Thor

Experience is the best teacher.  I have relearned that lesson myself over the last couple of months as the radio station has changed to a different type of software in my department.  I watched over 20 different online presentations of how the software works, but until I actually got my hands on it and made it work in the real world, I was clueless as to its function.  No matter what kind of job you have, listening to lectures will only give you the bare minimum you need to perform your task.  If you’re a med student, you need to cut up a cadaver to see how things are connected.  If you’re a construction apprentice, you need to pick up a hammer to see how buildings are built.  If you’re a Norse god, you need to be forced to live as a mortal to learn humility and patience.  Experience proves to be the best teacher in this week’s movie, “Thor.”

One thousand years ago, a long and bloody war between a race called the Frost Giants and the Asgardians ended with a truce worked out between Asgard king Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and Laufey (Colm Feore), leader of the Frost Giants.  The truce held for 1000 years until three Frost Giants somehow gained access to the armory of Asgard and tried to retrieve the source of their power, the Casket of Ancient Winters.  Their break in interrupted the ascension of Odin’s son Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to the throne of Asgard.  Thor is enraged by the intrusion and wants to attack Jotunheim, home of the Frost Giants.  Odin orders him to stay put believing it to be an isolated incident.  Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) tells Thor he agrees Asgard should attack Jotunheim, leading Thor to approach Sif (Jaimie Alexander), Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (Joshua Dallas) and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) to join him and Loki in the raid.  Heimdall (Idris Elba) is the all-seeing, all-knowing guard of the Bifrost Bridge that connects the nine realms of the cosmos.  He wants to know how the Frost Giants gained access to Asgard without his being aware and allows the group to pass.  In Jotunheim, a huge battle ends with the Asgardians surrounded by Frost Giants.  Odin appears and tries to smooth over the treaty violation but Laufey refuses to be placated, promising to launch a new war.  Odin retrieves his people but is furious that Thor violated his direct order.  He strips Thor of his power, including the mystical war hammer Mjolnir, and exiles him on Earth as a mortal to learn humility and patience.  Appearing in a beam of light in the New Mexico desert, Thor is found by astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), her mentor Professor Andrews (Stellan Skarsgard) and their assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings).  Jane believes Thor arrived from another dimension via wormhole and hopes to be able to prove it.  All Thor wants to do is retrieve Mjolnir, which has landed 50 miles away, and return to Asgard; but officers of S.H.I.E.L.D. have arrived and surrounded the hammer, trying to study it and figure out what it is.  Meanwhile, Loki, who has learned a secret about himself during the attack at Jotunheim, is in Asgard plotting to take over the kingdom in Thor’s absence.

“Thor” violates the most basic rule of any superhero movie:  It’s dull.  There are moments of excitement, but for very long stretches, the film bogs down into a very average “fish out of water” story as Thor learns the lessons Odin wants him to learn.  There’s also some royal intrigue as Loki plots against Thor and as his friends plot against Loki, but none of it ever rises to the level of truly interesting.  It's only in the film's final 15 minutes that it deserves to be considered a superhero movie.  The entire subplot involving Portman’s character is an enormous waste of time.  Portman is miscast in the film.  She has moments of being mildly entertaining as she develops a crush on the god of thunder, but overall she seems to be flailing around, looking for the proper tone and attitude and usually not finding it.

Visually, the movie works most of the time.  While the more otherworldly environments are CG, it all looks fairly believable.  Asgard is the most impressive CG location in the film.  It appears to be at the center of the Milky Way galaxy and is a gleaming city of golden towers and massive buildings.  Connecting Asgard and the other realms is a translucent, multi-colored bridge that glows with the footsteps of those who walk on it.  The bridge connects to the other realms with a beam of light emanating from a spinning metallic ball powered by lightning.  But all is not well visually in “Thor.”  The Frost Giants look like they are covered in mud and aren’t the least bit impressive or intimidating.  A monster set loose to fight the Asgardians in Jotunheim looks to have been partially copied from the Rancor in “Star Wars:  Return of the Jedi.”  The film has also been converted into 3D, making many of the nighttime and Jotunheim scenes very dark.  Save the money (and the headache) and see the 2D version.

“Thor” is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence.  There are a great many fights in the film but the only time we see blood is when one character is stabbed with ice spears.  Most of the time characters either walk away after the violence or they are never seen again.

In the summer of 2012, Thor will return to Earth to become part of the Avengers.  I hope they have figured out by then how to make this character at least somewhat exciting.  This film, which is an origin story and the first Marvel superhero movie of three this summer (“X-Men:  First Class” opens June 3rd and “Captain America:  The First Avenger” is due in late July).  As superhero movies go, “Thor” is just an average hero.

“Thor” gets three guitars out of five.

Two new flicks vie for your entertainment dollar this week.  Vote for the movie you’d like reviewed next.

Bridesmaids—Kristen Wiig is a simple Midwestern girl who takes on the daunting, bizarre task of being her best friend's maid of honor.

Priest—Paul Bettany stars as a warrior priest who breaks his sacred vows on a quest to rescue his niece from a pack of murderous vampires.

Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.

Questions?  Send them to stanthemovieman@att.net.  Follow Stan on Twitter @moviemanstan.