A Writer Reviews: Thor

Recently I read Blake Snyder’s classic screenwriting instruction manual Save The Cat.  The book is perhaps best known for introducing the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet, or BSBS for short, a formulaic approach to writing screenplays that can be used to analyze the seemingly most unformulaic of movies.  Even Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is given a Beat Sheet breakdown in the sequel Save The Cat Goes to the Movies.  These books have been revitalizing my interest in screenwriting, and I’ve been trying to get into the right mindset for going through the Beat Sheet.  However, it takes a lot of concentrating on a movie, which is something I’m not very good at.  Oh, I’ll catch all the plot elements and am usually not the person wandering out blinking into the sun asking what a character’s motivation was.  No, when I mean concentrating on a movie, I mean being able to break it down to base elements, run it through the beat sheet, and start recognizing where the act breaks are, where the midpoint is.  I have to see a movie several times so that I can turn off the part of my brain attempting to be entertained and turn on the part that can look at plot.

And therein lies the problem with Thor.  I went to see it over the weekend, and was able to start Beat Sheeting the movie, especially using two of Blake Snyder’s favorites the “Whiff of Death” moment and the “Break Into Three”.  There was something that was simply failing to engage me about the movie.

And it all started to come back to writing, and the fact that there are some universals when it comes to writing, whether it be for the page or for the screen.  The first and foremost of these is “show, don’t tell.”  Throughout the movie we are constantly being told what a brilliant scientist Natalie Portman’s character is.  But that’s really it.  We’re being told this without there being any moment in the movie where her knowledge is called on to solve a problem.  She is allowed absolutely no chance to participate in the story other than being Thor’s chauffeur and love interest.  This is, mind, the biggest name actor that the movie had going for it, and the clear number two character in the work, but she’s not given anything to actually work with to prove that she earned that Oscar she won a few years ago.  Now I’m not going to say that Oscar winners are never allowed to do fluff pieces after bringing home their trophies, but it’s a clear disappointment when an actress recognized for her talent is given such a one dimensional character.  And all because we’re only told she is such a great scientist without ever being shown it.

Character development.  Characters have to grow and change over the course of any narrative.  Hopefully all of them, but at the very least the protagonist.  And this is not one of the failings of Thor.  Through the movie Thor transitions from being a head-strong warrior who doesn’t care about consequences to being a more level headed and caring leader.  Which is great, and it’s the transition that the character needs to make.  However, the problem comes in when the impetus for change feels insufficient.  The path that he takes is such a short one that, as an audience member, I don’t feel like I’ve journeyed it with him.  And this is a problem with a lot of super hero movies, the films have to try extra hard to make the audience identify with a character so much different than they are.  It’s why Superman never really works on the screen, because he can’t be made as compelling as an audience wants.  And it’s part of what happens for Thor.  There’s nothing about the transition he makes that’s compelling, because it all has to be done so quickly because the movie has to fit in all the required elements as well.

Ah, the required elements.  It felt like no one had their heart in the necessary “I’ll join The Avengers” scene that got tacked into the movie, as Thor walks up to a guy who had spent a good part of the movie holding him hostage and tormenting him and saying what amounted to, “hey, if you guys are forming some super hero team that I would have no way of knowing about count me in!”  I could almost hear Kenneth Branagh gritting his teeth through the filming of that.

In the end the movie simply suffers.  It suffers from telling not showing.  It suffers from poorly laid out character growth.  It suffers from being filmed as an obligation towards The Avengers.  It’s fun to watch, certainly.  But it doesn’t really hold up in any way, and will probably go down as the weak link in the build-up to next year’s The Avengers, barring some complete collapse on the part of Captain America.

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  1. avatar

    #1 by Davidlevack on June 8, 2012 - 1:47 am

    Might I suggest you use “outlining for screenwriting” instead of “a formulaic approach to writing.” It’s more appropriate.

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