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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Roger Ebert: Still in no mood about to apologize about hating 'Thor'

Thor I just got off the phone with Kenneth Branagh for an upcoming story I'm doing--and he still sounds a bit amazed about what a career-changing experience it was directing "Thor." It's just a pleasure to hear all the ideas that are rattling around in his head -- and is it fun to hear him recite Shakespeare. Hoping to pump up his actors when they had to do a lot of green-screen work, he'd recite, as he did for me, a stirring speech from "Henry V" about what it's like to perform on an empty stage.

To prepare for my Branagh interview, I boned up on the "Thor" of it all. So now I know that the movie has made more than $400 million around the world, most of it overseas, where it's still going strong. I know that the movie scored an impressive 78 at Rotten Tomatoes, a surprisingly high score for the kind of studio franchise movie that critics usually hate. And now I also know that Roger Ebert has been in the midst of a comical psychodrama with his readership, who were up in arms over his dismissive review of the film.

After seeing the film, Ebert wrote that "Thor" is "a failure as a movie, but a success as marketing, an illustration of the ancient carnival tactic of telling the rubes anything to get them into the tent.... Nothing exciting happens, nothing of interest is said, and the special effects evoke not a place or a time but simply special effects." The reaction, among the "Thor" faithful, was not pretty. Ebert received such a mighty hammering that he's written a fascinating new non-apology, which neatly captures what goes on inside the mind of a critic when he is penning a pan.

Ebert acknowledges being a bit harsh in his review, saying that his tone was off: "I brought too much anger to a trivial entertainment. When I described [the movie] as 'a desolate vastation,' I went perhaps one hyperbole too far." But that was as far as the mea culping went. Even when admitting some minor factual errors in the review, Ebert managed to heap even more contempt on the film. For instance:

"I wondered, for example, why a giant metal robot chose to attack a small New Mexico town when it could have been attacking the Golden Gate Bridge. I was eviscerated for not knowing that the robot is named the Destroyer, and that of course he attacked the town because that's where Thor was, you see, and Thor was in New Mexico in the first place because that's where the Portal from Asgard leads to. Well, obviously it led to New Mexico, because that's where it took him, but why did it lead there? Because it did in the comic books, I guess. If the name 'Destroyer' was used in the movie, and I suppose it must have been, it simply didn't register with me. With some films every frame seems to register. Others have a strange quality of slipping wraith-like through my mind without hitting any brain cells. If the robot was named Destroyer, the best reason for my failure to recall its name was that I just didn't give a damn."

Like a lot of critics who are forced to make a death march every summer through an ever-increasing assortment of comic book-based franchises, sequels and franchise reboots, Ebert seems more frustrated by the nature of Hollywood cookie-cutter creativity than the demerits of one individual movie. As he put it: "The reason we get so many comic book superhero movies is that they all share the same High Concept: 'Here is another one of those comic book superhero movies.' ... Hollywood lives in thrall to the concept of a Franchise."

As I mentioned before, a lot of critics and other observers, myself included, liked "Thor" more than Ebert did. But I get his point: Summer is a time of depressingly meager aspirations on the part of movie studios. Outside of the family-oriented animation films, which are often loaded with great visual ideas and sharp-eyed storytelling, our summer movies aim low--and still often miss the mark. Even those of us willing to give higher marks to "Thor" than Ebert know all too well that when it comes to summer movies, we're still always grading on a curve.

--Patrick Goldstein

Photo: Chris Hemsworth portraying the title character in  "Thor."  Credit: Zade Rosenthal/ Paramount Pictures-Marvel Studios





Comments () | Archives (17)

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Who cares what Roger Ebert has to say anymore?
"Thor" is a solid, popcorn movie that delivers on thrills and left this viewer and comic fan perfectly happy.
Ebert can go watch "Tree of Life" a few dozen times and leave the fun movies to other reviewers.

I would suggest that a lot of things have the strange quality of slipping wraith-like through Ebert's mind without hitting any brain cells. And yet oddly enough, everything that could cause the slightest discomfort to his ego always seems to hit with planet-destroying force. Guess he can't take what he's paid to dish out. Which brings me to the question: why should anyone give a flying rat's backside what a failed screenwriter thinks about movies? Is Ebert somehow more qualified than you or I to watch a movie?

I usually think Mr. Ebert is a silly old crank, but on this film I think he is right on. What happened to movies? With the millions, nay, BILLIONS of dollars available, the best minds and technology, the finest actors and talent, and all Hollywood can come up with is comic books? Then again, movies are now made for kids, not adults.

"The Tree of Life" is tons more fun than "Thor."

RE: "Who cares what Roger Ebert has to say anymore?" and "I usually think Mr. Ebert is a silly old crank" from the other people who posted. I like Roger Ebert. People who write criticism of movies are always being told not to be intellectual and that "popcorn movies" are off limits for criticism because they just bring pleasure. "Popcorn movies" are movies too, so they're up for discussion along with the Robert Bresson, Orson Welles, Jean Luc Goddard and Chantal Akerman films. Plus if people wrote more theory they could come up with better arguments for their objections than writing ad hominem attacks on movie reviewers.

----signed, someone who doesn't review films, san antonio, tx.

I love most comic book movies, but "Thor" left me cold.

Imho the problem is that Rogert Ebert is too intelligent to have fun with comic book movies. The stupid storylines take a toll on him. Those movies are for another audience, folks who can turn their brains off, and Ebert should leave such reviews to critics who are able to do the same. Most of his readers wouldn't watch such mindless crap anyway (ok, it may be different for parents, poor folks...).

Good for him!!!!

There is an "elephant in the room" for all comic/super-hero films, and that is The Dark Knight of course (and probably also Batman Begins along with the first two X-Men films, arguably). These "elephants" show that it's possible to make a non-stupid super hero film. The Dark Knight was actually accused of being too "cerebral" by none other than Robert Downey, Jr., I think. But there you go. It's no Thor, so don't accuse Roger Ebert of bias. I'm thinking he probably enjoyed The Dark Knight a bit more...

Actually, Mr. Ebert's NOT in error in wondering why the portal from Asgard leads to New Mexico. The BiFrost Bridge doesn't lead to earth AT ALL in the comic books, although perhaps Marvel changed it after Thor (and all the rest of the Gods) died and were brought back to life after Thor was revived in The Void. Given I've read Thor since 1965, I think I'd know a thing or two about that. IT led to the other Nine Worlds.
The Destroyer (introduced in the 70s) was created by Odin as a sort of ultimate weapon Did they bother to explain this in the movie? I wouldn't know since I saw the trailers and a few scenes (You Tube) and thought it pretty stupid that Thor grabs an overhead pipe and kicks two soldiers (I assume they're soldiers) as though he was trained in the Rambo Training Camp for vigilante fighters. I guess you CAN teach a 4,000 year old Norse God new tricks -- even without any training, huh? Right.

'Thor,'the comic book, has changed since he became Lord of Asgard (after they offed Odin in a battle with Surtur, the Fire Demon), so perhaps they've shifted everything. Thor died, came back to life and ended up in what, New Mexico? (I'll re-read it in the comic books).
In any case, contrary to my 20-something colleagues who are reading Thor now, I'll go with Ebert. The scriptwriter must have been the same one who turned Galactus into a cloud in FF4. A CLOUD, of all things, instead of him being the oldest living being in this incarnation of the Universe. Right.
Don't apologize, Mr. Ebert. My younger brethern have about as much history of Thor in them as they know where the state of Wyoming is located
on a map of the U.S.

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