Marvel’s latest brings the lightning and the thunder.
May 06, 2011 – I can’t lie, I’m a huge Thor fanboy. For whatever reason, Norse mythology, and the character of Thor, has always been one of the Marvel heroes I gravitate towards. So some of you out there simply won’t be as enamored by the subject matter as me. That’s fine. Tastes are each to their own. But even with that grain of salt, let me state that Thor is a great movie, with lots of flashy and cool effects, that also has a heart and spirit that resonates after the visuals are gone.
Thor(Chris Hemsworth) is the son of Odin(Anthony Hopkins) and an Asgardian, immortals who live in the magical/scientific (they’re both the same, there) city of Asgard. He grows up to be an arrogant and naïve young man who craves battle and adventure. After an incident in which Frost Giants (menacing, but never actually scary gray-skinned aliens) infiltrate Odin’s storehouse and fail to steal a weapon, Thor goes against Odin’s express commands and invades Yodenheim, the home of the Frost Giants, which has been at peace with Asgard for many years after a bloody war.
This act stirs motions of war, which angers Odin, causing him to realize his son is not ready for the throne. He strips Thor of his powers and banishes him to Earth, where Thor has a couple fish-out-of-water experiences and meets Jane Foster(Natalie Portman) who shares a mutual attraction. Thor begins to learn that his arrogance has a price, and that power and battle are not as important as relationships and love. Meanwhile, Loki(Tom Hiddleston), Thor’s brother who has long been jealous of Thor’s success and favored place by Odin’s side, is revealed to have been working mischief in Asgard for some time in an effort to usurp Thor’s place as king of Asgard.
Kenneth Branagh directs the film very well, especially as seen in the superb direction of his actors. The material was well suited to his strengths, and I feel he brought the best of his Shakespearean experience to the table with Thor. I was happy when it was announced he was helming the project, and I feel it has truly paid off.
The script is to blame the real weak point in Thor: the plot. Not because it doesn’t work, or that it doesn’t provide cool moments, but rather because the story is so compressed in terms of time. Thor’s banishment feels like it lasts all of a weekend, making Thor’s personal revelations, and his relationship with Jane, unrealistic. If you focus too long on that fact, it weakens the otherwise well done character arc. This compression also means that Thor’s friends, the Warriors Three and Sif are all shortchanged, and feel somewhat pointless in the later half of the movie. If the actors hadn’t been as successful as they were, this could have been a film-crippling issue.
On the other hand, the script is also filled with mostly good writing. While the occasional exposition is squeaked through, or there is a throwaway cheesy line, for the most part the writing is swift and lighthearted. The difference in voice between the archaic Asgardians and the sharp and modern Earthlings is well done, and never heavy handed.
The movies has a number of well developed themes that are firm tropes of the genre, and will turn off viewers who’ve grown tired of them, such as the responsibility of power, but there are others that aren’t as often addressed such as the cost of pride, and classic Shakespearean royal family drama that is played out between Odin and his two sons. The film also does an excellent job of poking fun at itself with little bits of humor, particularly in Thor’s first day on Earth, which had the audience, and myself included, laughing aloud. But it also knows when to treat the material earnestly, managing to make the cosmic drama played out across the galaxy, and the internal drama feel meaningful.
The acting is the film’s strongest element, and Chris Hemsworth carries the lame plot on his shoulders with ease. He manages to give Thor the perfect mix of majesty, naivete, brash violence, bravery and humor that the character would have fallen apart without. Anthony Hopkins is the other standout, making the scenes in Asgard feel real, and not as alien and remote as they could have been otherwise. Portman does a fantastic job with the little she was given, which is the sad story for all of the Earth scenes, of which there should have been a lot more. Hiddleston does a great job about making Loki sympathetic, but somehow he doesn’t come off as menacing or as sinister as he should have, though I could easily believe the actor’s portrayal of his cunning.
The side characters also have great acting. The Warriors Three and Sif, while not given a lot of material, all come across as believable (you know… for Asgardians) characters with their own voices; Idris Elba was a particular standout in the role of Heimdall, the all-seeing guardian of the rainbow bridge, who comes across as a bad-ass with complex layers that I wish had more screen time.
Speaking of the rainbow bridge, the visuals are great, bridging science fiction and fantasy perfectly, while making silly sounding concepts like the rainbow bridge look cool and unique. Fight sequences are clear and energetic, never confusing the audience.
But that brings me to another criticism of the film: you never really fear for Thor’s safety in any of the battles, which is a big downer for the confrontation with the Destroyer armor, and frankly the Frost Giants are pushovers. If there was one other element besides the time constraints that hurts this film it is that lack of concern for Thor’s well-being. Tony Stark’s armor gets torn up and he loses energy. Spider-man bleeds and has gaping holes in his costume. Heck, even Superman gets humbled by Kryptonite. But when Thor has his powers, he is nigh unstoppable, and that is an issue when creating conflict.
The sound effects were decent, but not spectacular (this might be because the volume was especially loud in my theater, and when you hear bangs, booms and clangs at that volume they all start to sound the same.) The soundtrack was serviceable, but not memorable. You’re not going to find a Lord of the Rings music contender here.
All that I’ve just said would seem to say that this film is only average, what with such issues as time constraints and Thor’s invulnerability, but in the end, I loved his film for a simple reason. This film has an incredible spirit. It doesn’t aspire to be perfect. It doesn’t aspire to be art. It has a life to it. It is pure summer entertainment. It wants to be a tale of action and drama, not mindless, but not high-brow. It is simple, but utterly fulfilling. I can’t help but love it. Yes, it has flaws, but that shouldn’t stop you from seeing this movie.
STAR RATING: (4)
For those of you who stuck around after the rating, I’ve got a extra segment for you called Spoiler Talk. It’s a segment in which I discuss what I thought of certain elements of the story or themes that are too spoilerish or high-concept for the main review. What I say here doesn’t ever trump my review, instead it might give insight into what exactly made me give something the score I did. So let’s get started.
To be honest, Loki never fully came into his own as a villain. I think that might be because it was all an attempt to win the favor of his father, which is a motivation that many men identify with for at least some part of their lives. We identify with him as much as, or perhaps better than Thor, except that Loki is much more manipulative. I have a feeling he will return in the Avengers to become a much more dire threat, and show his true teeth.
Speaking of Avengers, I like how this film was actually a touch more subtle about it than others. Iron Man 2 had some blatant references that feel too blunt in hindsight (the Captain America shield propping up the laser tube thing comes to mind. I give the after-credit endings a pass on this one because they’re extras for the fans who care to stick around. Their presence just informs the difference between the super fans and the casual types.
And by the way, I love this after-credits moment. The presence of the Cosmic Cube is a nod, I feel, not only to Captain America, where it plays a prominent role as either a mcguffin or a serious threat, either way we know the Red Skull is after it, but it is also a nod to the Avengers, where I feel that it and Loki will both share an important role as primary villains.