A-Z Action/Movie Review: Northm(eh)n

First, please see for reference my preview post, which is to say the review I wrote of Thor prior to actually watching the movie.

I purposefully held off writing this for the weekend, on the off chance that my words might actually influence the spending of anyone’s dollars. I know that I hate to read a review that pans a movie I was pumped to see, because when I do see the film I can’t get the review’s words out of my head.

Then again, what I write is rarely a review of the film, so much as an account of my impressions of the film and what I enjoyed/was cold to. And, as I’ve mentioned before, I rarely if ever write about a movie I didn’t like because:

  1. I like all sorts of things. I find that I’m usually far more enthused about a variety of influences than the reviewers I do end up reading.
  2. If I don’t like something, it’s rare that I finish it. If I didn’t like a thing and I finished it, it’s rare that I’m so incensed at its poor quality that I’ll go out of my way to discourage other people from experiencing it.
    • I’m trying to think of examples of this latter point in practice—about all I can think of is that I used to go out of my way to not sell people the Wheel of Time series at either book store I worked at.
    • Though, in my defense, folks were usually much happier with whatever I put them on than they would have been after about five books of WoT.

So, given all that preamble, what’d I think of the film?

It…it wasn’t great.

I’m still hells-of conflicted about my opinion on this subject. I was actually discussing it with a couple regular readers of this here blog, and when one of them stated that he’d quite enjoyed Thor I felt a great guilt. I’m supposed to love this movie, because we’re in the middle of a superhero renaissance, and Thor was a hotly-anticipated part of that experience. Plus, I should be the ideal target audience for a Thor film: I like Thor as a a character; I know more than enough about Norse mythology itself that they’re not going to present some dude or object and have confused about who he is (or even confused about whether or not she’s actually a part of the mythology); I know Sif is blonde, famously and significantly blonde, but I’m not hung up on her being a brunette; and, possibly most significantly, I’m not so into Thor that any little change to what’s in the comics breaks my ability to enjoy him (Though, now that I’m thinking about it, it kind of makes the entire plot of Thor’s character a little silly that she isn’t blonde; but I’m too kind to even point out why!).

I did not hate the film, either. Natalie Portman is adorable, and charming, and crush-generating. It was actually nice to be reminded of all these things, as I never got around to seeing Your Highness and thus the only things I’ve seen her face attached to for the last many months are creepy Black Swan shots/posters and stuff for that romantic comedy she did with the Jakester. The first is…that’s so thoroughly not my alley I couldn’t find its block my map. The latter just feels somewhat sad and tedious, though my conflicted attitude towards rom-coms is a wholly different issue for another time. But it was wonderful to see the same Natalie that sent me into a tailspin in college with her Garden State performance. It was nice to see her being utterly irresistible, and so tiny next to Helmsworth.

Chris himself did a great job of portraying Thor the way I’ve always accepted dude, too. Thor is cheesy. He’s a huge, lovable, ridiculous galut who talks funny. He hangs out with a gigantic dude who’s mostly just hungry, and keeps taking credit for Thor’s accomplishments. He likes to smack stuff with a hammer, he’s off-the-scale strong, he relishes battle…he provides an opportunity for a hero who doesn’t have to be all twisted up with conflicts about his powers and their sources, who doesn’t have to be tied up in ridiculously angsty relationships, who hits things with a gigantic hammer because that’s what hammers be for. I’m not saying he’s a one-dimensional character, because balancing his incredible might with his fingerpainted Vikingness is a challenge. And I’m not ignoring that other ideas of Thor have existed; I’m mostly looking at the Ultimates Thor (who doesn’t have that whole walking-stick transformation thing going).

In a way, Thor’s actually more patriotic than Captain America sometimes: you can just read him kicking ass and yell “Fuck Yeah!” while pumping a fist, and not have to think too hard about the geopolitical or jingoistic implications of his activities. I admit I haven’t read every bit of his back catalog, though, so maybe he does eventually go toe-to-toe with Neo Nazis doing things in his name, or the like.

Watching Thor and his people beat the hell out of frost giants is awesome. The frost giants are awesome. I was impressed at how much pathos they actually afford the Jotun, particularly in some of the scenes near the climax. It’s not easy to take a twelve-foot, monstrous creature and make them both horrible villains and somewhat pitiable victims within the same 2 hours. I also thought it was impressive that the film managed to make them feel like what they are: aliens. Frankly, I think they felt more alien than our last dose of giant blue humanoids with a misrepresented and exploited culture on an environmentally-demanding world.

Also, Chris does take off his shirt at one point, wearing very low pants. My girlfriend is graduating from her master’s program this coming weekend, and had proposed that she and I and her mother go to see Thor. My girlfriend is, obviously, awesome. However, given that I don’t think her mother is a woman of superheroes, I wasn’t sure he would be the best flick to go to. Space vikings with magic future tech and Einsten-Rosen Bridge technology aren’t really accessible on the same level as “Captain America is going to punch Nazis for 120 minutes. Also, there is a shield.”

But I’ll admit that when Chris had no shirt, and later when he was wrestling in the rainy-spattered mud, I thought “I could take two heterosexual ladies to this, and they could probably leave happy with these memories.” Hell, Swordfish was basically predicated on the power of Halle Berry’s forward-facing attitude; later, and it is shocking to me that “later” in this case is somehow the same damn year, Monster’s Ball would be watched by many guys in my fraternity solely for the sex scene, or specifically (as far as I know) Ms. Berry’s participation therein.

The fights were well-choreographed and enjoyable, even if I could never quite figure out what the hell Hogun was doing (Throwing knives out of the mace he carried but never swung at anyone? Has he heard of pockets?). I imagine it was a thrill for folks unfamiliar with the franchise to see Thor get straight smashed in the dome by a Jotun for the first time, and realize that he was just straight-up invulnerable; there’s a lot of shields and armor going on, and maybe someone figured he wasn’t Superman-style underneath that plate. The giant monster thing was very satisfying, the costuming was mostly fun—though Sif’s shield is ridiculous, and they eventually have to give you a gratuitous sound effect to convince you it’s even metal.

And you tell me, when was the last time you watched Rene Russo dispatch a frost giant with a broadsword? I definitely just scanned her Imdb in hopes that an obvious opportunity to do so would jump out, so I could go rent that movie.

What, then, is my issue? Why did I need that massive disclaimer re: Thor before I sat down and rubbed his sculpted, steel-hard belly?

Because, despite being more than two hours long, Thor felt too short. I don’t mean “Oh man that was great I wish there were four more hours of it” breathless short, like say Inception. Thor felt too short because I think they crammed two films together into the same billing. On the one hand, we have a film where Thor and the Warriors Three (and a chick!) run around beating the shit out of mythological creatures while being inevitably and inescapably betrayed from within. Jotun are slain, ice is cracked with incredible force, Heimdall is Stringer Bell. The Destroyer manages to look both awesome and weirdly flat-headed, and it messes shit up. S.H.I.E.L.D. wants to force its bureaucracy on Thor, but it’s enough for Thor to give his word that he’s down with the planet’s needs.

I would watch that movie. I did watch that movie. I’d watch the hell out of another, say, sixty minutes of that film, which is roughly the amount of the movie given over to:

On the other hand, Thor is a film about a driven, gorgeous scientist and her madcap crew. The trio are dedicated to studying some weird-ass stuff. Why is there weird-ass stuff to study? Is the idea that Bifrost only aimed at a single point on a given Realm? I don’t know.

This beautiful scientist meets a man who seems to have literally fallen from a storm. He’s confused, and confusing; confident but innocent, convinced of his own strength but so thoroughly lost. He comes off almost abrasive at first, but it’s clear he has a huge heart and a good spirit. Her father figure doesn’t trust the guy, but they come to bond. Her lovable intern wants to bone the guy, and that never really changes.

But the dude’s a little crazy, and our beautiful scientist has to decide if she believes his outlandish claims. If she does, perhaps she has a chance at real love. Then something happens, and in its wake she’s forced to question everything she thought she knew about herself and the man that she’s fallen for.

I’ma be honest, I’d watch this movie too! It has Nats. It still has shirtless Chris, so I can totes bring my girlfriend. The plotline in Ultimates 2 where Thor is determined to be a crazy escaped UN supersoldier from Norway, with entirely technologically-derived powers…and how that shit gets resolved…is one of the coolest comic book plots I’ve ever read. You want to splash some Portman lovestory on that, and let a man doing the Eric Northman American accent drink with a dude who may be a god? I’m there. I’m there with money in my fist. Movie probably won’t need to be in 3-D, but neither did Thor.

That’s an aside, folks. Anyone who hasn’t seen the movie yet, reads this review, and goes to see it…skip on the 3-D. The experience was so bad that I kept checking to see if my glasses were broken, or looking around to see if the theater was too lit (which it may have been).

I should note that I don’t feel I’ve spoiled anything about either movie. They’re not complex films, honestly. I think that anyone who walks away from Thor confused—and those people will exist—likely wouldn’t have been if they’d been able to see one film for two hours, rather than a short film series.

The problem is trying to put both films together, and doing it in the fashion we have here: feed you half of the first movie, then all of the second movie with a few little candied chips from the first film, then the rest of the first movie. Just when you think you’re getting a nonstop Beatdown Buffet, they bring out the lovestory. The lovestory lasts maybe two days, and then we’re back to the madness of the battle. So not only does it feel like the stories are truncated, the necessities of the first one actually make them truncate both plots.

Worse, the movie actually feels like it was physically cut short. This is the first time I’ve ever gone to the theater to see a release and felt like they should have put the inevitable extended version on the screen. It would have been three hours…but again, if they’d made one movie or the other they could have given us a full version in two. People are coming to Thor to see hammers hit faces, and yet several times I felt like an action scene—or even an action shot—was cut short. Characters would be standing next to an explosion and then they’d be over there, explosion totally gone. Explosions don’t take that long to explode, so feeling like one was cut off was pretty jarring.

And for the romance fans, even that was cut short. Kat Dennings is great, and watching Thor reminded me I haven’t seen Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist in far too long. Her character is refreshingly earthy and practical while still being something of a caricature. She’s frank about her affection for a bit of the ole bump and grind. There is a moment toward the end of the film when we see, in the back of a shot, Fandral the Dashing stepping away from her character. Do not tell me that Kat’s character (whose name is completely unimportant) and Fandral (played quite evocatively by Josh Dallas, despite having almost no lines) didn’t have awesome flirty dialogue. Don’t tell me that, because you’re a liar.

But in the movie, we get one shot that tells the tale, and even then it’s only by omission. Seeing him standing next to her (Sif and the other Warriors are on the other side of the shot) you know they had some funny flirtation. Maybe Kat even got him to blush. I won’t know until they drop that extended cut. But if we were watching the romance half of the movie, shit, I’d have had easily 5-10 minutes of chuckles at that.

I don’t know if I’m supposed to blame Ken for all of this. I don’t want to blame him though. Shit, Ken, you could have just made Henry V in space, with giants. I would have watched that Ken. I’d watch that right the hell now if you dropped it.

And Henry actually did a great job with the romance; I know you can do romance. You’ve done many thousands of other movies, but since they’re not Henry V I’m not talking about them (and haven’t seen most of them) but I know you could give me a romance.

Why did you try to mash them together? Why didn’t you trust your massive balls and just hit us with one or the other? You could have been all “Boom. Thor has NO earth for the majority of the film. Eat your Jotun and like it. Shit hot, here’s a dragon!” and I would have signed on. You could have said “Whackow! I totally turned your expectations on their head, and gave you a romance in the tune of The Fisher King but with some giant robot action thrown in at the end!” and I’d have watched that shit too.

Whichever film you gave us, you could have avoided some of the wretched writing that slipped into what you did give us. For instance:

Dude A: “This is madness, (redacted)!”
Dude B: “Is it madness?”
Dude B: “Is it?”
Dude B: “Is it?”
Both Dudes: (The dudes then change the fucking subject!)

Different Dude A: “I could have done it, (redacted). For you, for all of us.”
Different Dude B: “No (redacted).”

Also, I watched through the credits, like one does. Wtf Foo Fighters? That’s your song? I found myself writing that line in my head while my feet were tapping because it’s catchy; but it’s catchy and bad at the same time. I dug the chorus and the hook, but the rest of the lyrics felt like Daughtry wrote them. Honestly, so did the chorus. I tapped because I could imagine playing it on Rock Band and that was fun.

I suppose the same might be applied, more broadly, to the entire film. When I bought the ticket, I wanted Thor to be a video game I could watch. When I saw Natalie, I realized I’d be down with it being a romantic comedy with some violent payoff. I walked away humming snatches of the film, but ultimately trying to forget the rest.

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