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movies / May 8, 2011

Thor‘s not good. It’s so ungood, in fact, it caused New York Times film critic A.O. Scott to consider throwing himself under a bus. It seems Scott despaired over the realization that “Thor is an example of the programmed triumph of commercial calculation over imagination.” Yeah! Turns out Hollywood’s only in this for the money!

Look, I know it’s tough, A.O.—may I call you A.O.?—but it’s been going on a long time now. Movies as a mass-entertainment form, I mean, a for-profit industry, with the American film industry even more for-profit than most. They grind out a lot of junk, no question about it—always did. But you big-time professional critics have a duty to the public, A.O.! You must steel yourself to go to those free advance screenings! Then, however much it hurts you, you owe it to all the little people out there to faithfully convey what terrible fate awaits them when they pay to see a commercial calculation like Thor:

“Translated into the hugely expensive, culture-dominating realm of big-budget moviemaking, however, the tactic of treating the price of a ticket as an installment-plan payment has more in common with a Ponzi scheme. The purpose of putting this movie in theaters is to make sure you and all your friends go to the next one, and then the one after that.”

You see the horror of it! It’s not enough that they got you to pay money to see a Hollywood blockbuster—those fiends are actually trying to make you come back and see another! What a world! With this kind of ruthless skulduggery marshalled against us, it’s a wonder we aren’t all tempted to throw ourselves under buses like A.O.

Anyway, Thor‘s pretty atrocious, with the home of the Viking gods looking like Vegas on a particularly schlocky day. It’s actually a relief when arrogant young Thor (absurdly buff blonde Australian guy Chris Hemsworth) gets thrown out of Asgard by his father Odin (old hambone Anthony Hopkins) and pitches down to Earth, because then we get away from all that gold plastic stuff that makes up the Viking sets.


On Earth, its corny hijinks all the way, as you might expect. A Viking god, even one stripped of his hammer, is mighty conspicuous, especially when he says things like, “This mortal form grows weak, I must have sustenance.” He meets a hot scientist (played by Natalie Portman) in a cutesy way, when he drops out of sky into the desert just in time to be hit by her careening science-mobile.


Though mortal, he’s not hurt, of course, because he’s about seven feet tall and built like an oak. We get lots of opportunities to admire his musculature, which outshines all the rote special effects in the film.

You could imagine a movie that mainly stuck with that scenario—hanging around the small town in New Mexico to see how Thor fares with the locals. But this movie has a relentless meanwhile-back-at-the-ranch structure, so you keep cutting back to Asgard where Thor’s trickster brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is plotting against King Odin and colluding with the Frost Giants. (I’m sorry, that’s just a terrible name for a fearsome enemy to have. I assume it’s Marvel Comics’ fault. But isn’t that the name of the bad guys trying to take over Christmastown in one of those holiday movies?)

Every time you go back to Asgard, you come down with plastic-gold-set fatigue again. You can’t get any momentum going.

Much has been made of the fact that Kenneth Branagh directed this, the guy who used to do Shakespeare movies. The general critical feeling is that he must be bringing something Shakespearean—i.e., better, finer—to this unfortunate commercial calculation.  (Shakespeare’s own commercial calculations don’t get talked about much in these types of commentary.) But I couldn’t see it myself. Of course, I’m not a fan of Branagh’s Shakespeare movies. Ever see his Much Ado About Nothing? Ghastly. Some real suicide-by-bus material there.

The point is, you don’t need any sudden infusions of Brit Shakespeare to make Anthony Hopkins ham it up in phony elevated lingo, he does that anyway; I bet he does it when he orders a beer. And there’s a long, long tradition of American hamming which assimilated Shakespeare long since, without any help from imported Brits. By Grabthar’s hammer, we can do this kind of crap in our sleep!

Thor‘s not entirely worthless, though. There are a few good things about it. For example, it’s so loud that if you happen to be preoccupied by something bad in your life, you can’t think about it while you’re in the theater. The  soundtrack is so deafening it drowns out your own thoughts, and the 3-D acts in concert by pushing out images to rest on your weary forehead like a compress. Very, very beneficial thing, if you look at it that way. Personally, I do tend to look at commercial entertainment that way; it’s there to provide relief for people preoccupied by bad things, for working class people with real problems who can’t stand thinking about them anymore.

And the movie has a working class hero, too: Heimdall, the Asgard gatekeeper (Idris Elba), who doesn’t talk very much, just stands there doing his job and having to take a lot of shit for it. He’s great.


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Add your own

  • 1. gwern  |  May 8th, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    > I’m sorry, that’s just a terrible name for a fearsome enemy to have. I assume it’s Marvel Comics’ fault. But isn’t that the name of the bad guys trying to take over Christmastown in one of those holiday movies?

    No; it’s their name. Always has been, even back to the source material. Unless you would prefer they be called the Jötunns?

    (If they had come up with ‘Frost Giants’ on their own, it’d be worth mocking, but that one is not their fault.)

  • 2. Zoner  |  May 8th, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    Oh good, I was wondering what happened to Eileen Jones. I’m still gonna download this movie, though, as soon as someone puts out a decent copy.

  • 3. DerDer  |  May 8th, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    Huzzah! Eileen is back.

  • 4. Bester  |  May 8th, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    Movies getting worse and worse?

    I blame the republicans.

  • 5. King Mob  |  May 8th, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    I agree with you about how Asgard looked. Fucking terrible.

    That being said, I thought the story was OK. It didn’t suck, and I liked the ending I guess, despite how forced the romance felt.

  • 6. Jay  |  May 8th, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    The Frost Giants aren’t Marvel’s fault, they’re in the source material.

    Thor is a Scandinavian god. Scandinavia is, climate-wise, on a par with Alaska. Winter lasts about six months; nights can last for weeks. Scandinavian winters kill people, so it’s no real surprise that their monsters are made of frost.

  • 7. Alex Winter  |  May 8th, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    Commercial Calculation eh, sounds like a Spielberg invention. Follow the money, and that new 200 ft. yacht.

  • 8. Alex Winter  |  May 8th, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    Commercial calculation? Sounds like a Spielberg invention. Follow the money, and that new 200 ft. yacht.

  • 9. Ella Farts-Gerald  |  May 8th, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    Gee, I love everything about this site but the movie reviews. This is the first bad review I’ve seen of the movie. THOR is good, if, like me, you read the comics forty years ago and expected a faithful adaptation. The small changes improved things and made the situation slightly less confusing than Thor’s muddled Marvel origins. I suppose it is a dirty capitalist trick to make something that’s enjoyable to a large number of people. The Marvel movies have been getting things right since IRON MAN. The FANTASTIC FOUR films WERE disasters…

    This comment was sent with Sock Puppet v2.1

  • 10. my talkative ringpiece  |  May 8th, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    Ugh. I’ll have to maintain a 200-yard radius away from movie theaters this looks so bad.

    That huge hammer – what’s he compensating for? The comic book Thor had a hammer of realistic size, about right for an 8 or 10 lb sledge, which is about right for a muscular guy to swing around one-handed.

    The hair. Not enough, or light enough.

    The beard – WTF? This guy can’t even pass morning inspection.

  • 11. darthfader  |  May 8th, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    “You could imagine a movie that mainly stuck with that scenario—hanging around the small town in New Mexico to see how Thor fares with the locals.”

    That was exactly the premise of a recent run on the Thor comic, where Asgard gets relocated to just outside Broxton, Oklahoma. The writer was TV’s J. Michael Straczynski, so there was a definite ceiling on how good it could be, but yeah, it was an interesting juxtaposition and clearly what they ripped off for this part of the movie.

  • 12. RobertD  |  May 8th, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    How come these Himbo type blockbuster actors are all Australian these days?

  • 13. tony  |  May 8th, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    Bullshit…the real story of Thor, “The Mighty Johnsons” is being told on New Zealand TV at the moment.

    The guy and all his cuzzies are living in Auckland and living on soap opera sets…hanging out with a bunch of big-thighed Amazon chicks from Titirangi.

  • 14. wengler  |  May 8th, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    The movie was actually all right for comic book fare. There were several previews before it that look like much louder and much lousier films coming out this summer.

    Watching this made me pine for a Stargate sequel though. With Richard Dean Anderson. That damn rainbow bridge transporter reminded me of a better movie.

  • 15. GhostUnit  |  May 8th, 2011 at 9:30 pm

    I’m not sure whether I liked Thor or not, but what I can say for sure is that this was just a “by the numbers” movie.

    Utterly formulaic and predictable.

  • 16. Aaron  |  May 8th, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    Agreed that “Frost Giants” sounds stupid, but if you’re already calling the home of the gods “Ass-guard,” what difference does it make?

  • 17. crack smoka  |  May 8th, 2011 at 11:46 pm

    If you never got to a theater again, you won’t be missing a thing.

  • 18. tam  |  May 8th, 2011 at 11:55 pm

    The trouble with Thor was that it was never going to be as good as his first appearance onto the big screen, in the awesomely paranoid ‘The Parallax view’.

    If you haven’t seen it, watch that instead of this dreck…

  • 19. Michael  |  May 9th, 2011 at 2:24 am

    Flash!! AA-OOH!!! He’s a miracle…

    dun! dundun! dun, DUN!!

  • 20. Trevor  |  May 9th, 2011 at 6:12 am

    Am I the only American who ever saw Ultraviolet? The British vampire show from back before vampires were just tween porn? Idris Elba was phenomenal in that, which makes crap like this all the more horrible. The guy should be playing James Bond. I think we’re all ready for a black Bond.

  • 21. Tyler  |  May 9th, 2011 at 8:50 am

    Where is Brecher?

  • 22. Flatulissimo  |  May 9th, 2011 at 9:53 am

    Ya know Eileen, there actually are good movies out right now. Okay, one. 13 Assassins is actually pretty good, and you can barely tell it was directed by Miike (a good thing, in my opinion).

  • 23. CensusLouie  |  May 9th, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Hollywood’s always been in it for money and crapped out junk, but it’s really really gotten worse the past 15 years.

    If I had to say why I’d say that it’s the last remnants of the old studio system finally being shed. Artists used to be locked into contracts with studios instead of being hired on a per project basis. They tended to go towards more stuff with some kind of value (at least moreso than today) rather than each individual project that was focus grouped to have the highest possible profit.

    That kind of system started dying off around the mid 20th century, but the people in charge after that were still byproducts of it.

    Now a new generation is replacing them who are completely removed from the old studio system. Churn em and burn em. Everything is looked over by the marketing department every step of the way.

    Where’s this generation’s replacements for Bill Murray, John Belushi, Harrison Ford, Michael J Fox? They aren’t coming; we’re fucked. Instead we get Seth Rogan, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Shia Lebeowf.

    And it’s only going to get worse.

  • 24. Erika  |  May 9th, 2011 at 10:38 am

    Never been a Marvel comics fan…did love Norse myths as a kid..

    I think the social conservatives are scared because some of the pagan myths are making a comeback..the judeo-christian thought nazis are especially frightened that the country will go pagan. After all the iron fist of the RCC that slaughtered millions to secure a place inn barbarian europe lost control of the gambit (last person executed for heresy in the 1890s) and can no longer burn at the stake people who fail to comply.(a type of rule republicans work diligently to restore)

    The movie was just plain fun..

    unlike the socially preachy excrement that is usually churned out by hollywood like Run Fatboy Run, or 2012.
    Most of the movies made for adults are so bereft of plot one wonders what the critic is despairing of..IF he wants a real case of profit driven excrement…try taking a good look at our disease care industry..

  • 25. joe  |  May 9th, 2011 at 11:51 am

    maybe its the war nerd in me but i saw the hurt locker the other day and it was one of the worst movies I ever saw. The plot made no sense whatsoever and there was no character development. I dont think it was the inaccuracy of the movie that turned me off. Apocalypse Now was a great move that was not accurate.

    I am ok with a bad movie once in a while but this travesty was nominated for 9 acadamy awards.

    I think it was popular because it portrayed Iraqis as ignorant monsters which appeased the pro war crowd. the anti war crowd was appeased because it supposedly showed the evil side of war. I guess appealing to the knuckelheads is a winning strategy.

    Maybe I didnt like it because I just watched black swan with natalie portman. Thats not a movie you watch. Instead you put it in your pipe and smoke it.

  • 26. HeedenEmpyre  |  May 9th, 2011 at 5:52 pm

    @21 Tyler, I thought everyone knew…

    Gary Brecher was REALLY OSAMA BIN LADEN!!!

  • 27. GhostUnit  |  May 9th, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    The Hurt Locker flat out sucked, terribly. I have absolutely no idea why it won 6 fucking oscars.

    My theory is that it had its political correctness so well tuned to the committee’s and (some of) the public that they just couldn’t restrain themselves, the hypocrites.

    The Hurt Locker is 2 hours of nothing.

  • 28. Nastarana  |  May 9th, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    Thank you for the comment about Much Ado About Nothing. I thought I was the only person who hated it.

    BTW, what is, or was, it with British directors and the Folding Chair Thing. I once saw a video production of Handel’s Xerxes in which the famous mezzosoprano who played Xerxes delivered a big aria to an audotorium full of Folding Chairs. She looked like who was auditioning for a high school musical.

  • 29. allen  |  May 9th, 2011 at 10:26 pm

    I don’t see the Pagan religions making a comeback. The monotheistic religions are silly enough without our having to believe in something like a Thor or Hercules.

    Then again a number of fairly unhinged variants of Hinduism keeps on trucking … with folklore absurd enough to put the Old Testament’s Giants or Islam’s Jinns in a slightly less unfavorable light …

  • 30. Wyse Guy  |  May 10th, 2011 at 10:43 am

    You’re covering for Pakistan, you Pakistan loving right wing pricks!!!!

    You’ve cancelled the War Nerd ’cause that motherfucker can’t dance the dirty chicken over invading and Genghis Khan-ing that nest of terrorists!!!

  • 31. jack kane  |  May 10th, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    Hollywood’s movies are becoming increasingly unwatchable. There are two discernible golden ages of Hollywood: 1939 to around 1950, and 1967 to around 1977. There were a few good movies in the ’90s. But this last decade has been abysmal. Once in a while the big boys – Scorcese, Coens, Polanski the pedophile, Fincher, etc (though not Nolan, he’s awful) – release a good picture; and we have a few reasonable “indie” movies (not the one about the bus, though, man that was bad), but that’s about it. Even the big boys don’t always deliver. Ridley Scott has gone from Alien and Blade Runner to Robin Hood. That’s like going from Augustus to Nero.

    Hollywood’s garbage is prima facie evidence for the cultural decline of our time. We got all sorts of decline here – moral, military, economic, intellectual – so it’s only natural we also get a nice cultural decline. Also in literature – remember Dolan’s review “A Million Pieces of Shit”? Or take the last Oscar winner – an example of the genre of Monarchy Porn.

  • 32. gary  |  May 10th, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    i liked hopkins in (gasp) beowolf..that guy can make any bullshit dialogue sound good..also jolie was hot…a good “bad movie”

  • 33. Wyse Guy  |  May 10th, 2011 at 10:25 pm

    Hey, Exile, why`ve your buddies the Buffalo Beast, had their site taken down?

    Did the Kochs get to them? 😉

  • 34. JohnFigler  |  May 11th, 2011 at 12:24 am

    @ 31 “We got all sorts of decline here – moral, military, economic, intellectual – so it’s only natural we also get a nice cultural decline.”

    While I agree with most of what you say, it’s not natural that cultural decline comes with overall decline.

    Both the Spanish and British culture were at their best when their empires where nothing but excruciating ulcers or going just plain down the drain. Also Italy has been in decadence for how long? 1800 years? and his culture had been fine most of the time. Same for the French, best literature and/or cinema coinciding with worse military-strategic situation, etc… Germany wasn’t even in existence when Goethe or Wagner lived… the great Russian novelists lived under inept Czars just waiting to be toppled, etc..

    Seems culture brights the most just before any Empire fades completely away. It’s not a direct correlation. Only the Americans have managed to have utter decadence in all and every field, all at once. China being another exception that comes to mind.

    Then, American culture has been the more “weaponized” culture ever, since the Romans at least, so it’s just logical that, as a tool of Empire, that culture goes downward with that same Empire.

    What I can’t say is if that’s a symptom or a cause. One of those hen vs egg questions, I guess.

  • 35. Thor  |  May 11th, 2011 at 11:19 pm

    What do you mean, you’re Thor? I’m tho goddamned Thor, I can’t pith!

  • 36. Carpenter  |  May 12th, 2011 at 8:35 am

    I can imagine Marvel doing Jesus: “He should be able to fly with big angel wings, and battle red horned demons! All the while spouting cool Bible quotes.”

    Ugh, terrible plastic-golden set. Do they know ANYTHING about Nordic mythology? It should look more like a big hunting lodge.

    And Thor had red hair.

    And why make it a predictable formula: “love story+clear-cut enemies”? LOVE never rocked things in Nordic mythology, as well it shouldn’t. And the giants were not that kind of black-and-white enemies: they looked like human beings, and the gods spent time around them. Thor was known to have a glass of mead with the giants once in a while. Then there were some giants who were clear enemies, and in the end they would all march against Asgard in war – it was COMPLICATED, not clear-cut. So Nordic mythology was a lot more like real life than anything Hollywood is capable of producing.

    And no, there were no Blacks in Viking Scandinavia, especially not gods. The gods were depicted as White, like the people. But the Hollywood rule is this: there must never be a Whites-only crowd. It could give the lowly viewers ideas. An all-Black crowd, or an all-Jewish crowd, absolutely; but Whites must never feel that they could have an identity of their own, like everyone else.

  • 37. Bohemian  |  May 12th, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    @ CARPENTER: I echo your pains. Also the fact, that only bearable actor in the movie was BLACK nordic god.

    Lets make movie about Mohammed´s life starring chinese actor and Master Chief from Halo, shall we, Hollywood?

  • 38. MOARGAN  |  May 12th, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    war nerd, everyday for like a month, then nothing, then on to thor?… f-this MOAR WOAR NERD

  • 39. darthfader  |  May 14th, 2011 at 3:10 am

    The problem with the Norse myths, the real ones, is that they’re boring as shit.

  • 40. super390  |  May 14th, 2011 at 10:55 am

    @ #34

    A few years ago I was curious about the fact that of all the well-regarded British authors, painters and composers from the height of the British Empire, which to me is the last quarter of the 19th century, very few are well-regarded today. It was their pop musicians (Gilbert & Sullivan), and genre authors (A. Conan Doyle & H. G. Wells) and especially children’s authors who seem to have had the biggest impact on the next century. Sort of a revenge of the empire’s nerds, welling up from society’s lower depths while the inbred upstairs crowd was going into senility.

    Now in the case of the US, we’ve been short of great authors for a long time. In the period 1945-1970 we seemed to have the best of everything; painters, architects, filmmakers, you name it, many of them non-elite boys who got their chance via the GI Bill. These guys were mostly Pop; there was a huge, educated middle-class that could at least recognize Warhol even if it didn’t “get” him. The music was all pop, from Muddy Waters to Bernstein doing Broadway, and so many kinds had their Golden Age in this period; probably our biggest artistic impact on eternity.

    It seems that high culture in both countries peaked before fundamental power peaked, but that in the US an invigoration of popular culture (ignored in class-bound Victorian UK) kept the Golden Age lively. We were the Kings of Middlebrow, and the consensus that implied was also what was keeping the country from coming apart.

  • 41. Connor  |  May 14th, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    i think i have a list of steps that may alleviate your butthurt with Thor

    1.rewatch the movie in theaters candy from the concession stand

    congratulations you supported your local movie theater

  • 42. Alex Winter  |  May 14th, 2011 at 11:01 pm

    Who told theaters they could bombard us with
    commercials? Must have been 25-30 commercials
    I had to be tortured by before my film started. In these quantities this is a fairly recent thing. What a cheap trick. I’ll bet writers of commercials actually thing they’re talented.

  • 43. Rob  |  May 17th, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    Whats with this sites movie reviews? Go see The Kings Speech, The Road or something else.
    (I would love to see the author do a review on The Road)

    The movie was fun for the most part, some things didn’t tie in so well script wise but to slam the special effects is a bit much. There was only one floating tower in azguard and the city had it’s moments, some shots it looked gaudy others it got it just right but the most used scenery the “rainbow bridge” looked awesome not to mention the spinning projector thingeymajig and the standard of special effects from the first Ironman has been applied here with objects having weight,power and momentum to them.

  • 44. oneoflokis  |  May 25th, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    Yup: gwern at the top’s right: Eileen sure doesn’t know much about Norse mythology; they’ve always been called that!

    The traditional enemies of the Norse gods are the Jotuns (Ettins/Giants) of Jotunheim (pretty sure those terms are in the comics, too!) Unlike what you’re thinking, Eileen, these aren’t like pretty frost fairies from later Christmas fairy tales. As the commenter above says, they can and do kill people!

    Actually they come in two basic varieties: Fire Giants like Surtr (heard of Surtsey?) and Frost/Ice Giants like Thiazi, Skadhi & most others that get a mention in the Eddas. No idea who the villains in the movie other than Loki are; have yet to see it! But it might help people who don’t “get” the basic Norse aesthetic to think of the molten lava, ice sheets and so on of the to-this-day-aircraft-endangering Iceland!

    Oh I think the Marvel comics get it quite well! If you overlook their basic dualism – yet then again,most Marvel comics have sympathetic villains.

    And this has a Trickster in it!:)

  • 45. oneoflokis  |  May 25th, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    I would also like to register that I do not appreciate either Carpenter’s or darth fader’s comments above: the former are racist, and basically irrelevant considering that the Marvel version is a science fiction/futuristic take: the latter are simply ignorant. No mythology buff would agree with you, darth: hey, maybe you’d prefer George Lucas paid to develop a time machine and went back and rewrote ancient scriptures?

  • 46. oneoflokis  |  May 25th, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    @allen Wrong again! There are *at least* (very conservative estimate) one million Pagans, Wiccans, Druids etc in the US at last count (sometime in the 1990s); probably a lot more seeing as most were and still are in the closet. North America seems to be a particularly good ground (far as I can see) for Nordic/Northern Tradition/Germanic paganism; probably because of many people’s ancestry: there must be at least a couple hundred thou of those. Mind you, they don’t all believe the same thing; pagans and heathens have as many splinter groups as fringe political parties, which is one reason arrogant Christians, atheists etc think they can ignore us.. Only Richard Dawkins is arrogant enough to think pagans no longer exist though!

    When you count also people who have a “new age”spirituality, you’re talking some seriously big numbers. As for me, a Brit, I await with interest analysis of the 2011 census. (In the last count 10 years ago there were nearly half a million UK “Jedis”; surely there must be more pagans?)

  • 47. ummm  |  February 8th, 2012 at 6:20 pm

    Loki is Odin’s brother not Thor’s….

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