(Why yes I do like puns)
It wasn’t a horrible superhero movie – but neither was this a great superhero movie either.
I do commend its visual design though; everything in this movie looks gorgeous and is pure scenery porn. The acting is top notch and I really love that they didn’t drag out the conflict between S.H.I.E.L.D. and Thor (the ever reoccurring “hero vs hero” trope is one of the reasons I’m not a big Marvel fan). But I don’t think this movie is quite worth your time in theater.
I admit up front that I am not well-read on comic Thor. The most I read about him was his appearance in Marvel’s ultimate universe edition of the Avengers called “the Ultimates”. I won’t talk much about him since I could do a near thesis paper on it, but I know that the ultimate universe is different in canon from the regular universe, so I jettisoned any preconceived notions before going into the theater.
The first half or 2/3rds of this movie were great but there’s a point (I can almost mark it on the reel) where the movie just takes a sharp turn and ends up with an ending not nearly satisfying enough for all the buildup. It certainly didn’t tie that well into any attempted character arcs to the point that I was wondering if a half hour had gone missing. And the only way to explain this is to largely go over the movie again but with things that are revealed later filled in chronologically. So strap in.
(if you don’t want to, here’s my rating)
So the movie starts out (excluding a brief bit with humans that we come back to) with backstory and set up, which we find out is all being told by an older Odin to his two sons, Thor & Loki – which is a good way to establish exposition and tell us all we need to know. It’s also good because this movie is fundamentally a study of the relationship between Thor & Loki.
Some time later, the two boys are grown up and Asgard is celebrating as Thor prepares to take his place as heir to the throne. However, the ceremony is interrupted by a couple of frost giants (the primary antagonist race) trying to raid the Asgard armory. It is stopped by a huge, kick-ass metal golem/robot. Seems that Loki let them in to spoil Thor’s big day and try to delay his ascension.
Thor feels the botched raid to be a gross insult to national pride and wants to go give the frost giants the beating he feels they deserve. So along with his brother and 4 friends, Thor runs to the planet/plane of the giants and starts a huge ruckus that his father has to come clean up.
Here’s the most important part of the story so far: both Thor & Loki are right and wrong in the same way at the same time.
On the first level, the two characters seem to be experiencing something that I’m disappointed more movies don’t show (but always tell): the difference between knowledge and experience. Although both Thor & Loki know about the frost giants, know about “international” politics, neither of them takes all these concepts that seriously. Loki is just pranking his brother as all brothers do. Thor is just looking for a fight. That any of their actions might have grave consequences does not register in their minds. The reasoning both give is also sound. From what we can tell, Loki is right: Thor is not ready at all for a statesmanship position. From what we know about them, Thor is also right: the frost giants really need a strong hand (they come off as little more than animals).
When daddy comes to save them, we see the first realization in both of these characters of the true magnitude of their actions. Even Loki (who’s “childish prank” started the whole incident) appears horrified at Odin banishing Thor to earth.
During the fight and not long after the banishment, Loki learns that he is, in fact, a frost giant raised as an Asgardian. Why? It must be from the comics because you could cut out plot thread from the movie and it wouldn’t make a damn bit of difference to any story (I think it would have improved things as we could have then had more time to explore other issues).
Odin ends up in a semi-coma (called the “Odinsleep”) so Loki ends up in charge by default.
Here’s where things get interesting… and fail.
We are only shown 9 citizens of Asgard in total (King, Queen, 2 sons, 3 warriors, girl, door-guard). The only reaction we see to Loki becoming king is from Thor’s 4 friends and the door-guard. All five of them resent it. We never get to see the reaction of any other citizen of Asgard. Are the aforementioned five all supposed to be representative of the popular opinion in Asgard? Yet all five of them just loathe and hate Loki when what he’s done isn’t that wrong – or at least no more wrong than anything Thor has done. So far it looks like the characters have just accepted Loki as the Designated Villain.
Why do I bring this up? For two following scenes.
During all this, Thor has been on Earth, having a few shenanigans but still not grasping the seriousness of what’s happened to him. Only when he tries to retrieve his hammer (and fails) does the full weight of everything finally comes crashing down on his shoulders. He thought this was just a temporary time out, but now he realizes that this punishment is worse than that.
At his emotional low point, Loki pays a pseudo-visit (it seems to be a sort of magic/tech hologram communication) to Thor. He lies about Odin being dead and lies about Thor remaining banished as a condition of maintaining peace with the frost giants.
No, why isn’t Thor’s banishment an actual condition with maintaining the peace treaty? This is something that Loki should not be lying about because it makes perfect sense. Thor’s brash actions nearly sparked an “international” incident on a multiverse scale. Yet we saw no real effort from Odin to smooth over things other than to shake his “big stick” at them and warn them about another war. On the one hand, this movie wants to have the message of “War should only be an option of a last resort” yet the very characters that should be the ones most searching for ways to avoid it don’t really do so. Thor being banished to earth to pacify the frost giants (after all, he invaded their home and started breaking/killing them) makes perfect sense in the story.
But that’s not a part of the reasons he’s tossed out.
This gets better when we see Loki show up on the frost giant world to plot with them for a more serious incursion into Asgard. Since Odin is in a coma, the frost giants have a perfect opportunity to kill the powerful leader of Asgard.
But then we see Loki shoot the frost giant leader before he can make the kill.
Remember when I brought up before the only real hint about the opinions of Asgard’s citizens we are shown? If we assume that the 5 people shown are representative of popular opinion, it seems likely (well, more likely than nothing at all – which is the actual “reason” we’re given) that Loki set up a “false flag” situation so that he could then gain the people’s favor.
Again: perfectly logical in the story sense – not touched upon in the actual movie. Why did Loki set up the frost giants for him to kill them? The movie never explains.
After this, Loki runs to the wormhole/warp thingy that the Asgardians use to travel the multiverse and dials it up to 11 while pointing it at the frost giant world/plane in order to destroy the latter.
The movie never gives us any reason for Loki to do this. We’re never shown a scene where a rabble is hounding Loki to “do” something about the aggressive attack on their beloved king. The movie perfectly set up a possible echo to the beginning of the film, to have a plot of Loki’s go spiraling out of his control. But it doesn’t. He just suddenly wants to commit genocide against his own birth people. Why? I guess the movie just really wanted him to be a designated villain. And apparently you can’t be a villain nowadays without being a little genocidal.
And before this all happened, at one point Thor’s 4 friends (try saying it five times fast) go to Earth to find him. So Loki sends the giant metal golem/robot to “destroy everything, kill Thor.”
WHY? Why does Loki suddenly want to destroy all of Earth? The movie can’t even answer that, because as soon as Thor sacrifices himself (because even the Norse gods have to have Christian imagery) to the golem/robot, Loki turns it away as if he didn’t really want to destroy Earth all along. If the movie had established earlier that Thor’s banishment was a condition of the peace treaty, then the action makes some sense with Loki doing his best to just prevent a war (in which case, he could just say “kill Thor” not “destroy everything”). But no, Loki has to be the designated villain so he has random violence and mayhem until killing his brother.
Then, to top off his character arc, at the end Loki – hanging on for dear life over the abyss – lets go and falls… away. Again, if they movie had maintained the theme of “in over his head” and “trying to do the right thing”, this scene would make sense. Loki’s just tired of it all, he can’t bear to face the consequences of his actions, he crumbles under the pressure.
Then there’s Thor…
Look, I like the idea and generally enjoy the concept of atoner heroes. But where was Thor’s arc? We have a beginning Thor which is different from ending Thor, but where is the middle?
When he’s banished, Odin puts a curse/requirement on the magical hammer of power that “only those worthy” may wield it. Thor proves himself worthy when he gets killed trying to keep humans (and the rest of the Earth… maybe) from being killed. And while I admit that sacrifice is a very worthy trait, why was it now that Thor became worthy? From what we could tell from his earlier attack on the frost giants, Thor was as willing to die for others before as he was later. By far the most interesting moment I thought, the point that he was “closest” to being worthy was the brief scene in the movie where he helps serve breakfast for some of his human companions. Except we’re never shown that he was all that arrogant in the first place. The only real change I could see logically flowing between act 1 Thor and act 5 Thor is that of listening to what others have to say. (again, commendable trait but…worthy of a god’s power?)
Then there are moments that just don’t make any sense from what’s come before. Thor is actually horrified at Loki’s attempted genocide and ends up preventing it. Why? We never really see him change his opinions about the frost giants. We’re never told that destroying their world will wreck the multiverse. At the beginning of the movie he was willing (and looked ready) to kill them all with his bare hands. Maybe the golem/robot attack on earth let him “see” how his actions looked to others but we’re never shown or told that he feels regret or this realization over his previous actions. Again on some level that attack only happened because of his friends.
Is that the lesson of this movie? The real villains are the warriors 3 and Siph?
And then… the romance… (ugh).
Look, I can understand wanting to get back to Natalie Portman as soon as possible but can’t we have – just for once – a hero love people in general (which would have especially worked well in this story). I think that’s one reason why a lot of people don’t like love interests for Batman. The idea is that he’s fond of Gotham – he does what he does out of love (agape/charity love) and duty to his fellow citizens. I think that’s why so many dislike Rachel Dawes in the new movies. These films come the closest to showing Batman’s pure altruism… so how dare someone else show up to divert his love & attention from us.
Why couldn’t Thor learn to appreciate humanity in general? Why couldn’t he have a few meetings here and there and learn to appreciate us as a race/species – showing him that other peoples can be valuable, perhaps explaining his realization that the frost giants deserve to live too.
But now, having him be a little bit racist and learning a lesson would probably make him too unlikable for today’s audiences I guess, and Thor is the designated hero.
I’m just… sad that a film which was so colorful on screen, was so black and white in the story & characters.