THOR: When your only tool is a hammer….

This trailer, with all its noise, violence and spectacle, makes me suspect that the movie isn’t very good, although until its release, I must withhold final judgment. I base my opinion not just on intuition, but on the failure of this plodding, confounding trailer to answer my questions or compel my interest, whether in the story, its hero, his conflict, his character or his ability. I don’t know why he’s on earth or why he’s fighting a robot. And when he’s back home in Asgaard, I don’t know why he’s fighting and who his monstrous adversaries are.

This trailer poses a question in the first act, which it neglects to answer meaningfully thereafter. But then it also neglects to explain the relations obtaining among its deliberate presentation of parts. Generally, we see that Thor has been cast out of heaven and found himself misunderstood on earth, where he faces rather than a mythological foe, a science fiction one. I guess, from the few direct clues and the implicit generic ones that he will redeem his godly honor, glory and power in an act of nobility, crushing those in Asgaard who’ve plotted against him, as well as the horrible monsters his misbehavior has, somehow, released. Apart from the Robots, this is a common enough action plot for a mythological hero who requires schooling in adversity to become worthy of his power and destiny. But the particular qualities or details that might make me care about this Thor from this Valhalla are only stereotypical, when not accidental or idiosyncratic, qualities that render him an object of lust and curiosity, but not, regrettably, a subject for awe.

As I “read” this film text, I discern the following movements: Act I, introduces Thor being questioned by a smooth US intelligence type whose review of Thor’s behavior since being captures culminates in the relevant question: “who are you?” These scenes of Thor in various attitudes of a WWF icon, employ a dark, blue/black palette, are shot a night and feature diagonal graphic elements and camera angles, as if there’s something crooked or off-kilter about this god in these circumstances.

Between Act I and II, serving for provenance and transition, the Marvel logo comes into visibility out of a stuttering quick-cut montage of cartoon/comic book images, presumably from the Thor series. The logo and images are reddish, orange and animated, in striking contrast to the live action action scenes that precede.

In Act II, we return (flashback, presumably) to the landscape and temple of Asgaard where Odin (King of the God’s, Anthony Hopkins playing Thor’s disappointed, critical father) excoriates Thor for his errors, revokes his power and casts him out of heaven. The color palette, as if inspired by the Marvel logo, is suddenly golden (reddish, orange, with metallic overtones) and the action occurs primarily in natural light. The graphic patterns and camera angels are symmetrical and straight on, as befits divine architecture. The context is a convocation of the Gods in which Odin repudiates his son, deprives him of his hammer, and casts him out of heaven. Thor answer defiantly, but impotently.

Act III sees Thor cast to earth, awaking to the opening bass chords of a rock anthem and Natalie Portman’s sepia toned and wide-eyed solicitude. Natalie and her snarky sidekick want to know whence he came, although for reasons less of national security than feminine curiosity and undisguised desire. Thor genially attempts to explain, describing his home as a place where science and magic are one and the same, a provocative if ultimately unintelligible and irrelevant assertion. As he speaks and the musical line emerges, three very simple cards appear, white against black and blue thunder clouds and lightning, providing an epic and generic sell that is almost devoid of story information, apart from the already obvious: This May/ Two Worlds/ One Hero.

What the cards introduce is attitude, a testosterone laden attitude, conveyed by parallel, hyper- kinetically edited montages of battles to be fought and won. In the first, on Earth, Thor faces a giant, murderous Robot (whose origin and object are not remotely explained); in the second series of shots, in Asgaard, Thor fights fellow gods as well as some mythological monsters somehow unleashed.

In a reversal that I assume to be meaningful, his fights on earth take place outdoors in day time and use a sepia, golden and red palette. In heaven, the time of action is indoors or at nighttime and a black and blue and gold palette predominates, with Thor’s red cape providing one of the few splashes of “hot” color. Graphic patterns and camera angles are as likely to be diagonal and off kilter as they are rectilinear and straight.

The sound design, while tight, loud and predictable, is neither catchy, exhilarating nor emotionally inspiring. I don’t mean to deprecate the skill of the discontinuity editing, the sound design, the match cutting, the rhythmic phrasing, the visual spectacle and the crescendoing tension. They are perfectly serviceable but not transporting or inspiriting. The problem may be the wooden performance, the unclear story line and the clichéd structure. If we knew more or cared more, perhaps the music and sound would matter.

The copy promises that this May, the Battle will come to earth, insofar as Two Worlds are straddled by one Hero. This is both an announcement of the film’s immanent arrival as well as a threatening alarm; a vicarious thrill is promised along with the advent of the event, courtesy of Marvel and Paramount.

But apart from Thor’s rippling abs, I don’t really know why I should care. I am not a Marvel Comic reader, although I am familiar with outlines of Norse Mythology and enjoy comic-book inspired spectacle along with millions of other Summer movie goers. I just like to have a story to relate to (or discern) or Characters in whom to invest. What I bemoan in this trailer is the decision by the marketers and trailer makers not to tell me enough of the story.

They make precious little use of the extra-diegetic resources of copy (whether cards or V.O.) to make connections that are not available diegetically or visually. Had additional information (whether motivation, conflict, objective or intrigue) been offered, it might have obviated the regrettable lack of (or failure by the trailer makers to put their hands on) footage worthy of the film’s budget, directing talent and cast. Chemistry, atmosphere, charm are noticeably absent, despite the elements marshaled by the trailermakers to sell spectacle. Instead of unique story, we get generic tropes; instead of conversation and character, there are phrases and types.

There is beefcake (Thor) and academy award talent (Hopkins and Portman); war in heaven and war on earth. There are topical references and mythological ones, a hoary legend seeking contemporary relevance, despite the fact that the hero/God’s bildungroman is as old as time. Rebellion, retribution, scorn and respect, love, sacrifice, cataclysm and triumph, these are what one can expect, but in what order, by what agency, to what purpose?

Or is it that there is too much? Not only must Thor fight to return to Valhalla, betraying his earthly love and newly discovered humanity, but he must fight a robotic menace here on earth, as well as a prehistoric monster whose slumbers he has interrupted. Which story line is it, I wonder, that is the hook and the book? The trailer in its current plenitude of event, action, character and stakes, seems rather disjoint and baggy, delivering enough entertainment for more than one film, though not enough information to interest a viewer in any.

[Note: the film did boffo Box Office business. Maybe the trailer did it’s job of keeping out the pointed headed audiences, like myself, who would not have been able to enjoy the film. In which case, it must have been a great trailer.]

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movietrailers101 by Fred Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

About Frederick Greene

Entertainment Copywriter & Visiting Assistant Professor, UCLA Dept. of Theater, Film & Television. I teach a graduate seminar in new movie marketing, which focuses on the history, contemporary practice and likely future of a/v advertising for motion picture entertainment.
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