Thursday, September 22, 2011

Thor the Love of God -- Stop Making These Movies!

I missed most of the blockbuster super hero epics this summer. I’m holding out for Mighty Mouse. But recently my daughter Netflixed THOR and it was just sitting around so I figured, what the hell? I do like a good action movie, I seem to recall it got good reviews, and it has Natalie Portman (obviously vying for a second Oscar). Also, it was directed by Kenneth Branaugh, the self-proclaimed next Orson Welles. And if all that wasn’t enough -- Sir. Anthony Hopkins was in it. Pretty classy elements servicing a guy who looks like the Geico caveman with a hammer.

So after hitting every button on the remote to see if I could fast forward through the Goddamn CAPTAIN AMERICA trailer, I settled in for a fun night of escapist fare.

What a jumbled mess.

SPOILER ALERT -- not that you haven't seen every moment of this movie fifteen times.

I guess if you’re a fanboy and know the Byzantine legend of Thor the first half hour makes sense. “Oh, awesome, the realm of Asgard looks just like the model I made in my room.

There were battle scenes between ice monsters and Vikings, a goofy transporter machine guarded by a giant Oscar, a galactic city that looked like someone wedged an enormous pipe organ into the side of a mountain, endless backstory (I think in there somewhere they also explained the Lord of the Rings), and everyone was dressed like they were in an opera.

Anthony Hopkins plays the king of the good planet. He wears a black eye patch, obviously hoping to funnel into the theater some of the stray PIRATES OF THE CARRIBBEAN crowd. Chris Hemsworth is hammer boy and he’s surrounded by a weasel brother, a band of Capital One Visigoth warriors, oh… and Rene Russo (she came out of retirement for this?).

Not only do they speak English on this distant planet, but formal English (thank you, Kenneth Branaugh). Bedrooms are “chambers”. People are “summoned”.

The evil planet is a combination NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS and Syracuse in the winter.

Finally, Thor is banished to earth where he lands in New Mexico (why do aliens from outer space always seem to favor New Mexico? Do they get a tax break?). There he encounters Natalie Portman (who thank goodness has had a few milk shakes since THE BLACK SWAN), Stellan Skarsgård, and Kat Denning (whose backstory is that she was in one of our failed pilots and had a whole lot more to do in it than this).

Thor is hit by a truck, tasered, and restrained (and you wonder why tourism is down in New Mexico). Natalie of course befriends him. Ten screen minutes later he’s making eggs for the family. Ten screen minutes later he’s hoisting boilermakers with Stellan.

And what cliché comic book movie would be complete without the alien in the diner scene and the asshole FBI investigators arriving on the scene in their dark suits to run roughshod over everybody?

At this point Orson Branaugh bounces back and forth between New Mexico and Asgard (which, by the way, looked more realistic than New Mexico). Every time they went back to Planet CGI I completely zoned out. More lore and gore. Zzzzzzzzz.

For reasons probably explained but I was too distracted wondering why everyone on this advanced planet dressed like they were in Sherwood Forest, the weasel brother sends a giant Transformer to earth to destroy everything that Michael Bay’s Transformers didn’t already destroy. In the midst of all this destruction and mayhem Thor somehow learns humility and is rewarded by the return of his magic hammer. And now it’s like Popeye eating a can of spinach. Metal Bluto doesn’t have a chance.

Great! Movie over.

Uh no.

Seems if I were paying attention I’d know that Thor still had to go back to Wurlitzer City to settle unfinished business there.  This segment was the worm hole of entertainment.

Here’s what’s scary: From all reports, among the summer comic book lollapaloozas, this was considered one of the better ones. Holy shit! How terrible was GREEN LANTERN? On the one hand, I’d like to say, well the summer’s over so that’ll be the end of them for awhile. But you know Hollywood. They’re being replaced in the fall by cheesy Adam Sandler and Jonah Hill comedies. Fanboys must be served!


Lance Mannion said...

Ken, I think it's a good idea to watch these movies while in the company of young comic book fans. I liked it, but I was with a hometown crowd. (Go, Asgard!)

Green Lantern looked like an unholy mess so the wife and I gave the boys the money and dropped them off while we went off to be grownups by ourselves. The boys' verdict: Not as bad as they expected. Which means not good.

Leon said...

Seriously, how does Natalie Portman choose her movies?

David said...

I fortunately went to the theater with no expectations of the movie, without even seeing the trailer. I came away pleasantly surprised.

I'm not familiar with the Thor universe, but I didn't have a problem following it. BTW, your complaint about compressing plot development into 10 screen minutes seems a little unfounded; it is the nature of movies. (Except those like Gone With the Wind that are 8 hours long).

I'm not rushing out to by it on Blu-Ray, but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to people who enjoy a decent action movie that you immediately forget.

@Leon, the same way all Oscar-winner / nominees choose movies: one for me, one for the bank account, one for me, one for the bank account... For other examples, see George Clooney, Christian Bale, Helen Mirren, and seriously, just about every actor who has the luxury of choice.

DJ said...

@Leon, she was quoted as being fascinated by the (seeming bizarre) thought of Kenneth Branagh doing a comic book movie, and had to be a part of it.

But when you recall that Branagh loves "Hollywood Movies" (think Dead Again), it was only a matter of time until he did a comic book movie. And, as Thor lends itself well to Shakespearean treatment, you could say it was right in his wheelhouse.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Ken, when you're outside your comfort and expertise zone (baseball and Hollywood), your humour flounders like a host on the latest reality vaudeville. Seriously, if you don't have any clue or interest in the material, just walk away. Millionaires trying to hit balls with sticks is ALWAYS on TV somewhere. That's your speed.

Unknown said...

I think it is time you and David Isaacs did a re-boot of M*A*SH.

Just about every other TV show and movie has been re-booted. Why not a show that was actually good and had excellent writing?

Neil D said...

I'm not saying it was a great movie, but a lot of your criticism seems to boil down to "it was a movie about Thor". The fact that some of it took place on Asgard, that they dressed and spoke in a manner befitting a Ren Faire -- if you weren't on board with that, you weren't on board with this movie in the first place. I was never cared much for Thor myself, but I knew what to expect, and it wasn't as bad as I feared -- I always found the "Verily, I say thee NAY!" stuff kind of eye-roll inducing.

I did think the relationships were formed way too quickly ("Hey, Son-of-Coul, I know we just met and you've been a complete dick to me this whole time, but I'm your guy."). On the other hand, I'm not sure I would have wanted to sit there for another half-hour while they developed them properly.

And yes, Green Lantern was far, far worse. It's a shame, because they had most of the elements there (a different lead actor and actress wouldn't have hurt though), but they just neglected to write a good movie around them.

Unknown said...

Just watch "Jarhead", there's enough of a MASH reboot in there.

As always, Ken, it would be good to at least proofread the zingers. When you write "Orson Branaugh" it takes the reader a while to understand what you are getting at.

I think as a monologue for Craig Ferguson this would have killed. You just need the visual aids to make this a lot of fun, like "Do we have a picture of (insert star from "Thor" here but show something else instead)" etc. etc.

The last really good Superhero movie to me was the first "Iron Man". Before that, "Hulk" with Edward Norton. Since then there wasn't anything that tickled my fancy, but I can assure you - there's a ton of shite (Elizabethan enough for the occasion?) out there, like the "Fantastic Four" movies with Michael Chiklis who cashed in his "The Shield" fame for a total crapfest. And the shame is that those two were done by German production companies. *yuck*

Oh and "Green Lantern" was bad because of the horrible digital effects.

"Thor" is regarded good because the effects are good and because the storyline is believable (for a superhero movie). Trust me, look at "Iron Man 2". When I saw that model of the World Fair leaning at the wall and it took them 10 additional minutes to turn it into an absolute silly plot device I was grinding my teeth to the roots.

Ian said...

If you think that "Thor" sucked, get ready for "Jack and Jill!"

404 said...

I haven't seen it yet, but have to say overall I don't really understand, based on your review, what is so terrible about it. It sounds more like someone who is reviewing something he wouldn't like in the first place, rather than someone reviewing a bad movie. It would be like me reviewing your standard chick-flick. It might be a great chick-flick, but the chances of me liking it are pretty slim because I don't like those kinds of movies to begin with.

On a different note, I saw that Roseanne's new show (which was on Lifetime) was just canceled. So does that mean that even the network for women has it out for her as well?

Tom Quigley said...

I can't believe that with everything else going on in it, this film didn't include Thor taking a side trip to the land of Oz with the help of Avatars -- or maybe Smurfs...

Leon said...

@ David - I understand your point of " the same way all Oscar-winner / nominees choose movies: one for me, one for the bank account, one for me, one for the bank account... "

But No Strings Attached, Your Highness, and Thor seems to make 3 in a row for the bank account. Hey, it's her life, but it seems like a waste of talent. Was Black Swan just so draining that it required complete fluff?

Aaron H said...

Hey Ken, I read your blog practically every day - but I think you're off-base here. I'm not a Thor comic fan at all, but I enjoyed the movie. Hating on Thor because of the Shakespearean dialogue and over-the-top costumes and sets is sort of like hating Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles because of all the Ninjas, Mutants and Turtles.

Loki Odinson said...


Well, if you didn't like it, you didn't like it.

Odin in the myths was one-eyed, and he has been represented that way in the funnybook for the last two decades or so. So it's not out of left field, and it's not to grab the Pirates crowd.

Watching a super-hero movie is sort of like watching a James Bond movie...certain things happen in them because of their genre. The sight of Bond blowing up the villain's secret lair is sort of expected. Thor fighting big monsters is de rigeur. It's not good or bad in and of itself, but if you have a problem with it, it's probably better for you to avoid this sort of thing altogether.

Or, as someone or other once said, 'for those who like it, there it is.'

danrydell said...

Green Lantern was really, really bad.

bulbul said...

the Byzantine legend of Thor
Nordic. Or Icelandic. Or Norse. I'd even take 'Norwegian' or 'Scandinavian'. Byzantium used to be where today's Greece and Turkey are.
So um, yeah, not really interested in what you have to say from this point on.

Neil D said...

Is it really possible, bulbul, that you know all about the city of Byzantium but are not at all familiar with the common use of "Byzantine" as a synonym for "confusing"?

If so, well, not really interested in what you have to say from this point on.

Chip said...

Such jarring changes in setting tend to ruin stories for me. I was all over Warlock until Julian Sands went through time and landed in Lori Singer's trendy L.A. apartment. Which means I got to enjoy the movie for about 15 minutes anyway.

Anonymous said...

Like others here, it seems you didn't like the CONCEPT of this movie, no matter the execution.

I liked "Thor" a lot, but it felt like a throwback to 80's B adventure movies like "Flash Gordon", rather than as a comic book movie like "Iron Man". It is much more sincere and straightforward in the storytelling, with few "yeah, we get it, this is silly" winks to the audience.

Personally, I like that they played it this way.

iain said...

Hmmm, Woody Allen, Sarah Palin & now, Thor. Things that can get people really steamed in the comments section of "By Ken Levine."

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

It seems to me that the movie just didn't fit your taste, regardless of execution.

I might be younger, but I never even read the original comic book. I saw Thor without any prior knowledge of this particular universe.

I thought the movie was pretty solid, unlike Green Lantern.

To me, the best scenes in Thor were the ones on their home planet Asgard. The fact that it was CGI only enhanced the divine aspect of it. These are supposed to be gods, after all.

There was a brilliant trio of actors performing Shakespearean scenes in a most admirable manner. Hiddleston, Hopkins, and to a lesser extent Hemsworth.

If anything, it was the Natalie Portman scenes on Earth that came up somewhat short. Those scenes felt a bit dumbed down for general audiences.

Nat G. said...

I went to a baseball match the other day, and all it was was a bunch of people throwing balls, or catching balls, or trying to hit at balls with a stick - like those are all things we haven't seen in so many baseball games before! And then, if they hit the ball, they acted like it was some kind of triumph to end up right back where they started in the first place. If that's where they wanted to be, why did they go through all the trouble of running around.

In other words, this is a movie version of the comic book version of Thor, and does that pretty darned well. If such a thing doesn't sound good to you, then it's probably a movie that was not meant for you, but for other people. Luckily, there is no shortage of entertainment being produced, so there's probably something meant for you, whether you're seeking The House Of Sand And Fog or Backdoor Darlings 23.

Rays profile said...

Well, Ken, if you weren't Thor before, you thure are now.

KXB said...

Hey Ken Levine- Johan Hill > Adam Sandler comedically...also lighter at this point, believeitornot...

RCP said...

"...why do aliens from outer space always seem to favor New Mexico?"

If I run into Shirley MacLaine outside of Albertson's again, I'll ask her, Ken. My guess would be our hot springs and green chile burritos. Aliens need to kick back and relax too, y'know.

Anonymous said...

Can't wait to hear what you have to say about Green Latern haha

Barbara C. said...

Well, the release of all the comic hero movies is a lead up to The Avengers release next year. I find these type movies mildly entertaining, especially if I use the gratuitous action scenes (you know the ones that run for 20 minutes when 5 would have been sufficient) as bathroom breaks. I suspect they probably were smart to call on Joss Whedon to write/direct The Avengers...ensemble casts are really his specialty.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

First come stains, then comic books... you are so out of touch with modern culture! I hear Martin Scorsese is going to direct an adaptation of Angry Birds.

Tim W. said...

I am not a comic book fan and have to say that the trailers did NOT make me want to watch the movie. A combination of good reviews and my wife did get me to see it and I respectfully disagree. I'm not saying the movie was great, and there were certainly a few hokey things, but overall I was entertained. Now the movie didn't start off very well and I thought the idea of frost giants was a little nonsensical, but the movie eventually grew on me. And I enjoyed most of the humour.

SkippyMom said...

I see you upset a few Thor fans. I thought your review was funny and typical you. No harm, no foul. You can't like every movie.

mrswing said...

The main points of contention:

- Thor and his bunch are Gods. So it's not a case of planets, aliens and outer space, but Gods, mortals, and divine realms.
- The overblown language is due to Stan Lee who invented the superheroic version of the character and who went for pseudo-Shakespeare to underline the otherworldly and medieval nature of the divine characters.
- Aliens all go to New Mexico because they hope to get a recurring role in Breaking Bad.

Mac said...

I think it's a bit unfair to call Branagh the self-proclaimed next Orson Welles - it was others who put the label on him, and while he's never lived up to the hype (who could?) he's actually a pretty down-to-earth guy.
His strengths seem to be in small screen and/or character-driven films. He seems a weird choice of director for a big action/fantasy movie.
I'll go and see it, with lowered expectations. If nothing else I'll get a bucket of popcorn out of it. But you're right about GREEN LANTERN; that was a rush-hour pile-up.

D. McEwan said...

"Sebastian said...
As always, Ken, it would be good to at least proofread the zingers. When you write "Orson Branaugh" it takes the reader a while to understand what you are getting at."

This reader not only got that one instantly, but enjoyed it. It had been set up perfectly well earlier.

"DJ said...
@Leon, she was quoted as being fascinated by the (seeming bizarre) thought of Kenneth Branagh doing a comic book movie, and had to be a part of it."

That screams "press release". It boils down to: "When I heard Kenneth Branagh was going to direct crap, I said: 'I'm there!'"

Very funny column, but I see the humor-challenged fanboys came out in force.

Anonymous said...

"Orson Branaugh" ... hee!

RDaggle said...

Internet pile-on! Yay!

Sir, for all your slagging on Mr. Branagh, you act as if he masterminded the darn thing. He didn't. he was a hired gun on a big studio project without a lot of say in things. Considering his recent track record in Hollywood he would have been an idiot to turn down a big blockbuster payday.

Why not namecheck your end of the profession? Here are the writers of the movie per IMDB:

Ashley Edward Miller

Zack Stentz

Don Payne

J. Michael Straczynski
(story) and
Mark Protosevich

Some of them probably needed the cash, too.

[I left out the comic book credits cause I like THOSE guys]

Charles H. Bryan said...

I have heard some people with this complaint: "His superpower is a hammer? A FREAKING HAMMER?"

I grew up loving Marvel Comics but I know that there are certain things that work in a comic that just don't work in a movie (and vice versa). I was stunned that the first Iron Man and Spider-Man movies worked as well as they did.
Thor was always a crazy-assed blend of science fiction, fantasy, Norse mythology and superheroics spoken in a Shakespearean accent. It was rarely a best-seller.

I think of this stuff as the Van Halen of movies. It's just big dumb fun; if it makes sense, that's a bonus.

Besides, how entertaining is a good review, huh?

the same chris said...

According to her imdb page, it is Kat Dennings, just sayin cause she was in one of your failed pilots.

Paul Duca said...

Off topic, but good news...the overnights show the MODERN FAMILY season premiere led in both overall numbers and 18-49 demographics for the timeslot--beating the 2nd hour of THE X FACTOR.

KXB said...

So you've constantly pointed out that you've worked with her on a failed pilot, yet you STILL don't get that her name is Kat DenningS?!?!?!? That's Hollywood sincerity for ya...

HogsAteMySister said...

Actually, I expected to hate the movie but enjoyed it. I must have sat on my taste that day... not just the previous viewer's stupid bubble gum.

Kirk said...

I've always thought superheros work better in comic books than in movies or TV, no matter how good the special effects. I can just accept a hand-drawn costumed man flying through hand-drawn clouds more than I can accept a actual costumed-man flying man flying through actual clouds. Judging by box office earnings, this is a minority opinion.

I read Marvel comics quite a bit as a kid, and mrswng is right that Asgard is a supernatural realm rather than a planet. However, in the comic book, Asgard was always drawn, by Jack Kirby and others, as a kind of floating kingdom in a stereotypical outer space with stars and comets and Saturn-like planets all about. If the movie (which I haven't seen) followed suit, I can see where someone who's not familiar with Thor might think he's an alian rather than a god.

I remember one issue where the Silver Surfer is flying his board through space and lands on Asgard. Now, seeing as he's a cosmos-based character, how could he--I might as well quit. This is getting a bit esotoric.

Jeff said...

It may have been a much better movie had they chosen one realm or the other. Even the wormhole travel was more fun in "The Philadelphia Experiment."

Isn't there some kind of rule on that, Ken? Stick to your realm?

-bee said...

I don't dislike superheroes movies as a genre per se, but am very selective about the ones I pay money to see.

I didn't see Thor or Green Lantern but I DID see Captain America and enjoyed it immensely. The director had a great feel for the 1940's time period and the playful satire of WWII era propaganda was almost kind of exhilarating at times. Considering all the historical grace notes in MASH, I actually think you might enjoy it Ken.

The plot itself was pretty dismally dumb, but all the good things about the movie overcame that, not to mention the female lead was somewhat Kat Dennings-esque.

Mary Liera said...

My boyfriend dragged me to see Thor. I didn't want to go as the movie title reminded me of the movie "Troy" with Brad Pitt.

I ended up really enjoying Thor, whilst my boyfriend did not. He thought the costumes were silly and it wasn't "awesome" enough.

I think it was actually a movie for women, which was not the intention. You had a lot of lingering shots showing how hot Thor was, and Natalie Portman was very funny in her scenes with him. She was supposed to be so taken with him she acted like a total goofball.

This movie did remind me of Troy, as it is the same type of archetypal figure, but with Thor I think they did a good job with gleaning some depth and humor out of a story which could easily have none.

purplejilly said...

I'm a real fan of the original Norse Mythology, I studied it in high school and college, and when I saw the trailers I decided not to see the movie, knowing my reaction might be like Ken's. Not having seen it, I find these comments interesting. Oh well, nothing else interesting to add :)

Anonymous said...

@ Sebastion
Becky Said
@ Sebastian Speak for yourself. Maybe it takes some readers a while to get the "Orson Branagh" joke, but like @ D. McEwan, I think the joke was set up well, and I got it instantly. Please don't group all of his readers with those who can't pick up a joke that doesn't involve bodily functions quickly. M*A*S*H fans are a little more cerebral than that.

bulbul said...

@Neil D,

the common use of "Byzantine" as a synonym for "confusing"?
Well, it's more like "intricate, complicated", but yes, I am very well familiar with that usage and I'm also pretty sure that if it were intended that way, it should not have been capitalized.

Jim S said...


It's Goshdarned Captain America trailer, not Goddamned. That would be for The Dark Knight Rises.

As to the Tax break question. Yes, they filmed in New Mexico for the tax break. Good catch.

Edward Copeland said...

Wish I had seen this post sooner. I think you were kinder in your assessment of Thor than I was in the review I posted Wednesday. I really liked the Iron Man movies and the first two X-Men films and I have no comic book background, but Thor played to me like an hour and 15 or 20 minutes of exposition followed by about 25 minutes of muddled action. What a bore. The costumes and sets on Asgard were pretty though.

Johnny Walker said...

Thor was no masterpiece, but it was pretty enjoyable and well made. I'm not going to pretend it didn't have flaws, but from the type of questions you're asking, I'd say you should avoid Superhero movies altogether. They all suffer from the same "What the...?" in relation to their scenarios.

It's worth remembering that these simple stories were originally created to entertain children. The worlds, characters and situations are patently ridiculous, but that's part of the charm. (And in a way it gets even more ridiculous when these childish diversions are taken uber seriously... Shoe-horning these silly tales to fit modern cynical sensibilities. I.e. 90 minutes dedicated to convincing adults it IS perfectly rational to dress as a bat and fight crime.) But no matter how these stories are handled, you kind of have to get into the spirit of those innocent comics and go along for the ride.

I'm betting Green Lantern was a million times worse.

Klee said...

I hated it...all these superhero movies. Didn't even bother with Captain America. I must be the only person in the planet who HATES the new Batman movies. I Can't STAND Christian Bale and his "deep" voice when he's in costume!! It's so laughable...the only superheroes movies well done, were the Tim Burton' 1989 Batman, 1979's Superman with Chris Reeve, and finally the first Spider Man with Tobey McGuire, the sequels sucked big time, specially the 3rd one. Superman 2 was alright, but then it went downhill when they added Richard Pryor to the mix (WTF?), Batman series added Danny de Vito as Penguin and Ahhnold later on...and several actors...They all sucked and made Michael Keaton (who I had no hope in being a decent Batman), the perfect actor to play Bruce Wayne. I've given up on these superhero movies....they all SUCK. In 2002 the new Spider Man was in the theaters, 10 years later we have a "remake". C'mon....we ALL KNOW how Peter Parker became Spider Man, do we need another movie to replay the same scenario??!!! Hollywood is retarded now!

Kaleberg said...

If you hated Thor, you'd hate the Eddas. Some of the plots read like sitcoms like the one with the gods marrying off Freya to the king of the frost giants. Needless to say, she wants no part of that. What do Odin and Loki come up with? They dress up Thor as Freya and try to pass her off as the bride to be. Hilarity ensues.

Think! They could have made that movie instead.

Matt Patton said...

It's been a long time since Branaugh did HENRY V. Hell, it's been a long time since he did DEAD AGAIN. Both of them with Derek Jacobi. Then he did ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL with . . . Keanu Reeves. You can hear Thor's footsteps getting closer at that point. Then he cheated on Emma Thompson, who dumped him. Then he did LOVE'S LABOURS LOST with . . . Reese Witherspoon. Back to Emma and Derek as quickly as possible. Please.