Kenneth Branagh.

 

Shakespeare. Most prolific British actor of his generation. Gilderoy Lockhart (for the younger audiences). These are all reasonable associations to make when you hear Kenneth Branagh’s name. No man has done more to re-invigorate interest in William Shakespeare since Laurence Olivier, and he’s truly a legend of the silver screen. So, when I heard that he was tapped to direct the film adapation of Marvel Comics’ Thor, I was immediately intrigued. While I’m not as familiar with the god of thunder as I am other members of the Marvel Universe, I knew that the rich backstory and mythology of Asgard could make for some potentially intriguing cinema if Kenneth Branagh were free to do it the right way. Well, let’s just say that Branagh should stick to Shakespeare. In a world that is post the original Iron Man/ The Dark Knight/ X-2: X-Men United/ and Spiderman 2, audiences have come to expect a little more sophistication and finesse in our comic book adaptions, and Thor failed to deliver on virtually any important front.

Rooted deeply in both ancient Norse mythology as well as modern science fiction conventions, Thor is the origin tale of the titular god of thunder. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is the arrogant and powerful son of Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and heir to the mythical kingdom of Asgard, much to the jealousy of his brother Loki. Right as Thor is about to be coronated as the new king of Asgard, events fall into motion that lead Thor to commit a blunderous and foolish assault on the enemies of Asgard and threatens the safety of the entire realm. Odin banishes Thor to Earth and strips him of all of his powers to teach him humility. Loki uses the ensuing chaos of Thor’s banishment to try and secure the throne for himself, and Thor finds himself on Earth without his powers and must learn the true meaning of being a hero in order to gain back his magical hammer, Mjolnir, and save the kingdom of Asgard as well as Earth.

Where to begin with the faults of the film (because there are so few positives)? Well, let’s begin with the most basic element which is the story and characterization. While I respect Branagh’s desires to construct an interesting mythology and background to frame the film in, he merely sets up a skeletal shell with rushed exposition and a rare combination of technobabble and hand-waving. No one in the film (except for possibly Loki who still comes off as comically evil) has any real depth or dimensions. Thor is possibly the most flat superhero that I can think of. People often complain that Superman lacks any real depth and most of the films do terrible jobs of examining him as a character (the under-rated Superman Returns excepted), but there’s some hidden depths to be found if you actually pay attention. I examined this film trying to desperately try and find some hidden meaning in his character and it just didn’t exist. His tale of redemption is virtually unbelievable as I can’t really find one single moment in the film that would have sparked the sort of change that he suddenly and unbelievably exhibits. The heavy-handed morality of the film simply re-inforces the shallow storytelling stereotypes that unfairly exist around comic books and its incredibly unfortunate.

The wooden and unnatural Chris Hemsworth aside, this film has the making of a virtually A-list cast that it squanders on awkward dialogue and endless exposition. Natalie Portman went from the sublime Black Swan to a character who literally exists to look pretty and tame Thor. Stellan Skarsgaard is a star of the Scandinavian screen and he is reduced to explaining the Norse mythology or uttering scientific nonsense. Idris Elba (aka Stringer Bell from The Wire) is acting tour-de-force and he plays the equivalent of a human door. Not even Anthony Hopkins is given enough to work with. If you give that man crumbs, he can turn it into a feast, and he is simply starved for good material. The only surprise of the whole film was Tom Hiddleston as the villainous Loki who at least adds some gravitas to his transformation to the dark side, but he too is weighed down by the absolutely silly nature of the plot.

I could continue to pick apart other significant flaws of the film such as how in such a special effects heavy film, I felt like I was playing a high budget video game rather than a summer block-buster or how unbelievably dumb Loki’s costume is, but I’m going to stop now and simply state that there is no one I can recommend this to outside of hardcore fans of The Avengers or Thor‘s comic itself. If the character of Thor returns for The Avengers film, I am certain that Joss Whedon will be able to come up with something better for him to do than this waste of celluloid, but that’s in the future, and now, we are stuck with this dreadful excuse of superhero pageantry. It’s not well-written enough in the drama department to take itself as seriously as does (unlike The Dark Knight) and whenever it attempts humor, it falls flat on its face (unlike Iron Man). It is only saved by an occasionally evocative world in Asgard and Tom Hiddleston’s stand-out performance. Otherwise, the god of thunder doesn’t go out with a bang but rather a whimper.

Final Score: C-

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