Theatrical Review: THOR

Kate Erbland

by: Kate Erbland
May 4th, 2011

Rating: 3/5

Writers: Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz, Don Payne (screenplay), J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Protosevich (story), Stan LeeLarry Lieber, Jack Kirby (comic book)
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgård, Kat Dennings
Studio: Paramount

As prince of Asgard, Thor has everything – the skill, the power, the weapon, the team, the drive – to do whatever he wants and come out on top. Everything, that is, except basic common sense. His father Odin, the king of Asgard, is a weathered warrior – he knows the costs of war and pride, the price to pay for rash decisions – and seeing his oldest son so prone to all of that immaturity is nothing less than heart-breaking to him. A superhero film steeped in complicated familial relationships? Meet Kenneth Branagh’s THOR.

THOR opens on Earth, as plucky astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her mentor (Stellan Skarsgård as Erik Selvig) and best friend Darcy (Kat Dennings) search the New Mexico sky for an atmospheric anomaly she’s been tracking. Enter Thor (Chris Hemsworth), seemingly appearing out of nowhere (read: a giant cosmic hurricane cloud), and we’re off on a quest – who is Thor? Or, more correctly, what is Thor?

After a quick history lesson on the origins and powers of Asgard, Odin, Thor and his brother Loki, those nasty Frost Giants, and what that all has to do with Earth, we are sent straight to Asgard. Thus begins one of THOR’s greatest strengths – presenting dueling storylines that rock back and forth between what’s going on back on Earth and what’s happening in Asgard. Thor has been banished to Earth for his actions on the day of his coronation as king as Asgard – actions spurned by the sudden appearance of the Frost Giants and Thor’s previously mentioned rash decisions when faced with even a taste of war.

Putting his entire planet in danger, not to mention his comrades Sif and the Warriors Three, Thor proves himself not only unworthy of the crown, but of even being a citizen of Asgard. Sent to Earth by Odin, Thor must struggle with his newfound “mortality” while also attempting to retrieve his unbeatable weapon (mythical hammer Mjolnir), which may be the only key to getting back to Asgard. And speaking of Asgard…well, it’s just unfortunate that Thor was cast out at a time when his father is so weak, and his inscrutable magician brother Loki is so strong.

There is, unfortunately, an inherent element of silliness to THOR. Our introduction to Asagard and the early behavior of Thor is so sudden and earnest that it’s not easy to believably swallow. However, as our getting-to-know-Asgard time expands, it’s easy to be enthralled by the beauty of the world and the power of Thor. If THOR is viewed as-is, if its equal parts science and magic and lore are simply accepted as fact, it’s a fine film. But as much as it tries to ground itself, THOR is still muddled in dumbed-down science and junked-up mythology that frequently makes it just damn hard to take seriously.  

As Thor, Chris Hemsworth turns in something rare in the recent flood of tentpole, comic book-based, superhero blockbuster flicks – an actual breakthrough performance. Most of the (pardon the pun) heavy lifting of the film rests on Hemsworth’s shoulders – he’s tasked with taking a character that is, at least at the start of the film, a spoiled jackass, and growing him into a believably changed (and bettered) man. He accomplishes it – no clever lines about “hammering” out the role or being “Thorrific” necessary.

And as Loki, Tom Hiddleston crafts a villain actually worth watching. The construct of Thor and Loki being brothers automatically adds a level of personal emotion and involvement that other Marvel villains may not have offered in the past, but it also allows the audience to consider what makes Thor “good” and Loki “bad.” Of course, there is a much more complicated backstory regarding the lineage of Loki, but the classic brothers-as-enemies line that runs through THOR is tremendously important to its emotional impact. It’s no surprise that Kenneth Branagh would take on a film with this vaguely Shakespearean feel to it.

Fans of the Marvel superhero may be surprised at the level of humor in THOR. This Thor is indeed a “mighty” god, but he’s also a fish out of water when he comes to Earth, and the film has a number of funny bits involving Thor getting his Earth-legs. As Jane’s sidekick Darcy, Dennings also brings some bite and levity to the film, tossing off little one-liners that keep the film punchy. Paired with some huge-scale action sequences (including both big war pieces and a nastier hand-to-hand fight), and THOR sort of has everything going for it, even if it misses the mark of greatness and just hits on “solid.”

There are enough nods to other characters in the Marvel universe (Iron Man, Hawkeye, Nick Fury) and well-placed in-jokes about extended Thor backstory (Dr. Donald Blake, anyone?) to keep hardcore fans amused and appeased. There’s also a fun (albeit somewhat nonsensical) extended cameo from another Marvel superhero, and an after-credit story extension that both add to the scope of the film, an invaluable addition when it comes to considering that Thor (and Loki) will reportedly appear in 2012’s THE AVENGERS film.

THOR is being presented in 2D and 3D, with the added lure of the 3D also available in IMAX. The 3D is, of course, totally unnecessary. While it adds some depth of field and juices up the action sequences, it’s simply not essential to consuming and enjoying the film.

With THOR, Marvel hasn’t reinvented the superhero mythology, but they’ve certainly added an important god to their hefty roster.

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