Thor: If You Survive The First Half, You Might Like It
This post was originally published on Heroine Content, a feminist and anti-racist movie blog that ran from July 2006 to May 2012.
So, Thor. He's a god, or maybe a space alien (same difference) from a magical realm called Asgard. He's going to be king, except he's a bit impulsive and loves a big fight, so his dad sends him to Earth in hopes that he will grow the fuck up.
I did not have high hopes for Thor, mostly to avoid them getting dashed. It's a good thing, too. If the second about-half of the film had been like the first about-half, I would have come home and written a review full of bleak despair for the future of Marvel adaptations. The low expectations cushioned the disappointment.
Note to filmmakers: that much exposition and backstory right up front? Not welcome, and not necessary. Condense! Every minute you're using for lead-in is a minute you don't have to make the rest of the film compelling.
For example, five more minutes of time actually spent on Thor would have been super helpful. His character development is given such short shrift! Scenes that could have given us some insight into his personality and relationships, such as Thor convincing his posse to invade the Frost Giants' kingdom, feel barely completed before we rush to the next thing. And while we understand that he's profoundly affected by being exiled and then denied his hammer, it's unclear how a day later he's cheerfully serving breakfast to other people and fully aware of the importance of self-sacrifice. He was a good person at heart before his banishment, just hotheaded and immature, but surely it would take more than a crush on Natalie Portman to get caught up and start prioritizing the well-being of others instead of his own goals? Give me a little more to work with, please.
Loki fares much better, and that's in part because Tom Hiddleston did such a good job. When you first meet him, you can actually believe that he might be just on this side of the light instead of walking deliberately into darkness. You're being pushed to root for Thor, but early on you also sympathize with Loki, because he's RIGHT about Thor, even if it's awfully convenient for Loki's own future. His slide into evil is well portrayed, especially his visit to Thor in the S.H.I.E.L.D. holding facility. Chris Hemsworth's performance as Thor in that scene convinced me he could have done the job of showing the character grow and change, so it was doubly frustrating that he wasn't given as much opportunity.
I'm not sure how to explain why the second half of the film felt so much better than the first, aside from "less talk, more action." It also felt less uneven as the "haha Thor on Earth" comic relief fell away and we spent less time with Natalie Portman complaining. So I left feeling pretty good about the movie as an entertainment experience.
As a Heroine Content experience, though, I was surprised at my mixed feelings.
The casting of Idris Elba as Heimdall, guardian of the bridge, garnered a bit of attention when some racist white people decided to protest it long after he had been cast and the movie was already filmed. That bit of casting, and all the press I saw from people involved with the film about the controversy, had given me a warm fuzzy feeling. If you want to cast someone who no one's going to fuck with, of course you cast Idris Elba! Because who would fuck with him? He's awesome! Beyond that, Thor's posse includes Jaimie Alexander, a white woman, as Sif, and Tadanobu Asano, an extremely accomplished Japanese male actor, as Hogun.
Does Sif get her fair share of fighting time? Yes! Yay! And I liked her personality, though I would wish for some actual arm muscles too.
Is Hogun a ninja? No! Yay! Like with Agent Zero in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, it's nice to see an Asian man playing a fighter without being the stereotype. He doesn't get a lot of dialogue, but I enjoyed his presence.
But... does Sif, the only woman, need to be saved early in the first fight? Yes! And when Thor shows up in New Mexico, a state with an extremely large Hispanic population, can you spot any people of color in the whole town? Umm... (If you saw it and noticed something I didn't, please let me know.) I don't want to discount Heimdall, Sif, and Hogun. They could easily have been replaced by white male characters. Natalie Portman's character is an astrophysicist, whereas she could have been a waitress in town and still the love interest. But as almost always, it would have been nice to see a little more reality in the faces on screen.
However, for a story about a white guy, it does include an ass-kicking woman, and some men of color being awesome. The filmmakers did some casting against audience expectations in a film based on a source material with a lot of rabid fans, and for that I give them credit. My expectations were just too high given the Idris Elba incident.
I'm not sure I would recommend this unless you're a Marvel fan, since there is that first half to contend with, but I'll give it three stars.