Thome Thoughts on Thor

Posted: May 9, 2011 in Braak, comic books
Tags: , , ,

I saw Thor over the weekend, and there are some pretty good parts in that movie, which I will discuss. There are also some parts that I think could have been better, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a movie that didn’t have some parts that I thought could have been better. Art is an aggregation of imperfect efforts to achieve an unattainable ideal! So, to business.

[Oh, uh, spoilers and such to follow]

Good Things:

1) Thor smashes the crap out of things with his hammer. I know this may not seem like much, but when you consider that in a lot of superhero movies, you get barely any time when the hero is doing his hero business, it’s nice to see one who just knows what he’s about. “Why did you go to see Thor?” “Because I wanted to see Thor smash the crap out of things with this hammer.” “Okay, well, here’s a scene where he knocks a frost giant into space.” “Done and done.”

2) There is a non-standard superhero plot to this movie. The structure of it, which begins with Thor actually already the god of thunder, enables it to have a plot that is something different from: regular guy discovers/builds/attains superpowers, decides to become a hero, learns to control his powers, and fights an evil version of himself. That is 95% of superhero movies, and it’s getting kind of old.

The essential element of Thor is not Thor using his power to fight another thunder god, but understanding the value of sacrifice as both a hero and a king (the use of kingship, incidentally, provides another interesting and uncommon perspective of what it means to be a “hero”), and Thor wins by making those sacrifices, as opposed to just powering up and knocking someone down (though he does do that; see point (1) ). Moreover, the final sacrifice he makes is actually a for real sacrifice, unlike the fake-ass sacrifice that Spider-Man makes at the end of Spider-Man: “Oh, Mary Jane, I can’t be with you, due to…you know. Feelings, and such. Everyone’s got feelings.” Weep weep weep.

3) Man, Kenneth Branagh gets some good performances out of his guys. Everyone just seemed really natural and comfortable and believable, even when they were wearing giant horned golden space armor.

4) Loki. Tom Hiddleston, first of all, just does a stand-out job, moving in and out of sincerity, insecurity, and ultimately a kind of wild-eyed madness. And he’s helped by the fact that in Thor, even the villain has a character arc. Loki has a plan that is tied in to his personal motivations, his relationship to his father and his brother, and that, from a certain perspective, actually could seem like the right thing to do. Again, unusual for a superhero movie, where the badguy is usually just: “KILL SPIDER-MAN, BLAARAARRGH!”

5) Asgard. Asgard looked pretty amazing, and the fact that the Asgardians travel from realm to realm via giant rainbow space cannon is pretty awesome.

Here are some things I think could have been done better:

1) The cinematography. Kenneth Branagh is maybe not a great cinematographer, I think? He kept using these weird, canted angles that made it seem like…well, like the camera was always crooked. I would like to one day see a superhero movie in which the director used the cinematography and composition thoroughly. Maybe Green Hornet was like that, I don’t know, but it’d be nice to see a movie like this in which they said, “Yeah, this matters as a movie, not just as a straightforward showcase for seeing Thor smash a dude.”

Also, I definitely wish more directors (and cinematographers and EDITORS) of action movies in general and superhero movies in particular would realize that it defeats the purpose of having a rad-ass action sequence if you’ve cut the thing together in a way that I can’t tell what the shit is happening. Thor bashing some giants into space was great, but there were parts of that big fight where I had no idea what was going on. Hogan was throwing some thing? Sif had a spear, or something? What?

Hey, remember in Robin and Marian, that fight that Sean Connery and Robert Shaw have with the axe and longsword, and it’s just basically one long shot where you can tell what the fuck is happening? Remember that?

2) Volstagg should have been fatter. This just seems weird, because Volstagg is obviously Thor’s Falstaff, so you’d think if anyone knew how fat he should be, it’d be Kenneth Branagh.

3) It would have been nice to see the frost giants as something other than evil-looking adversaries living in an obviously-evil fortress of evil. I think just a little bit of revelation that there were frost giant children in Jotunheim for instance, or that the giants were – angry, scary – people trying to survive in a world that was hostile and damaged would have raised the stakes a little bit at the end, when Loki starts on with his genocide plan.

4) Sex. This isn’t exactly a criticism, per se, just something I noticed after having a discussion about Wonder Woman on Jezebel. And it’s actually two things, the first is: is it my imagination, or has there been less sex in action movies since the 1990s? I feel like I remember every action movie having at least one prerequisite sex scene in it – I remember finding those scenes boring when I was twelve, but now I kind of wonder where they’ve gone. It’s also always really vanilla sex, which I think is also interesting, though maybe a post for another time.

The second thing, though, is: does it seem like the Marvel movies are especially sexless? There’s some kissing that goes on in some of these movies, but I think Iron Man is the only one who actually does it with anyone (and then only in the first movie). Of course, the comics are actually pretty sexless, too, which is also weird: for a medium that sexualizes women a lot (and men somewhat), there never seems to be any actual sex happening anywhere, and what the hell is that about? Just boobs and thongs all over the place, but no one ever seems to get it on, I don’t understand.

Anyway, yeah, I know it’s still basically a kids’ movie, and if there’s one thing that 14 year olds DON’T care about, it’s sex (?), but man, I’m not ashamed to admit that I just wanted to see Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman go at it. Those are two very attractive people! That would have been a really good sex scene, I think.

So, all that said: some things could have been done better, some things were done great. All in all, KABOOM!, A+ movie, would see again.

  1. “Is that Meow-Meow?”

  2. braak says:

    “I need to get Mjolnir.”

    “Meow meow? What’s meow meow?”

    Hahahahah. Oh, Kat Dennings.

  3. I must take issue with your headline mockery of people with lisps, though. I just get really Thor about that.

  4. Erin says:

    “There is a non-standard superhero plot to this movie. The structure of it, which begins with Thor actually already the god of thunder, enables it to have a plot that is something different from: regular guy discovers/builds/attains superpowers, decides to become a hero, learns to control his powers, and fights an evil version of himself.”

    But… that was the plot of this movie, more or less. By taking away his powers, they turned it into a fairly standard origin movie. And if Loki isn’t an evil version of Thor, I don’t know what is.

    It was a good origin movie, but it was still an origin movie.

  5. braak says:

    I don’t agree. I think there’s a substantial difference between learning to control the legacy that you’ve been endowed with, and struggling to regain the legacy that you believe you should have. The emotional arc is different — the essential choice that Thor makes to regain his power is his willingness to sacrifice himself as a human being, rather than, for instance, accepting the responsibility that his powers come with.

    And the evil version of Thor is the Executioner, or the Absorbing Man; Loki is antithetical to Thor, but he doesn’t have essentially the same power-set (like Iron Man/Iron Monger, Hulk/Abomination, even Spider-Man and the Green Goblin, to a degree).

    It’s an “origin story” only in the broadest sense of the term, and in that sense, yeah of course it was an origin story. It’s the origin of Thor’s character at the end of the movie, juxtaposed with his character at the beginning of the movie, but that’s true of any story in which there’s emotional development and the main character 1) doesn’t die, and 2) is presumably going on to have more adventures.

  6. abbytron says:

    I know exactly what you mean about being confused during action sequences. It’s actually rare that I’m able to follow them, so obviously in my case it’s something wrong with my brain, not something wrong with the way it’s made. Seriously, like I just see a clusterfuck for about 5 minutes and can only deduce what exactly just happened by the dialogue that follows.

  7. Erin says:

    “I think there’s a substantial difference between learning to control the legacy that you’ve been endowed with, and struggling to regain the legacy that you believe you should have.”

    Okay – I see where you’re coming from, and I’ll concede the point at a character level. However, in terms of pacing and structure, it played out like most origin stories, which bothered me. I wanted more super-god Thor than the movie delivered.

    Regarding Loki: when they fought, he was the anti-Thor. Sure, he had a few other powers, but their fight was two super-strong guys beating on each other.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  8. braak says:

    Loki had a whole character arc, and plans, and everything!

    Listen, whatever, go watch your own movie, then.

  9. I was a small fan of the canted camera angles. It was a bit stilted at first: feeling awkward and such, but it was a way to lighten the tone visually. Comic books do those canted angles quite a lot, as do music videos. Massive blockbuster films don’t, because it does throw the viewer off a bit. But the point of throwing you off is to make you think about the shot. Maybe it’s too much and pulls you out of the moment, but those techniques which pull you out of the moment and into thinking about the techniques are so rarely done in modern day hollywood that I welcome them. It might have just been a style choice that he regrets now, but I appreciate that someone out there is making the effort to try and do something different and for a purpose, even if it is in a small way.

    Also, is it because I was raised on music videos and action films? These fight scenes weren’t too difficult to follow. I mean, compared to, say, Doomsday, these fight scenes were practically simple. (I do love Neil Marshall films, but his fights scenes are just absurdly difficult to follow. I wonder if it’s because he writes, shoots and edits himself.) And yes, she did have a spear, though it was a staff that extended into a spear. There was no glory shot of that weapon, which I imagine might lead to confusion, but that’s the only aspect where I see confusion. Though having all the villains and the background the same basic monotonous colour probably didn’t help.

  10. braak says:

    Yeah, I wish the Frost Giants had been a color that popped against the background — that could have been the bulk of my problem (though I still want to know what Hogan was throwing at them). Maybe I am just old and my brain is falling apart.

    The thing about the canted angles is that I didn’t get the sense of them as part of a larger style choice. In Hulk, for example, Ang Lee does all of that crazy direction and composition, and I wasn’t bothered by it at all — it was weird, at first, but ultimately kind of cool. The problem that I had with the canted camera in Thor is that it didn’t feel like it was part of anything else, so whenever I saw it, instead of just feeling like I was living in a more expressionist world, I felt like, “Wait, why is the camera always crooked?”


  11. I think fight scenes in both movies AND in comic books have become muddled, chaotic soups. Comics scripting and storytelling has advanced a lot since the Silver and Bronze ages, but the movement toward painterly, collectible original comics art has rendered coherent action scenes few and far between. I mean, in a single-page action sequence, you can literally have no idea who’s punching whom or who’s getting thrown through what. I don’t know whom to blame for this so I’ll settle for Geoff Johns.

  12. braak says:

    Bryan Hitch, who did the art in Ultimates, I think did a really good job conveying what was going on in action sequences.

    Or, well, sometimes you couldn’t tell exactly what was going on specifically, but you always knew exactly what was happening if that makes sense.

  13. I don’t think you’re old, I just think I was raised on MTV and action movies. I demand a lot to keep me into an action sequence, though sometimes a lot comes down to a well choreographed action sequence in one long shot where I can see what’s going on. Though when they try those nowadays they go well over the top with the wire-fu and ridiculousness. (see: The Musketeer- yes, wire-fu in a film called The Musketeer)

    Yes, you’re probably right about the canted angles. I guess I’m not the only person who likes Ang Lee’s Hulk. I’m still not a fan of Gangs of New York, but i noticed recently that Scorsese was trying to do something to up the ante of action sequences. Though sadly, it looks like the editing room made his anti-climactic finale make no sense at all. But look at the riot scenes on the other side of town. He incorporates Eisenstein style montages of brutality. Sadly they don’t work at all, but it is nice ot see someone trying.

  14. Jeff Holland says:

    Just so everyone’s clear here, both Braak and I are in our very, very early 30’s. We, too, have long been familiar with music video editing and action movies. We are, on occasion, Hip To What The Young People Are Into.

    But there has been a marked increase in editing action sequences down to the bone, where if a shot is held longer than 3 seconds it’s a miracle. I know the first time I really noticed it was Paul Greengrass’s first Bourne movie, and at the time, I took it as a response to the creeping Matrix effect of overly formal action staging.

    And it was a breath of fresh air at the time – a sense that fights are quick and brutal and happen faster than you’re able to see – but hopefully we’re reaching the end of this particular sensibility and can find some nice middle ground.

    Unrelated to this thought, I would like to nominate “We drank, we fought, he made his ancestors proud!” as the line that made the movie for me.

  15. Ah, see, I thought the middle ground had been found. Say, like, with the Bond films and Iron Man and, well, Thor. It’s still fast paced, but you can tell what’s going on. Thor’s biggest problem, I thought, was that the Ice Giants were the same color and texture as Jotunheim. Did either of you have trouble during the earth-set fight scenes? Or when Luke Cage (seemed like him to me) showed up to fight a ‘humanised’ Thor? I don’t think Thor’s fight scenes were too frantic, but there was a big problem with the CGI and color grading of Jotunheim.

  16. Also, I’m roughly the same age, though I do work as an editor, so perhaps my eyes/mind are geared towards catching everything very quickly. I wonder if sitting so close to the screen it fills my entire lens corrected vision helps.

  17. Jeff Holland says:

    I THOUGHT we were getting out of it with Casino Royale, but then Quantum of Solace started with the choppity-chop and now I’m not so sure. Maybe the Sam Mendes Bond movie will settle this once and for all.

    As for Thor, though, yes – I’ll agree that it was probably the color palette during the frost giants sequence that was giving me more trouble than the cutting.

  18. […] his Thor post, Braak rightly admitted that you did kind of want to see Thor and Jane Foster DO IT. That’s not […]

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  20. Carl says:

    Yeah, I finally saw “Thor” tonight. (I remember skipping this post way back in the way-back-when cause of spoilers and such.) I have, at last, seen all of the pre-Avengers films (I have kids, I’m busy and poor, shut up) and am now faced with the daunting task of locating a theatre in the greater King of Prussia area STILL showing the ‘Avengers’ flick before it exits the theaters.

    I heartily agree with all five points you cited as positives. Yeah, his hammering things; yeah ALL OF HIS NORSE GOD SHIT. I had the very same thought about Branagh as a director here: there are so many ways it could not have worked, so much to distract and undermine the storytelling and characterizations; yet, that never happened. I was impressed by how true-to-life and yet perceptibly ‘other’ the Asgarders felt. I think between his directing and the level of detail in the visual storytelling of Asgard (which, as you say, is extraordinary), this may be the only time I have ever seen the “world of the gods” rendered believably on screen. It gives me hope for the inevitable Silmarillion adaption(s), whenever they show up. Yes, villain arc; yes, Tom Hiddleston stole the show. I’ve never seen his work before, but I was very taken. It’s hard to play a GOD who is also a SUPERVILLAIN and not be over-the-top.

    I have to disagree about the portrayal of the Frost Giants as unsympathetic and one-dimensional. Meredith and I thought they were incredibly sympathetic. She said so several times. They even offer to let Thor and Friends go unharmed in their first go-round. I teared up a little when didn’t-do-nothin-to-nobody giant icedog got his head punctured by that showoff heroics of our rock-and-roll brat-god protagonist. (Not as bad as the poor cave troll getting the arrows through the skull, but right up there.) Knowing there were captive Frost Giant babies is Asgard would have ratcheted it up even more, but I think the movie was succeeding on this point without it.

    The original ‘Iron Man’ was the strongest of the pre-Avenger films, but this is a close second. (Also, being a theist, there’s probably some deophile bias operating here. But what can be done about that?)

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