“Thor” Review

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.

Closing Comments:
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)

Four Stars

Four out of Five Stars

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.

Spoiler Talk:
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.

On a final note, Heimdall rules, and all those racist nut jobs who hated the idea of a black Heimdall can piss off.

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7 thoughts on ““Thor” Review

  1. Edward Cheever says:

    Reaction to the Critics:

    While some elements of Thor can be fairly critiqued, I feel there are a number of criticisms of this film that are unfair or just plain wrong. Rather than address these in the main article, I felt they would be better put down here in the comments. Let me begin with the one that makes me shake my head the most.
    1. Some critics are saying it’s the same old Super Hero Origin Story™ that is told in every super hero movie.
    This is a normal criticism of super hero movies. They primarily follow this basic pattern… (Normal/Down-and-out Guy + Moral Guide)*Mysterious Transformation = Super Hero. The problem with this criticism is that it doesn’t always apply. There are numerous elements thrown into the mix that make them unique. Tony Stark’s moral compass is kinda wonky, Bruce Banner doesn’t even really turn into a “Hero”. Wolverine’s situation is all kinds of screwy, and the whole mutant angle goes against this formula.
    Thor is very much a different scenario. How does being the son of Odin translate to being nerdy Peter Parker or wimpy Steve Rogers? How does being born with god-like powers compare to being bit by a spider, or being zapped by gamma waves? Most heroes have to learn how to be confident and powerful, Thor has to learn how to be caring and humble. They are essentially two different paths. The closest origin story is Superman, but even that isn’t analogous, as “Let’s send him away to save him from death” sounds a bit different from “You are not worthy!” and “I cast you out!”
    Of course there are parallels in some areas. The themes of super heroism are still present. There are giant battles and super powers. There’s the love story. But criticizing these elements isn’t about how good or bad the movie is, it’s about personal taste. Saying, “Boy I really could go for a movie that completely upsets the genre tropes of super heroes right about now,” and then not getting that in Thor, doesn’t translate into Thor being a bad movie, it means you can’t separate your tastes from quality.
    2. “It’s too geeky.”
    Save it, jock-boy. If you wanna throw around meaningless criticism like this, then I’ll throw it right back at you.
    3. “It’s just dumb action.”
    Then you weren’t paying attention. There’s lots of family strife in Asgard, some great (if shortly delivered on) chemistry between Thor and Jane Foster, and all of the actors make you believe every word they say, even if the writing isn’t always terrific. Oh, and yeah, it’s a SUMMER BLOCKBUSTER, it’s supposed to do action. Get over your artsy sensibilities, pal.)
    4. “Chris Hemsworth played Thor with no personality.”
    No, seriously, I’ve seen this in some reviews. These people are crazy. Don’t trust their opinions on good acting. They obviously can’t see and hear properly.

    That’s really about it. Most of what I see is boiled down to one of those four things, and most of them are bull. If you’re into super hero films, go see Thor. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

  2. Glenchen says:

    Good to see this post and glad you’re not totally consumed by classes. Are you writing for Paul yet? And thanks for the review. To tell the truth, I was underwhelmed by the trailer and have actually been more looking forward to The Green Lantern when it comes out. But this sounds like it merits a look.

  3. CMrok93 says:

    Part of what I wanted from the film was a guy in armor with a giant hammer smacking frost giants in the face…and so I got that. It was a good time at the theaters, and that’s all I asked for. Good review, check out mine when you can!

  4. Evan Jones says:

    Ha… I think you and I were the only two in that audience who recognized the Cosmic Cube when we saw it. 🙂 Nice review, man. You’ve got a nice style, much more intelligently written than most of the Thor reviews I’ve read. I thought the film was just okay… nowhere near as good as Iron Man, but MUCH better than Iron Man 2! I ended up seeing it again in 3D, and somehow it was much crisper to watch. That doesn’t usually seem to be the case with movies, but it paid off here. It’s worth checking out. See you at the Captain America premiere I hope!

    • Edward Cheever says:

      Thanks for the compliment, and I hope to see you at the Captain America premiere too! 🙂

  5. Glenchen says:

    I saw Thor with my wife Tuesday night and was pleasantly surprised. A lot of it had to do, I think, with good characterization and some high caliber actors. I especially liked Natalie Portman, who did a credible job of being a funny, star struck heroine. I recommend it, and thanks Edward for your review.

  6. Mystery Man says:

    nice review!

    I’m not a Thor fanboy, or anything like that, but I really enjoyed most of this film. the scenes on Earth were the only downfall for me becuse they seemed to bring everything to a screeching halt, but perhaps that was just me.

    Check out my review if you get the time/chance!

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