I don't think many people foresaw "a great instinct for light comedy."

Even though I now concede that the critics calling it "inconsequential" were right, I still stand by my initial reaction of Three Stars (out of Four). The "inconsequential" charge didn't actually diminish my approval of the movie, it just sharpened up the reasons, previously invisible to me, of why I didn't think "Three and a Half Stars." There was another half-star left on the table here, and it shouldn't have been. They should have really gone all-in and decided to be great.

I. What's Right

What the movie gets right is just about everything in the movie -- what it gets wrong is some of the stuff that could have been, and should have been, in the movie, but wasn't attempted.

I admire that the movie is unapologetic in depicting Thor and Asgard pretty much just like they are in the comics. I didn't actually read the comics, but I know the basics of it all. When confronted with a frankly strange and laughable origin story -- wait, Thor is literally that Thor, Norse God of Thunder, son of Odin, mightiest warrior of Asgard, enemy of... the Frost Giants of Jutenheim? -- the temptation for the filmmakers must be to downplay that element of it just to avoid ridicule.

But apparently Brannagh was a fan of the comics,* so he runs with it. Maybe too much for some viewers.

(* Parenthetical: It's claimed Brannagh was a big fan of the comics and read them as a kid but frankly they say that for every superhero movie -- the Ghost Rider was Nic Cage's favorite hero, etc. I don't think I can buy these constant claims that the filmmakers have always loved the comic books they wind up depicting on screen.)

Brannagh doesn't downplay or soft-pedal this strange and goofy premise at all; he gambles that he can actually depict this world and this situation in such a way that it becomes, if not convincing, at least plausible and capable of being taken seriously. And he succeeds.

Iron Man did that too -- I always thought that business of constructing this super-suit not in a laboratory but while held captive in a cave was goofy, but Jon Favreau went ahead and put that in anyhow -- and as in Iron Man, points are earned for taking stuff that's so implausible and to border on the deranged and make it work. Sort of.

The conceit here is that, as Thor says in the trailer, he comes from a place where Science and Magic are, in the Clarkean manner, indistinguishable. Later a character postulates that the Asgardians aren't really "gods" so much as very powerful beings from a different "realm" or dimension, so naturally primitive Vikings would worship them as deities and construct a world-creation myth around them. This is an obvious way to deal with the subject (it's been done before, a lot, including in Marvel comics themselves, where a different race of quasi-Olympian super-beings is postulated to be the "real story" behind the Greek gods), but sometimes the tried-and-true is the best way to go.

In a quiet moment, Thor even sketches a very basic schematic of marvel's version of Yggdrasil, the world tree that connects all worlds, but suggesting that, really, Science can explain all this as dimensions that border upon each other. Or something. Just go with it.

If anyone finds it too goofy (or even sacrilegious) that Thor is a "god," well, the movie offers up the more-likely alternate explanation that he's really just some magic-tech super-being from another dimension. (They studiously avoid saying the word "alien" but that clearly follows from this explanation.) On the other hand, if you start to doubt the physics of the Bifrost Bridge in as a sci-fi premise, then the film has you boxed in there, too: Because it's magic, after all.

Because the movie cleverly postulates the wonders of Asgard are simultaneously sci-fi (tech) and fantasy (magic) in nature, you really can't argue too much with it -- if it starts to seem dodgy in one aspect, the other explanation rides in to the rescue and papers over your nitpicks. Heads suspension of disbelief wins; tails you lose in your attempt to poke holes in it with logic.

This ambiguity -- very advanced technology indistinguishable from magic, or just flat-out magic? -- informs the art design of Asgard. It is both medieval and futuristic at the same time (at least in the Dune back-to-the-future way of being retro-futuro). And it resists criticism that it looks fake or dumb -- given that it's a hithero unknown style of alien magical gear-tech, who knows what it should look like? So, the spires of the main fortress of Asgard look like golden organ-pipes, but what do I know of Asgardian architecture? Maybe that's just how you build stuff when you know the secret of Super Viking-Steel.

Because the movie has deliberately (and cunningly) denies the audience a reference model it can be compared against -- well, as Thor might say: "Your attempts to parse and analyze this are well and truly thwarted, Puny Mortal!"

Asgard is introduced in a long, long flashback/prologue; I would usually say "overly long" -- prologues/flashbacks get awfully musty after ten minutes -- but as it's central to the story and passes the time affably enough I give it a pass. After briefly starting the film on earth, as a storm-chasing trio led by Natalie Portman tracks one of those vague "anomalies" we hear so much about in science fiction, their car literally runs into a confused Thor (or he runs into their car). Deciding he's either delirious from the collision or simply insane, they take him to a local hospital.

Then comes the thirty minute flashback/prologue in Asgard. Some growly exposition voice-over by Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and montage of bleh fighting sequences explains that the Asgardians, the race of beings the Vikings would eventually call their Norse gods, beat back the incursions of aggressive (and presumably evil) Frost Giants into other realms, such as Asgard itself and "Midgard" (earth). Since a climatic battle (in which Odin seems to have lost his eye; no reference to plucking it out himself and hurling it into the well of wisdom) the Asgardians and Frost Giants have been in an uneasy peace -- a literal Cold War, given that the Frost Giants' weapon of choice is shrouding their arms in spikey ice, and that the McGuffin stolen from them is, I think, "The Casket," a frankly dumb-looking glowing blue box that contains vaguely-defined powers but seems to mostly just instantly freeze people.

Odin explains this to two children, the Boy Thor and the Boy Loki, one fair and handsome, the other dark and... also handsome, but in that way of being handsome that you just know he's up to no good. (Yes, movies continue to depict intelligence as probable cause for suspicion and probably always will.)

Flash forward to the day of Thor's coronation, where an aging Odin is about to pass the crown to Thor, and definitely not Loki, when Odin senses (magic? The Force?) that Frost Giants have somehow snuck into the fortress and are attempting to steal back "The Casket." The Frost Giants are about to snatch the glowing box of Vaguely Alluded Plot Importance when a fifteen foot tall suit of animated armor called "The Destroyer" emerges from its resting place to blow them each to hell with a beam shot out of its flame-filled "skull."

Thor demands that the Frost Giants pay for their insolence -- but Odin wisely points out, "They did pay -- they're dead." But Thor suspects that the intruders were sent by the Frost Giant King Laufey -- not a bad hunch, but just a hunch; more of something he wants to be true than something he has evidence for -- and insists that as king, he will lead the armies of Asgard to crush them all.

Odin points out he's not king -- the coronation was interrupted. And further insists that the peace they have should not be undone by one botched third-rate burglary, as Richard Nixon might say. Odin further forbids Thor from taking any action against their old foes, but Thor isn't having any of that. He secretly sets out across the Rainbow Bridge with a very small army -- himself, "Lady Sif," his brother Loki, and three warriors.

It's hard to explain the three warriors, who are apparently important secondary characters in the comics -- they're inseparable friends, love fighting, and have distinct personalities, one grim but level-headed in his pessimism, one brash and full of theatrical heroics and romantic flourish, and one big, loud, foolish, and in love with eating.

Kind of exactly like Porthos, Aramis, and Athos, the Three Musketeers. Oh wait, I guess it is pretty easy to explain them.

(Sidenote: There was some chatter that the Asgardians shouldn't be multiracial because the Vikings were not. But the whole premise here is that the Asgardians are not Vikings, just worshipped by Vikings, and furthermore not even actually human. So why shouldn't Helmdall, the guardian of the Bifrost Bridge, be black? (By the way, this is one of many solid casting choices -- for a character with little dialogue he makes an impact as a guy that not even The Mighty Thor wants to challenge on his bridge.)

And Hogun, the Asian-looking warrior -- well, I never heard of him before, but the first picture I see when I look him up depicts him wearing a Mongol's fur cap and otherwise looking pretty Mongol himself. Looking further into his backstory, little is known of him except he's expressly not even an Asgardian -- he's just buddies with Asgardians. This seems to be yet another case of People Who Think They Know Something Not Actually Knowing Anything, a.k.a. Internet Certainty Syndrome.)

Now begins the first actual action sequence in a comic-book action film, 25 minutes or so in. A CGI affair (not in a bad way, it's reasonably well done, but it is mostly CGI) of Thor and his allies bashing up Frost Giants. And while all of the Asgardian are impressive combatants, mighty and well-nigh invulnerable to harm, Thor is clearly head and shoulders above them all, a god even among the gods themselves. He knocks 20 foot tall Frost Giants back 20 or 30 feet with a blow from his magic (super-dense dwarf-star neutronium) hammer, he calls down thunderbolts that split the earth in rolling earthquakes, he even flies.

The battle turns against the Asgardians as more and more Frost Giants rally to the fight, and they're trapped at the edge of a bottomless CGI chasm, when Odin shows up on a magic horse and threatens the Frost Giants -- back off, or face real war. He then teleports his sons and their allies away, via the Bifrost Bridge. (The "Rainbow Bridge" of Norse legend here is an "Eisen-Rosen bridge," or a wormhole, through space and dimension (dimension, not time); part of it is a physical multicolored bridge, but the most important part of it is a geartech Transporter device a la Star Trek.)

Odin is furious at Thor for directly disobeying him, calling him a "Vain, greedy, cruel boy," and Thor doesn't help calm the situation when he calls his father "An old man and a fool." Deeming Thor "unworthy" of just about everything, Odin strips him of his armor, takes away his magic hammer Mjolnir, and exiles him to "Midgard" (earth, again), to learn a lesson in humility. After casting Thor through the Bifrost Bridge/Eisen-Rosen wormhole, the casts a spell or oath upon Mjolnir -- anyone worthy of being king shall be empowered with the strength to lift the massive object -- and tosses that through the wormhole as well.

At that point -- almost double the usual time (15-17 minutes) universally recommended for an Act I -- Thor lands upon earth, stunned and confused, and stripped of all godly powers.

This is where the movie takes off. The previous stuff, while well-executed for what it is, is all basically a plot that can be cribbed together from the lyrics and cover art of any three Iron Maiden albums selected at random. But it's the fish out of water comedy of Act II -- with Thor continuing his haughty, shouty, high-fallutin' manner of speaking that made perfect sense on Asgard but is now hilariously out of place in a modest diner in the middle of New Mexico.

It turns out the movie is weakest when Thor is in Asgard. Thor is more interesting on Earth, and Asgard is more interesting without Thor, because, absent Thor, the scheming Loki takes center stage. The weakest parts of the film -- not outright weak, but weakest -- are the beginning and end, featuring Thor in Asgard. Predictable, uninspired stuff.

But take the fish out of the water and suddenly the fish and water are both more interesting.

It's the middle section, the Act II, where everything just starts working. To be sure, the film had better start working in Act II if they spent so much damn time setting it up in Act I. But still this is an oddball situation, because Act II tends to be the Graveyard of Almost-But-Not-Quite-Good Movies, which often feature an interesting set-up (Act I) and decent conclusion (Act III) but just, ahem, lose the plot in all the stuff that connects the beginning to the end. Here it's sort of the opposite, where the palace intrigue, the heart, the laughs, the budding romance, the obligatory geek-bait references and Avengers movie previews,* the real fun all happen in the unexpected Act II while the set-up and payoff feel a little stiff and rote.

(* Everyone's spoiling the Avengers movie tie-in; I'll spare you that. Don't read any other review if you don't want to know and wish to be surprised. They virtually all give it away. (Probably shouldn't read the comments either, as people are bound to spoil it.) But yes, there is a little somethin'-somethin' of a preview here in the middle of the movie, and yes, it's cool for nerds.

In addition, check out a prominent billboard advertising travel in New Mexico you see in one scene -- the slogan is "Land of Enchantment... [Redacted To Spare You The Spoiler], a very clever and cute in-world manner of referencing some Thor origin story trivia.)

The scientists who come upon Thor are Natalie Portman (believable enough as a physicist, at least in a comic-book), Stellan Skarsgard (her mentor, and Swedish by birth, he can conveniently offer up some details of Norse mythology when the plot requires him to), and Kat Dennings, scientific illiterate and bumbleheaded comic relief, serving as Portman's assistant, expressly, as Portman says, because "no one else applied."

(Quick thing here, for the guys: I thought Kat Dennings was on the heavier side because they always dress her in dark, shapeless, layer-piled-upon-layer clothing. I wondered if she gained too much weight before the shoot or something, and the director had to cover her up. Like, um, Brando in Apocalypse Now.

A quick Google search supplies a more likely explanation. In all likelihood, the director covered her up in heavy-girl clothes because he didn't want there to be any question of which girl Thor was supposed to be hot for -- Va-va-va-voom.

And, if you like that picture, turn off Google's safe search function and search for "Kat Dennings cell phone hacked nude pictures." You're welcome.)

The three drop "Thor" off at a hospital (Portman's character grimaces when she's forced to say that ludicrous name to the admissions nurse), but he promptly bashes his way out of it and stumbles back into their midst. Although they think he's a lunatic, they also think that maybe he saw something inside that "anomaly" and might be able to shed light on this anomalous anomaly.

(Honestly, anomalies occur so frequently in sci-fi plots that at this point it should simply be accepted that anomalies are absolutely routine and only the absence of any anomaly should be regarded as threatening or worthy of note.

SCIENCE OFFICER: Captain -- I'm getting some interesting readings here.

CAPTAIN: Proceed.

SCIENCE OFFICER: I'm scanning the cloud... our sensors detect no anomalies whatsoever.

CAPTAIN: The devil you say! None? Not even a little one?

SCIENCE OFFICER: None -- but maybe the anomaly is just so well-hidden it defies our understanding of science.

CAPTAIN: Yes, perhaps it just looks like there's no anomaly...

ENGINEERING OFFICER: But Cap'n...! We canna we afford to take that chance!

SCIENCE OFFICER: Captain -- update! I'm not registering such strong non-anomaly signals that its very ordinariness is completely off the charts! I've never seen a non-anomalous event as absolutely mundane as this one!

CAPTAIN: Battle stations! Red alert! Shields full forward and brace for impact!


Thor's hammer has also fallen to earth, lodged in a bit of stone in a crater. Various locals come out to give it the old Sword and the Stone try, but none are mighty enough. (Here's Stan Lee's cameo.) Thor agrees to give Portman "the answers she seeks" (would he really have them?) if she'll just agree to drive him to the hammer crater.

The trouble with that is that Agent Coulson of SHIELD (the guy from Iron Man and Iron Man 2) has now quarantined the area and built a quickie laboratory around it to study it -- it's too heavy to move, being made of a "dying star" and all. (I'm not sure, if it's that heavy, why it should rest on the surface of the earth, either, but forget it, they're rolling.)

Meanwhile, in Asgard, Loki schemes to have Thor's exile make permanent and ascend to the throne himself -- as Odin, due to Loki's treachery, has suffered an Asgardian cardiac arrest and fallen into a coma called, um, "the Odinsleep." Some kind of temporary death he seems to go through from time to time.

The casting is good. Not only do you have Anthony Hopkins playing Anthony Hopkins, but you have Natalie Portman playing Natalie Portman and Stellan Skarsgaard in the role of Stellan Skarsgaard. Snark aside, the cast is good; even the very small bit role of Odin's wife Freya is cast with Rene Russo. Pretty much everyone is good. Almost even "Kat Dennings hacked cell phone pictures" good.

It's hard to cast a superhero. Chris Reeves, a tall but thinnish guy, was famously cast as Superman on the theory that it's easier to give an actor a physical trainer than to give a weightlifter an acting coach. ("That's not tru-- oh wait it is," emails Arnold Schwarzenegger).

In this case, they cast an Australian soap opera actor, whose most notable credit for American audiences was playing James T. Kirk's father in the opening of Star Trek (the 2009 reboot). And then he packed on the muscle. (At one point in a movie a character glibly explain's Thor's great strength -- "Steroids!" -- and I think everyone in the theater thought the same thing at once: "Yes, that is the most likely explanation.")

But he's very good and likely to be a breakout star. The film doesn't demand much of him -- just that he look good without a shirt on, that he demonstrates good comic timing, that he has a bit of charisma and a wry grin, and that he, well, carries a $150 million production (I guess that one's tough) -- but he does that all easily. And while this isn't the most demanding performance possible -- most movies really only demand this much. It's not like your average romantic comedy or action film (the movies he'll most likely star in) are going to require him to emote like Brando either.

The last performance that's worth noting is both the guy who plays Loki and the steel that plays his hat. Both are good. Reviewers are going a little over-praising on the Loki actor, even comparing Loki (and the performance) to... Iago from Othello? Really?

It's a good performance, though. Subtle. My one problem here is that they make Loki so understandable, and he's so ambiguous in terms of that whole Good/Evil thing, he doesn't come off as proper capital-V Villain. He's more of the psychologically bent type than the actually evil or malicious.

I guess a movie can work without a capital-V Villain -- this one does -- but certainly you usually want a real Villain. Sometimes too much subtlety and nuance is counterproductive. I think a comic book action movie might be one of those cases.

Oh, his horned helmet is exactly like the one in the comic books and looks good. Once again fidelity to the absurd source material is made to pay off.

2. What's Wrong.

What's wrong is stuff that's not in the movie, and maybe should have been. This whole section can be subtitled, "You Will Not Suffer For Your Impudence."

I can understand why they went for a lighter, fluffier, funner movie than the stuff I'm going to suggest. Let's count up the risks they were already taking:

1. Thor is a second-tier property, and absent the Avengers agenda, and Iron Man's surprise triumph, would likely not have been developed into a movie.

2. His lead actor is a guy nobody heard of, and literally no one can even recognize, because he doesn't look like he did in his one big role (as Kirk's doomed father in Star Trek).

3. Thor has one of the hardest, and longest, to explain origin stories there is. And these movies tend to suffer when the origin story can't be dealt with quickly.

4. It's all kind of goofy.

Now, with all that working against him, I can understand why Brannagh and the rest decided not to add:

5. Hey, given how much we already have working against us, let's try our hand at some real dramatic moments and take even further risk of looking ridiculous!

Because a lot of the movie is sort of silly (though they do make it work), they maybe felt that if they tried real drama, the material couldn't support it, and it might result in laughter, not sadness or whatever.

So maybe they just decided they would skip this particular risk and focus on the easier stuff.

However, here's the thing: Since the rest of the movie works, pretty darned well, it sort of means they could have swung for the fences and maybe gotten away with it.

There is little in the way of real stakes and real consequences here. For example, in Thor's rebellious attack on the Frost Giants, no actual bad consequences fall from his actions. Sure, supposedly the peace is threatened, but it's not actually broken, and besides, they're Frost Giants. They're no-goodniks. That peace is going to fall some day anyway.

Now, what if a young, quickly-likable warrior, someone who looked up to Thor, and followed him into battle, had died there? That would have really put a big dramatic button on Thor's bad choices. Someone would have suffered for his impulsiveness. (Besides Frost Giants, because, who cares about Frost Giants.)

Thor's arrogance and haught (is haught a word?) continue to be defining traits of the character on earth, but it's all played for laughs. Good laughs; don't get me wrong. It's funny. But Thor isn't really suffering for his flaws if his flaws just lead to comic misadventure.

Not important, really; but it's a pattern of avoiding real dramatic stakes and consequences.

The third time it's done, it is important. Generally, you want your hero brought to his lowest point just a bit before his triumph in Act III. If you can manage it. Some scripts don't lend themselves to this, but if you can bring the hero down to his most desperate, horrible state right before the triumph, it makes the triumph all the greater.

In Die Hard-- McClane's feet get cut to hell and he has that phone call as he removes the glass, telling that black cop that if he dies (and he seems to think he's going to die), make sure his wife knows he's sorry.

In Superman II, much more similar to this movie, because there, Superman loses his powers, Superman is brought to quite a low state indeed after making the romantic but reckless choice to give up his powers to live as man and wife with Lois. He gets the crap beaten out of him by a lowlife, and it's not played for laughs: he babbles "B-b-blood" as he looks at his own blood for the first time, shocked at the sight of it, stunned at what it really means to be a frail mortal.

Oh, and then, two seconds later, on the television, he's told the world is now doomed by the Kryptonian Criminals and Superman is nowhere to be found because he's a coward or something. Double whammy.

That's a really low point. That is the depths.

Nothing like that happens to Thor. If anyone has seen this, they will point out that there is something like this, but it's weak. I don't want to do spoilers, so I'll just say Thor tries something that only a god should be able to do, and since he's not a god anymore, he really should have known he couldn't do it, so it's no big deal that it results in failure.

Yes, I know he's upset to have his mortality confirmed. But it's not new information: It would be like if Superman, having given up his powers, now does the up up and away thing and is surprised that he can't fly. Well of course you can't fly. In Superman II, they didn't make such a minor thing the thing that drives it home to Superman what being a mortal is. No, in Superman II, they let him suffer a lot more than just losing the loss of the power of flight.

Thor is here a homeless man, believed to be a lunatic, without any money. It might have made sense to show him scrounging and hungry and desperate, out in the rain, shielding his head with a cardboard box. Really show his fall from Asgard vividly.

Instead, it's a lot of cutesy fish-out-of-water stuff.

The comedy of that is terrific. Critics are praising it. So am I, actually. I laughed and laughed with/at Thor.

But they choose the comedic route over real drama.

Good choice? Honestly, again, I think it's a perfectly sound choice for them to have made before actually making the picture. Now that they've made it, and were mostly successful, I have to think they're wondering if they shouldn't have gambled a bit more.

Thor's fall isn't really that far down, either. I'm not sure Odin's teaching him as much as a lesson as he might have. Because while Thor is no longer a god, he remains, sort of a god among men. Despite being technically "moral," he is one handsome, smart, buff and badass human.

Thor left one realm where he was the most badass guy in the dimension only be exiled to another realm where he's also the most badass guy in the dimension. Okay, not the most badass, since the Hulk and Tony Stark are somewhere on this planet, but he's the most badass human he knows or meets, at least. His lesson is that, where he once could kick anyone's ass in the dimension, he can now kick 99.99% of anyone's ass in the dimension.)

Just a little weight being thrown on that "fall from grace" idea would have made for a better movie.

The last weightless part of this movie involves Loki. Loki is... well, understandable enough that he's not hatable, even a little sympathetic, and his plan is -- I don't want to give away anything here -- but his plan does not include major life-and-death stakes for anyone you care about.

Oh, he does take a run at his brother Thor, but of course he does that. (And that's not even part of his plan, just something he's backed into by unfolding events.)

I hope it's not a spoiler to say Earth is not at risk. Nor Asgard. Nor Natalie Portman's life. Nor any of the characters we've come to like on earth.

The only people who are in jeopardy are people we really don't care about.

This makes sense in terms of Thor's character arc, I admit. It is true that he demonstrates his growth at the film's end by caring about something he didn't used to care about.

The trouble is, the audience still doesn't care about it, even if Thor does, so what should normally be a double-whammy -- he both saves something the audience cares about and does so in a way that signals his redemption -- it's just a single-whammy. It's just redemption.

Also, the whole movie is his origin story. Usually superhero movies do the origin story for the first half, and the first adventure in the second.

This one is the origin story alone. And it works -- it doesn't feel like anything's missing.

But -- ultimately, by film's end, Thor is exactly the hero you expected him to be in the beginning of the movie. His journey has kinda brought him to the place you thought he'd be starting at.

These are all smaller criticisms. But I do think they had a shot at a three and a half star movie here.

3. What's Next.

The most important thing here -- this is weird, but for all of these movies, the most important thing is -- what the movie says about The Avengers.

You do get a short cameo of someone important for that movie. You do get a good, chuckle-worthy line about Tony Stark.

You also get the Captain America trailer running right before this movie, which looks good. Maybe really good.

The one thing that was a big disappointment to me is that there was no special reveal at the end. Well there was, but it was lame.

The Incredible Hulk (a good movie, by the way) ended with an intro of Tony Stark. Great!

Then Iron Man came, and introduced at the end -- Nick Fury. Great!

Then Iron Man 2 introduced Thor's hammer Mjolnir at the end. Great!

This movie should have introduced like, I don't know, Captain America's iceberg floating in the ocean, with Agent Coulson noting "We've found two bodies in the ice."

"Two dead bodies?"

"Two *bodies*, sir."

And then, yay, Captain America.

But... no, it's not a reference to a hero or something big. It's a reference to a whatsit McGuffin that apparently will be the plot device at the heart of either Captain America or the Avengers. Thing's like a foot across. It beeps. Whoo-hoo.

A little bit of electronics, which just basically looks like an ugly iPad, that I never heard of? This the thing I waited through six minutes of credits for?

Boooo, Thor. Booo, Brannagh. You were supposed to give us something cool at the end. Not some guy's Ultra-Blackberry.

Correction: Commenters tell me the reveal here is more interesting, for nerds, than I thought. The MacGuffin is a "big" thing, if you read the comics, as it's usually a sign of something big and bad. That's a little above my paygrade, though. I didn't get it.

Another commenter says if you look closely in a reflection in this last scene, you may get a glimpse of the villains in The Avengers. I totally missed this, and can't vouch for it, but I believe 'em. But some guys who are big in the Marvel Universe... again, if you're a geek.

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posted by Ace at 05:19 PM

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