In his critique of X-Men: First Class, Andrew O’Hehir writes:
The problem with fights between superhuman characters is that we don’t understand what they can and can’t do, so the rules of physics don’t apply and it all starts to look like visual clutter very quickly.
As a good friend brought to my attention, this statement is equally applicable to Kenneth Branagh’s Thor. For example, during one of the battle scenes toward the end of the film, the Warriors Three (Thor’s friends from Asgard, the alien world where much of the film is set) are nearly annihilated by a giant robot known as the Destroyer. But Thor, once he has Mjolnir, is unstoppable; he pummels the Destroyer into complete disrepair. How does the hammer make him so much more powerful than his Viking friends? And what are its limits?
Unfortunately, not understanding the limits of the characters’ powers is just one problem plaguing Thor. Another problem is the conundrum that is Asgard itself.
Thor tells Jane Foster:
Your ancestors called it magic, but you call it science; I come from a land where they are one and the same.
Thus, we are to understand that any powers that appear magical to us are really Asgardian science at work. And the technology we see–such as the aforementioned Destroyer and Mjolnir–are products of an advanced culture. This is a convenient way to avoid any theological issues (i.e., Thor isn’t a god, after all; he’s an alien), but it raises some interesting questions, nonetheless:
If Mjolnir is a creation of Asgard’s supposedly advanced scientific community (not seen in the film), then why have they not created a version of this hammer for all of Asgard’s warriors? I would think they would want each soldier in their army to possess a weapon so powerful.
Here’s the rub: one has to be worthy to wield Mjolnir. But how does the hammer know when Thor is worthy? It seems to be too much of a subjective human judgment to be the product of an inanimate weapon. But that is exactly what happens in the film. And what makes Thor so special, anyway? Why does he get the hammer?
Simple: he was lucky enough to be born the son of Odin, Asgard’s king. Yes, Asgard is sold to us as an advanced culture, but they are still governed by a hereditary monarchy.
I don’t know; maybe it works for them. Still, I would hesitate to admire a world that is governed by a bloodline and populated by battle-minded warriors whose creativity is limited to the production of weapons of mass destruction. What kind of fascistic wet dream is this place–so sterile, homogenized, and militant?
I was reminded of the world created by James Cameron for Avatar. Where Thor shows us an idealized, right-wing society, Avatar shows us the socialist, left-wing side of the coin. The worlds are idealized because they are homogenized; we see no subversive elements within the pure forms of their societies. It is only when foreign elements are introduced that the worlds are disrupted. In Avatar, it’s the humans and their greed. In Thor, it’s Loki (who is not really an Asgardian but a Frost Giant). I guess we’ve always imagined perfect worlds that are brought to ruin by outside forces. Just look at the Garden of Eden myth. It’s when we yearn for the homogeneity and not the disruption that I detect a cultural sickness.
Of the film itself, there’s not much to say. Thor is a mishmash of superhero/fantasy movie conventions, laughably clichéd images (e.g., the tear streaming down the face of Odin), and the burden of needing to set up Marvel’s super-sequel, The Avengers. Plus, its score and set designs are like early, discarded elements from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings production. To be fair, Kenneth Branagh probably wasn’t aspiring for much beyond that. He was paid to produce a summer blockbuster, and he delivered.
Fans of the comic series will enjoy Thor, though not so much for it being a coherent work of artistic merit. Instead, they will enjoy it for the thrill of seeing specific characters and elements of the Marvel Universe in bits of cinematic action. Even I enjoyed it for that much. I just wish, given the creative team involved, it were made of sterner stuff.