On Disappointment in Marvel Studios’ Thor

I don’t go to the movies very often.

Five years ago, I would go at least once a month. Sometimes, during summer blockbuster season, multiple times a week. Now, I go to the movies maybe twice a year. In 2010, i saw Sherlock Holmes on New Year’s Day and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in December. This year, I’ve gone to see Thor — and that’s been the only one, despite being blown away by the trailers for X-Men; First Class, which I simply haven’t gotten around to seeing.

It’s not that I lack the interest or the time. It’s the expense. Movies are expensive today, and I try to be frugal.

The thing with being… picky about movies is that you hope to minimize the disappointment of a bad movie. And I can’t say that anything I’ve been to see in the past five years, other than Spider-Man 3, was disappointing.

Until Thor.

I was trying to explain this at a production meeting at work today. Why was I disappointed in Thor? (And no, I have no idea how we even got on the subject. Viagra jokes were thrown around, too.)

I won’t say I didn’t like it, as I thought it was okay. It was adequate. It didn’t offend me. But it was also nothing spectacular.

I thought Thor was very limited in its scope. It felt stagey, as though it were a play with limited sets, and there was never a point where it felt that the movie was going to break through that.

The acting was fine, perhaps better than the material called for, with the exception of Natalie Portman who continues to be the weak link in her theatrical CV. (If it were up to me, I would have combined the Portman and Kat Dennings characters, and had the amalgamated character played by Dennings, even though it’s Portman who looks like the spitting image of Jane Foster from the comics.)

I thought the script was adequate, if unspectacular.

The disappointment comes from the direction.

I think Kenneth Branagh is a brilliant actor and talented director. Look at his Shakespearean work — it’s inventive and perceptive, and Branagh elicits good performances from surprising actors.

And Branagh was surrounded by an incredibly talented cast — Tom Hiddleston, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Idris Elba, to name just a few.

Where Branagh’s direction fell down, in my opinion, is that he didn’t give Thor the feel the material called for.

Thor, as you probably know, is based on a long-running Marvel comic book, and it’s about the heroic deeds of the Norse god of thunder. What the materials screams for is a Lord of the Rings meets Henry IV Part 1 approach — a rebellious prince becomes the man his father wants him to be, set against the backdrop of mythology and high fantasy.

Branagh doesn’t deliver that in Thor. There are moments where it approaches that, but it never gets over the hump and it doesn’t gel like it should. It also doesn’t help Branagh’s tone that the film has to do a fish-out-of-water sequence on Earth, set in the least interesting desert town imaginable.

Thor wasn’t a bad film. But it didn’t deliver for me, either.

So what will my next film be? Probably Winnie-the-Pooh in July; I’ve already ordered the soundtrack album from Amazon, as it’s basically She & Him Volume 2 1/2. After that? Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows in December is a must; I loved the first film, after all. And possibly Tintin, assuming I can get over my antipathy toward mocapped films and the Uncanny Valley.

I don’t expect to be disappointed by these films. Unlike Thor. :)

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