Movie Review: Thor (2011)

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Chris Hemsworth in Thor
Photo: Paramount Pictures

Thor is the story of a god from another realm who wields a giant hammer and wears a suit of armor accented by a giant red cape. For lack of a better description… it’s goofy. But then again, aren’t most comic book heroes goofy?

A grown man dresses as a bat and his a chit chat inside a bank vault where a major heist has just gone down. Goofy. A grown man wears blue tights under his business suit on a daily basis along with a red cape he hides in his undies. Goofy. Yet, Batman looks menacing when crouched in Gotham’s shadows. Superman is imposing when he’s speeding through the air. Setting is everything and it’s no different with Thor, which is why I’m sure our introduction to a fully decked out Thor comes with him alongside his fellow Asgardian warriors where he looks just as he should as he battles the Frost Giants of Jotunheim. However, when in that same attire, strolling the streets of Pente Antiguo, New Mexico, you have a fashion faux pas. This faux pas gets to the heart of Thor, a film that never takes itself too seriously and does its very best to acknowledge its silliness so the audience may be able to look past it and enjoy the spectacle on screen.

Thor is an intergalactic story reaching realms outside our galaxy. Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) presence on Earth comes as he is banished from Asgard by his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), after Thor has reignited a war with the previously mentioned Frost Giants. His banishment serves as an opportunity for his brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), to move in on the throne.

Cast to Earth, Thor runs into a trio of scientists, which is when he meets Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), a bit of a shut-in, nerdy girl that takes to him immediately as he wreaks havoc around town in search of his hammer. Like I said, it’s goofy and easy to mock, but will you roll with it or laugh at it?

The screenplay, which was a joint effort between Don Payne (Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer) and “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” scribes Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz, does its very best to keep things light with comedic moments and witty repartee. In this respect Thor falls right in line with Marvel’s Iron Man films, where the goal is to serve up an action-based spectacle with an eye for entertainment as opposed to serious drama. The problem here is that it also repeats Iron Man‘s missteps as it can only seem to deliver half of a good film before shutting down and transitioning into its big finale, not to forget its insistence on building a massive franchise rather than solely creating a standalone Thor feature. This last aspect is just as annoying here as it was in Iron Man 2.

The Earth-related scenes in Thor are a side note in the grand scheme of things, they feel like they merely exist to continue Marvel’s setup for The Avengers. A short scene following Thor‘s credits goes even further, presenting a storyline that ties Thor and this summer’s other Marvel adventure, Captain America: The First Avenger, into a nice package for the eventual Avengers team-up. Conversation in Thor also hints at Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man) as well as the gamma radiation that results in the Hulk. I can appreciate the continuity, but the story is frequently affected as none of it seems organic to the story.

Where Thor did impress me was in the actors’ ability to elevate the screenplay so it didn’t seem as cheesy as it otherwise would have. As Odin, Anthony Hopkins actually gives one of the better performances I’ve seen from the declining actor in some time. He was believable and even though the words he was reading were ridiculous, they seemed to roll off his tongue rather than stagnate in that same delivery he’s offered for years in such creepy old man roles, such as in The Rite and The Wolfman.

Chris Hemsworth was a charismatic choice for Thor as he managed to nail the character’s arrogance and remain likable. The relationship, though, between him and Jane Foster is terribly rushed and late in the film she comes off as something of a star-struck, drunken tart ready for whatever this hulk of a god in front of her is willing to offer. Through no fault of Portman’s, Foster is actually the film’s weakest character, but this goes back to the fact the Earth portion of the story is the film’s major weakness. Foster exists only to create a tie between Thor and the Earth realm, giving him reason to come back.

As far as director Kenneth Branagh is concerned, he was as unlikely a choice as he was risky. The Shakespearean thespian has turned his eye to more ambitious fare in the past with films such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and it resulted in an absolute abomination. Here, his attraction to Thor was said to be the family story between Thor, his brother Loki and their father Odin. It works. It’s the best part of the film, and I didn’t mention it before but I thought Hiddleston as Loki was another good bit of casting as was Idris Elba as the Asgardian gatekeeper, Heimdall. But this is just as I said, Branagh keeps things together while the story remains in Asgard, but when it moves to Earth it’s a bit of a waste.

The effects are solid, but I was less impressed with the sound and music. Patrick Doyle’s score is lackluster and the sound design is frequently clunky and obtuse. As for the 3D, it’s virtually non-existent as I am growing increasingly convinced this era of post-conversion 3D is just an excuse for the company that makes those cheap plastic 3D glasses to make a profit. All they’re really good for is making sure the picture isn’t so bright and blurry. Thanks!

Overall, Thor is a solid piece of entertainment and, more-or-less, required viewing if you want to remain in the know once The Avengers arrives in 2012. It’s a fun film and considering we’re talking about a Norse God from the stars that beats people up with a hammer while wearing a giant cape, I think Branagh and company managed to pull off a minor miracle considering neither I nor anyone in my audience was laughing uncontrollably at the ridiculous nature of it all.

GRADE: B-