Part 4 of A List to Marvel At
The possibilities of a Thor movie existed since 1991, and went through a couple of interesting comic book auteurists before becoming the movie and character we know today. For a long time Sam Raimi was meant to direct the Aasgardian Thunder God, but ended up scratching his comic book itch with his Spider Man trilogy instead. Then, at the beginning of this film’s production Kick Ass director Matthew Vaughn was attached, but moved on shortly to X Men: First Class which came out a month later.
Duties eventually came to Kenneth Branagh, whose experience with Shakespeare was actually very appropriate for the material at hand. In the critical community, Thor was the point where the “Marvel Style” became a bugbearer, and to this day still does, the idea that Fiege and company squeeze out a lot of their creatives’ unique artistic flourishes. While that does have some truth to it, which we’ll get to in other movies, I don’t think that criticism is entirely fair here.
For one thing, compared to even the previous Marvel movies, the production design is fantastic. Everything in Aasgard is vibrant and colourful, particularly the Rainbow Bridge that also serves story purpose, and like Branagh’s own Shakespeare work finds the fine line between bravado and camp and just rides it. Little things like a cut from Thor’s shadow in storm clouds to him in a hospital bed, show a deft directorial hand. There are places where that style is much more overt, such as in the much commented on Dutch angles that make it feel like everyone is about to tip off the side, and the less commented on extreme close ups everywhere. Sometimes that is really interesting to look, but sometimes they are also very distracting, and can make a good set look cheap.
After a long time in that desert town with humans, you start to realise that despite being a battle between brothers, there’s not really a lot of conflict in this movie. Also that you could probably recognise where the story is going to go beat by beat within the first ten minutes. As I’ve said before, predictability is not strictly a bad thing. But did Lord Of The Rings have to make it impossible for a fantasy film not to begin with an opening monologue set to a battle sequence? And to hit some of those beats, sometimes the movie has to make leaps in logic; there’s no reason that Sif and the gang should think that Loki is responsible for the break in of the Ice Giants other than the script needs them to. Also, setting most of the action in that desert village, whilst opening the movie to a lot of fish-out-of-water comedic possibilities, does counterintuitively makes things feel less grand.
Thankfully, the majority of the cast pave over some of these flaws. Chris Hemsworth is effortlessly charming in these movies, particularly when the script allows him to show his comedic chops (“Another”) that could in other hands be intolerable. Idris Elba is also entertaining as Heimdall, and smaller duties from Anthony Hopkins as Odin to Stellan Skarsgard as one of the fellow doctor to Clark Gregg’s return as Agent Coulson (being entertainingly nonchalant about large fantastical creatures). Kat Denning’s humour use to be a bug bearer for me in these movies, but became less of a problem this time round. And There’s a reason why Tom Hiddleston became great acting find of the Marvel universe; he’s so good and brings so much gravitas here it makes you forget that some elements to Loki’s plot don’t make much sense (other than just plain amorality).
The one bug bearer of the cast is Natalie Portman as Jane. It’s not that she is bad, far from it, but by the nature of her “normal” character she feels overshadowed and wasted. It probably would have been better to condense Dennings and Portman’s roles to feel less superfluous. But I do like how this changes the normal dynamic of these movies of the scientific dork/adonis cliche. In fact, this is one of the only superhero series I can think of so far that has the female/gay/non-binary gaze in mind. Those abs!
Thor is a slight film, but perhaps because of that is also very entertaining. Enjoyably camp fantasy and Shakespearean candour is a combination that I enjoy, and is able to carve its own identity that the sequel, though in some ways an improvement, wasn’t able to play off so well. But the optimistic tone of this film would very much extend to the next Marvel movie, with maybe its most optimistic character…
One Shot Corner
I thought it would be fun to watch the Marvel: One Shot films that preceded it. Two shorts, both revolving around Agent Coulson:
The Consultant – Probably made in a day while the staff were sitting around in a restaurant set, reusing footage from The Incredible Hulk. This does show integration from Incredible Hulk to Iron Man 2, and thereby the rest of the MCU before William Hurt’s return in Civil War, but this is about as superfluous as you can possibly get.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer: Well I don’t know who the fuck Leythum is but they seem to like slow motion action sequences. After Iron Man 2 this was a nice demonstration that he wasn’t some annoying bureaucrat, and in some ways adds as a test to Clark Gregg being compelling on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D without superheroes propping him up (your mileage may vary there). Slight, but a nice little skit.