Ah, the Thors—possibly the weakest MCU instalments, which still makes them better and more fun than a lot of other superhero movies. Like Captain America and the Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor presents an interesting and rather ridiculous premise for filmmakers to turn Big Screen Awesome, with the comic’s canon drawn (increasingly loosely) from Norse mythology, pulling that whole “advanced beings visited earth and primitive people decided they were gods” thing. The movies do, however, manage to weave together comics and myth into a story of world-hopping, cloaked heroes speaking olden-timey English and shiny science-magic that we can suspend our disbelief enough to enjoy and get involved with.
And gosh is it pretty (no, not just Chris Hemsworth). The first movie makes full use of its design and lighting to world-build, creating different atmospheres entirely for the three settings—Asgard, Jodenheim, and a tin-pot town in the middle of New Mexico (a nice change, really, after all this big city destruction). Asgard is all majestic camera pans and golden sunshiney lighting, the architecture just the right mix of fantastical and spacey not to look tacky. Hovering towers with Norse swirls all over them? Yes, you can make it mix. They take concepts like the Rainbow Bridge guarded by an all-seeing man in gold and make them believable and mesmerising to look at (no, not just Idris Elba), managing to look cool at the same time as setting up an otherworldly and beautiful atmosphere for the place that, yes, is rather godly.
The home of the Frost Giants is all in blues and blacks by comparison, and feels immediately cold and unforgiving, not just because of the colour scheme inversion to Asgard but in the cinematography. Earth too feels notably different, but not simply because it’s drab: that setting too has its own specific colouring and lighting (and many, many diagonal camera angles) to make it interesting in its own right, in a clutter-of-humanity kind of way, as opposed to the desolation-of-Frost-Giants kind of way or a majesty-of-gods kind of way. Each place is a character of its own, all elements of design carefully chosen and wonderfully executed to make them feel as vibrant as each other in significantly different ways. Where did this tact with characterisation and prettiness go in Thor: The Dark World? Fell off the Bifrost, I can only imagine.
Then again, the second movie felt so much weaker than the first, and not just because it was so boring to look at after all the cinematic cleverness of the first one. Everything felt sort of grey-tinged, no matter what part of the converging Realms you were in. And everything felt much more disjointed, right down to the execution of humour. Generally, when you’re trying to weave jokes and a sense of good fun seamlessly into an adventure story about the impending apocalypse, it’s better tact to weave rather than stick, with whole scenes and characters used as joke fodder (and fantastically awkwardly, in the case of Erik Selvig, whose mental breakdown after being hijacked in The Avengers is treated as something we should be giggling about, and Darcy’s intern, who literally has no function except to carry stuff and occasionally mess up in ways that were cute and British).
But hey, the brotherly bickering was fun, however wrangled in alongside the angst it was (ah yes, another thing I’m not fond of in The Dark World—Frigga getting re-Frigga-rated for the pain of the men in her family. Where is your conviction against reckless war now, Odin? Did they really kill off your queen just so you could use grief as an excuse to contradict all the advice you gave your son in the first movie?). In all honesty, the Thor-Loki dynamic is a teensy tiny bit overrated to me now, simply because everyone has been talking about it til the eight-legged horses come home since Thor came out in 2011. Nonetheless, the villain is a lovely portrayal of the god of mischief, working so, so much better as the conniving and ever-witty snake in the grass than the descending dictator (come punching bag for the entire team) he was in The Avengers.
Let Loki connive, damn it. He works best that way, with all that “daddy, are you proud?” silliness well and truly grown out of. But both Thor and Loki are very different from how we first meet them in the golden boy’s titular movie, Thor racing down his path from arrogant young warrior to responsible hero, and Loki down his from jealous little brother to trickster and destroyer of worlds. This could have happened a lot more slowly, I think, but I feel that Thor in some ways suffers the same hindrance that The First Avenger did in that it serves as setup for The Avengers, in essence, and thus its story must serve as getting the characters where they need to be for their position in the team. Thor’s growth is not nearly as nuanced as Tony Stark’s, for instance, or even Simba from The Lion King’s, because let’s face it, there are quite a few similarities between these plots (Loki is Scar, obviously, and the King’s removal from the plot is actually more family friendly than the Disney cartoon. There is, however, a lot of falling off stuff).
So yes, it’s all a bit clichéd, with the boy’s growth into a man and becoming worthy of his sword in the stone (rather, hammer in the crater) by learning the value of leadership and self-sacrifice, but this is drawn from myth, at least a little, so let’s give it credit there: legendary warriors were our original superheroes, after all. We have to expect to recognise a few tropes because this kind of thing is where they started. The shoehorned love story, however, is one I could happily do without. Yes, Jane has a little more character than I originally gave her credit for, and I do quite like her (no, not just Natalie Portman), but it has to be said that she flip-flops around quite a bit, being as ambitious, helpless, nerdy or feisty as the plot demands. I’m torn, really, between wishing this relationship had been more slow-build and felt less stuffed in because The Hero Must Have a Love Interest, and being quite proud of her for taking initiative and grabbing a godly smooch.
And why oh why are they dropping hints, alongside that small disaster, that Lady Sif might like Thor as well? The last thing we need here is a love triangle of sorts, even if it only manifests as one lady immediately resorting to giving another shady looks because she abstractly Stole Her Man. It contributes to two annoying tropes: firstly, that girls are all at war as a matter of course and their natural instinct to each other is wariness and jealousy, and secondly, that men and women can’t just be platonic friends (or battle-forged blood siblings and gods of war) because inevitably those squishy hormones will get in the way. Yech to both.
Verdict: the first movie was enjoyable and a delight to explore, the second put me into Odinsleep. These movies have a lot of silly things in them, whether it’s the diabolical villains wanting to plunge the universe into darkness! Myah! or the flawed execution of romantic subplots, or the general content of the spiralling science-magic fusion universe. But hey, we’re mixing myth with comics, two of the most convoluted mediums in the world, so some ridiculousness has to be expected in content. For being able to meld the comic canon into something coherent and enticing for new audiences (a.k.a. me) I applaud them, for their bungling with some other aspects, I give a thumbs-down. However, overall it’s still quite fun as hammer-swinging lightning-summoning cape-clad heroes go.
Up next: Iron Man!