Why I hated "Thor"
Under different circumstances, I can imagine sort of enjoying "Thor," the latest feature-length commercial from Marvel Studios. But coming, as it does, on the heels of the disappointing "Iron Man 2" -- and functioning as one of many set-up films for next year's "The Avengers" -- "Thor" bored me at best and infuriated me at worst.
My laundry list:
Yes, of course, a summer superhero movie is going to have wall-to-wall visual effects. But a $150 million budget should be able to buy better work than what's on display here. An early shot of Thor (Chris Hemsworth, whose performance is easily the best thing about the movie) and his warrior pals riding horses across Asgard's Rainbow Bridge is embarrassingly phony, like something you'd see in "The Mummy Returns" -- which came out ten years ago. The design of Asgard is impressive, yes, but it never feels like a real, tactile place. "Avatar" and the much-maligned "TRON: Legacy" raised the bar for creating digital environments that feel tangible and substantial, and the screensaver world of "Thor" just isn't going to cut it anymore.
Clark Gregg is a fine actor, but every time I see him in a Marvel movie I completely tune out. He once again plays Agent Coulson, whose function in the Marvel Movieverse is to assemble The Avengers for the forthcoming movie of the same name. Every scene spent with Coulson and his S.H.I.E.L.D. organization (think the Secret Service of superheroes) is one concocted for the sole purpose of advertising future Marvel movies. "Thor" is not as egregious in this area as "Iron Man 2," but it remains an annoyance. The S.H.I.E.L.D. stuff would be forgivable if the rest of the movie was fun and funny, neither of which I'd say about "Thor." (There's also an inexplicable cameo from Avengers member Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) that seems to have been added at the last minute.)
Too many characters we don't care about
What function did Thor's band of warriors serve in the plot? What were their names? Did you care what happened to them? And what about Heimdall (Idris Elba), Asgard's intergalactic elevator man? Would the plot have played out any differently if he was eliminated completely? Did Darcy (Kat Dennings) contribute anything to the film aside from her lame jokes? And why hire the rarely used Rene Russo to play Odin's wife if she's not going to do anything?
Another bland villain
Thor's frustrated brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) isn't menacing or interesting, but (SPOILER ALERT!) that isn't stopping Marvel from making him the main baddie in "The Avengers," if I understand the post-credits sequence correctly.
I complain about this a lot, and I realize it's virtually inescapable in today's entertainment landscape. But "Thor's" plugs seemed especially insidious, and I do think there is a difference between someone holding a can of Diet Coke in the background and the script inserting product names into dialogue for no reason. About halfway through the film, a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent monitoring the skies over Mjolnir's impact crater announces that a Southwest Airlines flight is about to pass overhead. Saying the airline's brand name has absolutely no bearing on the scene. We also see the word "SOUTHWEST" on his radar screen. Later, there are at least two shots of a Southwest Airlines billboard on the edge of the small New Mexico town where most of the film takes place. Darcy twice uses brand names in lines of dialogue, but at least those are in service to jokes (lame though they may be.) I didn't take notes, but I remember plugs for all of these brands in the film: Southwest Airlines, Facebook, Pop-Tarts, Budweiser, Burger King, Dunkin Donuts, 7-Eleven, Dr Pepper, iPod, Acura and Kashi.
Remember when our iconic heroes were announced by soaring, melodic musical themes? Superman, Luke Skywalker and Indiana Jones had John Williams. Tim Burton's Batman had Danny Elfman. Zorro had James Horner. Mr. Incredible had Michael Giacchino. But the God of Thunder, like so many of his contemporaries, doesn't get a thunderous theme of his own, and instead settles for a forgettable Patrick Doyle score that would have sounded right at home in any number of like-minded films.
Of course, I am in the minority on this one. "Thor" currently enjoys a 78 percent approval rating from Rotten Tomatoes, putting it on par with the previous box office champ, "Fast Five." I can't believe I'm saying this, but I enjoyed that fifth installment of a street-racing franchise far more than this large-scale epic directed by Kenneth Branagh.
I only have to wait until July 22 to be underwhelmed by another Marvel movie: "Captain America: The First Avenger." Hopefully the WWII setting and the considerable presence of Hugo Weaving will make things a little more interesting.