Saturday, May 14, 2011

I saw Thor and now I will review it for the edification of my readers

First things first: I love going to see all superhero movies. That's not to say that I love all superhero movies, although I love a lot of them (especially the first two Spiderman movies, X-Men 2 and 3, Iron Man, and my very first superhero movie: The Shadow, starring Alec Baldwin, a film tragically forgotten by history). But superhero movies seem almost uniquely aware that the main reason that I've turned over eight to twelve of my dollars to spend several hours of my day sitting in a dark room is to be entertained, and they obligingly respond with a series of events that are carefully tuned to be maximally entertaining.

Superhero movies also understand that a movie doesn't have to constantly wink at the audience in order to be fun. Most seem good-naturedly willing to to put on their game face and crank up the faux gravitas and dime-store melodrama. My pet theory is that this is because a long time ago comic books discovered, accepted, and embraced the fact that audiences are enthusiastic co-conspirators in the suspension of disbelief, willing to go along for the ride, just so long the ride is sufficiently thrilling. Most films operate under the assumption that they have to convince us -- even force us -- to like or believe their characters, but superhero movies know that isn't necessary. Superhero movies know that people are empathetic creatures that can relate to anything if we want to. So they bargain with us. "If let yourself feel sad about Uncle Ben's death, you'll be rewarded with a perfectly satisfactory ending with all the appropriate emotional beats you crave." A lot of people probably find this approach annoying but I think it's admirable in its pragmatic drive to make sure everyone has a good time. It also means that superhero movies aren't trying to reinvent the wheel; they don't monkey with the all plot and character and stylistic archetypes that everyone knows and everybody responds to. Instead, they dedicate themselves almost entirely to putting those archetypes to use as effectively as possible, constantly fine-tuning a finite set of affirmedly satisfying, entertaining dramatic tropes. Superhero stories have taken a handful of stock situations that elicit glee from the audience -- the hero recovers from certain defeat, to the shock of the gloating villain! -- and made an art form of cultivating the emotions they evoke. It's all very workmanlike but they've also gotten quite good at it. And as result, while there have certainly been lousy superhero movies I can hardly think of one that I didn't have fun watching. (Except the Fantastic Four movies. Those sucked.)

So that's a fairly roundabout way of saying I definitely enjoyed Thor. It was pretty good! Especially if you're the type of person who likes these things!

(Judging from the people at my showing, the "type of people" who like these things are balding middle-aged men, uncomfortably alone, evenly spaced out at 15-seat intervals throughout the theater. I could speculate as to what this means for me and my past and future emotional development. But I won't.)

There were only two things that bugged me about the movie, really. The first was Natalie Portman, the mortal woman who wins the heart of Thor, god of thunder, in about three days. Natalie Portman is a hopelessly irritating actress in a lot of contexts -- something about the chirpy voice and the fact that she will forever remind me of this doofus. More broadly, the love-at-first-sight romance ("first sight" being literally as Portman runs over him with her car) seemed pretty implausible initially. Then I remembered I was watching about warring Norse gods, so I settled down and went with it.

The other problem is that a very large part of the appeal of Thor is watching burly Viking-types hit each other with blunt and bladed implements, and Kenneth Branagh instead has chosen to direct the action scenes like he's just seen The Bourne Identity 17 times in a row, which is to say that very often you're left watching, in extreme close-up, ambiguous forms that may, or may not, be burly Viking-types hitting each other with blunt and bladed implements. What makes the choice even more baffling is that the entire purpose of this style of action directing is to make the action feel real, like you're there in the midst of the battle, except in this instance "there" is the extra-dimensional realm of Asgard and generally speaking it's going to take a good deal more than shaky-up-close camera work to mentally transport me so far afield. All things considered, I would have preferred that Branagh had just zoomed back the camera a bit and slowed down the fights slightly and traded a little bit of, um, verisimilitude for the opportunity to let me watch Thor really thwack a frost giant with his mighty hammer Mjolnir.

But then again, the other movies I could have seen are Water for Elephants and Jumping the Broom and this movie is still way ahead of them in the frost giant department. So all and all, pretty happy with Thor.


  1. You put an extra 's' on "reader."

  2. HEY! I am the 'type of person' that likes these movies, too. Also, I DIDN'T like this movie for precisely the points you point out. I wanted to see some awesome fight scenes. I mean, isn't that the point when you get the lead to put on 20 pounds of pure muscle? I wanted to see those arms swinging a giant hammer. Repeatedly. And, come on, the God of Thunder falls in love with a little girl upon lying eyes on her? Just after loosing his divinity/immortality? I think not.

    I loved the secondary female character, but, alas, I do not even remember her name.

    I just discovered your blog. A little offended that you never told me about it, but then, for my sanity perhaps it is good you did not. You drive me bloody crazy as it is.