When you're near a crosswalk there's a moment where you hesitate. You see a car headed your way and you do that stutter-step maneuver, half dipping your foot into the stream of traffic, but not fully committing on the off chance the driver has been momentarily struck by blindness. A couple hundred thousand years of evolution implores you not to proceed, but your modern intellect attempts to convince you it will all work out, because you don't want to have that embarrassing scenario play out where the driver does the facetious "after you" hand motion as you stand there like a bumpkin at the side of the crosswalk.
This, in a microcosm, is Thor, a film that absolutely should exist, but for entirely commercial reasons. Past that it has no real momentum, no life force, no undefinable quality which makes it in the least bit remarkable. You can't fault Thor for stepping into the crosswalk, because not making it would have been a less intelligent call, but once you see it in full stride you realize it's not a gem; it's an average film, gently loping along, hoping not to stand out.
Thor commences with Natalie Portman in a storm. She's chasing weather anomalies with uber-likable Kat Dennings at the wheel and Stellan Skarsgård in tow. Portman has been able to predict 17 straight weather disturbances, but this one is a little different, as a shadowy figure emerges right in the middle of the tumult. Then we're whisked off to Asgard! What's an Asgard? Thor's domicile, which comes off as a cross between the worlds of Speed Racer and Tron: Legacy. Exciting, right?
The first problem Thor has is Thor. Chris Hemsworth is winning and likable, but it's tough to relate to a god. Bruce Wayne is rich, but people become rich every so often. Spider-Man was an awkward kid first, and a "dancin' on the street" suave web-slinger only after some personal growth. The closest parallel would be Superman, but Supes embodies humility and goodness, where Thor is bravado and brute force. There's also the issue of scope, as the New Mexico and Asgard locales make up the entirety of the film.Wait, no, there's another planet, a "bad guy" planet we're asked to care about as the film progresses.
To my surprise, Asgard and the internal politics thereof were placed front and center here. Anthony Hopkins is Thor's papa, Odin, and he's about to relinquish the crown to his eldest son. Loki (Tom Hiddleston), is his youngest son, and Rene Russo portrays Odin's wife. Anyone with a passing knowledge of Norse mythology should see the plot line of this film telegraphed a mile away, and the complexity level isn't all there. There ARE bad guys, who are bad because they are bad, and every so often a member of the Thor posse acts in a manner that's not technically good. But again, motivations are never really explored, which makes the culmination of Thor feel pretty irrelevant. Thor is a film that also desperately wants it both ways. We're supposed to take the consequences (Asgard is in peril!) seriously without any attempt at context. We're supposed to accept that Portman and Hemsworth like each other because they talked for a few minutes. We're expected to smirk along with the film at Thor's ignorance of Earth's culture, all the while intuiting that he's aware of Earth, and here to help. Asgard is also problematic in that it is presented as a dream world (with rainbow roads straight out of Mario Kart) where they have feasts and know magic, but then real-world problems arise that don't gibe with the established tone. It doesn't ever really add up, though the first hour does work as a fantasy epic, almost in the vein of a Narnia movie.
To that point, we can safely call 70 of the 110 minutes solid. Centering the movie almost entirely around New Mexico and Asgard helps in the sense that it provides focus. This isn't a sprawling epic with global ramifications, or at least not Earth's globe. New Mexico seems to be in some sort of peril for a few minutes, but it's a fleeting danger. Unfortunately, this focus also destroys much of the final third of the film, as consequences and choices start undoing the momentum of the piece. For instance, you could argue (and I'm happy you're doing so) that Thor is a film full of questions without context or ramification. Natalie Portman is a researcher, but why does her research matter? Asgard has dealings with Earth, but how and why? Many things within Thor must be accepted at face value, but these very things are what make the whole enterprise feel inconsequential. To enjoy Thor is to simply enjoy bright lights and loud noises, though the 3-D aspect is largely wasted as well. Enjoyment here isn't impossible, but you won't be amazed when the end credits roll (and you await that patented after credits scene). Thor is the typical summer superhero film, and the genre has become formulaic enough that a decent version can be produced without much fuss. Thor is fine, but it's not exceptional on any front.
Still, I look forward to watching the character in The Avengers. I could see 15 good minutes out of Thor, even if there's not nearly enough to hang a sequel on. Thor won't be remembered as an innovator or genre-shifter, and with a glut of superhero films imminent, Thor likely won't be remembered at all.