Directed by Kenneth Branagh
It turns out that the gods and goddesses described by the Vikings are actually real. They are an alien race and guardians of nine realms. Midgard, or Earth, is one of those realms. They are ruled by Odin and have enjoyed a lasting peace thanks to his firm but wise reign. But when his son, the brave but impetuous Thor, takes an action that threatens to upset that balance of peace, Odin is furious. He strips Thor of his powers and banishes him to Earth in order to learn humility, patience, and compassion. But while Thor is away, his brother Loki turns his eye towards the throne for himself. Unless Thor can learn his lesson and reclaim his power, the nine realms may face ruin under Loki’s reign.
“Thor” is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence.
One big question always loomed over the idea of making a “Thor” movie – how do you merge the fantasy world of “Thor” with the real world of, say, “Iron Man”? This movie combines them perfectly and hits the tone just right. By making the Asgardians a sort of alien race, the Bifrost Bridge a wormhole, magic into science, and the World Tree into a network of inhabited planets, it all blended well. There’s a certain logic to it that doesn’t take away from the fantasy and wonder. When Thor walks down the main street of a small desert town with his armor and hammer and does battle with a giant Jack Kirby-esque robot, it seems perfectly natural. You buy it because it is not only explained well but you actually care about every one of the characters on the screen.
The cast of this film is extraordinary. I can’t think of anyone better to play Odin than Anthony Hopkins. His performance is pitch-perfect, as he strikes the right balance between stern ruler and loving father. As he punishes Thor, you see it pains him yet he follows through with it anyway. Tom Hiddleston is also great as Loki. This is a character that could very easily be one-dimensional, yet Hiddleston gives him a lot of depth. Yes, he’s a trickster and selfish, but you really understand his pain and jealousy and frustration at believing he’s the un-favored son. There’s a real Cain and Abel relationship between Loki and Thor and it is well explored. I give a lot of credit to Kenneth Branagh and his Shakespearean background for taking this relationship to the next level. This is one of those rare films where the character building moments and dramatic moments are as exciting as the action scenes.
Natalie Portman also delivers a strong performance as Jane Foster. What I like about her is that Jane is a competent, intelligent, driven physicist. Yet when she’s in the presence of Thor, she occasionally loses her composure; she’s flustered and even giggly. Her attraction for Thor throws her for a loop and this normally-composed woman doesn’t know how to react. That makes her more realistic, relatable, and fun. Also in the supporting cast is Kat Dennings as Darcy Lewis. She has only one function in the movie and that’s as comic relief, and she does that well; she has some of the funnier lines in the movie and helps keep the mood light. Stellan Skarsgård as Erik Selvig isn’t used quite as much as I would have liked, but he does have a few scenes that make him quite endearing, particularly when bonding with Thor over drinks. I also like the fact that he brings a Scandanavian perspective to a man showing up calling himself Thor. On the Asgardian side, Jaimie Alexander is impressive as Sif. She’s beautiful and quite tough. She has some of the more memorable fight moves in the battle scenes. Idris Elba has taken a lot of heat in his role as Heimdall. The argument is that there were no black Vikings, therefore there should not be any black Norse gods. Fine, but in this movie the Asgardians are aliens. Your argument is invalid. Heimdall is black and he is one of the cooler Asgardians aside from our lead characters. He is the guardian of the Bifrost bridge and when he becomes the only thing standing between Loki and access to the bridge, the conflict is memorable. I would have liked to have seen more of Rene Russo as Frigga, but the few moments she’s on the screen, she is a strong presence.
That just leaves Chris Hemsworth as Thor. This movie was going to sink or swim based on his performance. Not only did he deliver, but he knocked it out of the park. Hugh Jackman became a star thanks to Wolverine. Robert Downey Jr. got back on top thanks to Iron Man. Hemsworth is going to be a big star thanks to Thor. He’s obviously good looking, he handles the action scenes well, but he’s not afraid to make fun of himself, too. He takes Thor back to his Viking roots by having him strut around cockily or smashing glasses in diners, but even more notable is when he gets tasered by Darcy or is wrestled to the ground by nearly a dozen hospital orderlies. It’s an unexpected bit of physical comedy that makes him endearing. After watching “Thor,” you could easily see Hemsworth starring in either a comedy or an action flick. He’s simply all-around likable and I think audiences will really be drawn to him.
While the characters and the drama deserve a lot of attention, the movie delivers on action as well. The movie kicks off with an epic battle between the Asgardians and the Frost Giants. It looks like it could have come straight out of one of the “Lord of the Rings” movies. We get a scaled down yet no less impressive version of it when Thor, The Warriors Three, Loki, and Sif do battle with the Frost Giants later on their home world. Then there’s the impressive Destroyer robot that wreaks havoc in the small New Mexico town. I honestly would have liked to have seen more from it.
I have to mention the score by Patrick Doyle. While it lacks a discernible Thor theme that you’d be humming on the way out of the theater (like John Williams’ Superman theme or Danny Elfman’s Batman theme), it is epic in scale. It suits both the magnificent cities of Asgard and the small town on Earth equally well.
One of the fun things about the Marvel movies is that, like in the comics, they’re weaving together a single world across many films. There are passing references to Bruce Banner and Tony Stark in the dialogue. S.H.I.E.L.D. plays a significant role in the drama. Even more notable is a cameo by Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye. Then you have the trademark bonus scene at the end of the credits which I won’t spoil here. This all leads up to the upcoming “The Avengers” movie (which they advertise in the credits) which will be a huge payoff for both fans of the movies and fans of the comics. It’s an exciting treat for everyone. I just hope one day we can see Spider-Man and Wolverine in a movie with these other Marvel heroes. Warner Brothers and DC should take notes from Marvel on how to best use their catalog of characters in films.
Finally, I have to say that this was a pretty clean movie. I think you could take young kids to this film and you wouldn’t find much objectionable beyond the scary Frost Giants. Thanks to Marvel for making a movie the whole family can enjoy.
What Didn’t Work:
Another problem with the movie is that the big action scene at the end is a tad anti-climactic. The battle between Thor and the Frost Giants at the beginning of the movie was significantly more impressive as far as action and VFX spectacle goes. They either needed to blow more money on the big final action scene effects or move what they did from the beginning to the end.
Finally, I have to mention the 3D presentation. I’m not one of these people that complains about 3D. I like 3D when it enhances a film and helps immerse audiences in the world. However, the 3D in this movie didn’t do anything for me. Beyond a couple of the Bifrost Bridge scenes, the 3D was almost completely forgotten. It probably didn’t help matters that the picture was out of focus at our screening. I didn’t know it was possible to get a digital 3D picture out of focus, but it apparently is. That contributed to a bit of a blurry effect that took away from the 3D environments.
The Bottom Line: