From Adventures in Babysitting to Thor

Life lessons from childhood movies

My entire frame of reference for Thor is based on one movie: Adventures in Babysitting—a movie, like The Explorers, that was on daily rotation in our VCR throughout my childhood. In my mind Thor is a young Vincent D’Onofrio who works in a garage, wears a tank top and a red ball cap, carries a hammer, and has long, crunchy-curly blond hair (in desperate need of some conditioner). And once Sara gives him her Thor helmet, we also learn he’s a big softy when he lets Chris and the gang take the repaired car.

Here are some other things I believed after seeing Adventures:
• You shouldn’t be afraid of carjackers; they’re really nice, bighearted men.
• When Mike says Chris’s knees were “locked together at the knees,” I thought she had some medical condition. Like webbed-toes.
• There are Chicago clubs where you have to sing the blues before you can leave.
• You shouldn’t “f*ck with the babysitter.”

Directed by actor/director Kenneth Branagh (Frankenstein, Much Ado About Nothing), Thor is a dichotomy: Earth and Beyond, Superman and Shakespeare.

Thor (the impossibly handsome and built Chris Hemsworth—who at times, looks and sounds a lot like the late Heath Ledger) is a supercilious prince of Asgard who cares for nothing but glory and battle. When Thor begins a war with the Frost Giants, his father King Odin (Anthony Hopkins) takes away Thor’s hammer and powers and banishes him to Earth. There, he meets and falls in love with a young scientist, Jane Parker (Natalie Portman). Once Thor is gone, his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) maneuvers himself onto the throne.

The movie is split between two narratives, Asgard and Earth, but the Asgard storyline is more developed and its characters, except mother Frigga (Rene Russo), are more fully realized. (As fully realized as anyone can be wearing metallic eye patches and knee-high boots.) Here, the relationships between father/brother and brother/brother are allowed to grow. We see the envy, the pride and the malice. They speak Nordic words and names (Jotunheim, Mjolnir, bifröst) that the audience simply doesn’t understand. Add in the over-the-top costumes, and you practically have Shakespeare—a subject Branagh is capable of exploring. (Cheers to the special effects team. The bridge in Asgard and the battles with the Frost Giants are particularly beautiful.)

However, the same cannot be said for the storyline on Earth. While Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings, and Stellan Skarsgard give energetic performances, they are provided with little backstory, little character development. And we don’t really understand the connection between them. We see them run, drive and fight with each other, but we’re not really clear about their relationships. Also, though it becomes integral to the plot, we are provided with little explanation of Jane’s research. And when Thor and Jane finally begin to fall in love, we don’t really buy it. It’s supposed to feel like Superman and Lois Lane, but we don’t know Jane all that well.

Yet despite its shortcomings, Thor is an ideal summer blockbuster. The battles are many, the one-liners are plenty, and the acting is perfectly hammy. Like Iron Man, its purpose is to entertain, not be weighed down by deep thought.

N(y)erd alert: Don’t bother paying extra to see the movie in 3D. While the action and the special effects are great, there is little added by 3D. Save the money.

My Grade: B

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