The 14th Best Movie I Saw This Year: Thor

You may be familiar with the director of this film from some of his other work.

In the past thirty years, no individual has been more mentally connected with the work of Shakespeare by the general public than Kenneth Branagh. He has directed and starred in an exceedingly large number of award-winning film adaptations of the Bard’s works – most notably Henry V (for which he was nominated for an Oscar in both acting and directing) but also As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing, Love’s Labour Lost, and Hamlet. The man has been feted with nominations for Golden Globes and Golden Lions and Golden Bears since the late 80’s. And since Thor is a grandiose story of an action hero torn from Norse legend, with themes of love and honor, and fathers and sons, and betrayal, Branagh seemed a perfect fit to bring this story to the silver screen.

So, if you’ll give me a few minutes for a brief aside to the director here: Kenneth, why is this movie so damn silly?

I know, I know: it’s tough to make a comic book movie feel grounded. From the very beginning, Thor (an impressively buff Chris Hemsworth) goes to war with the Frost Giants of Jotunheim to seize the source of their power, the Casket of Ancient Winters. I guess at that point, you just wrote off realism for the rest of the movie. You have Odin (played by Anthony Hopkins with all the gravitas one can muster while looking like this, fall into “Odinsleep” at one point, the laziest plot device I have ever heard of. The characters cross a rainbow bridge guarded by an all-seeing guardian (Idris Elba, who is, racially speaking, a bit unconvincing as a Norseman) to travel by the Bifröst in between worlds. So maybe you thought looking for rationality here was a bit of a lost cause.

But there are so many way to keep a movie like this from sliding into camp, Kenneth, and your movie uses none of them. You’re man who adapts Shakespeare, and you were flummoxed by the work of Stan Lee.

After all, this is a movie that Natalie Portman signed on to just because you was involved. “I was just like, ‘Kenneth Branagh doing Thor is super-weird, I’ve gotta do it,’” she said later. That’s an Oscar-winning actress telling you she assumed you’d find a way to make this film serious, Kenneth, and instead you spend a good chunk of the movie dealing with the arguments of Thor’s exceedingly pointless Asgard entourage(They’re known as Sif and the Warriors Three, which sounds like a band that puts 80’s metal licks behind J.R.R. Tolkien lyrics. Whenever I talk to anyone who saw Thor, the first thing I say is “seriously, why are we supposed to care about Thor’s friends?” The only response I ever get is “I know! What was that?”).

You took a comic book about a guy with a flying hammer and somehow made it more silly. How is that even possible? 

And yet… despite (and sometimes because of) all the nonsense, this movie proved to be a lot of fun. Summer movies are designed for cheeseball adventures, and I don’t mind armored men with odd accents hurling giant hammers at each other and setting Natalie Portman’s heart aflutter. That’s the exact sort of thing I go to the movies for in late May, when summer movies kick off. These movies are supposed to be bombast and nonsense and bright colors, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Could I have done without the robot from the original The Day The Earth Stood Still pointlessly destroying a small New Mexico town? I could have. But intergalactic space battles between immortals? I’m on board.

A lot of the credit should go to the cast, who are all much more convincing in their roles than they have any right to be. It is not easy to play a Norse god, but Hemsworth, Perkins, and Tom Hiddleston sell the grandiosity of it with seemingly little effort. And Natalie Portman plays an astrophysicist wholeheartedly dedicated to her work. I don’t know how Portman manages to remain a movie star while so effortlessly playing these socially-awkward types, but it may be time for us to realize that she’s closer to this in real life than she is to this.

Since Branagh won’t be at the helm next time, let me say this to whoever ends up being in charge of this thing: I know I don’t make this request too often, but I could use a little more sturm und drang next time around, guys. Even in the summer. Even in late May.