THOR is Worthy of Praise

Thor (2011)
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Screenplay by Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz and Don Payne
Story by J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Protosevich
Produced by Kevin Feige
Rated PG-13, 1h 55m 

The summer of blockbusters has begun with a bang.

Thor, the first of the superhero movies from Marvel Studios, blasts into theaters this Friday, and it’s everything fans will expect. It’s big, it’s loud, and it’s packed with action. And there’s plenty to enjoy even if you don’t own your own winged helmet.

The film opens with scientists Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), along with their assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings) at the location of a weather phenomenon, which Jane thinks may have something to do with her research into the Einstein-Rosen Bridge. While driving into this maelstrom of tornadic activity, they hit someone.

A very large someone who seems rather disoriented. Jane’s question “Where did he come from?” gets answered in the next shot: a grand, sweeping visual of Asgard.

It’s a good start to the picture, as it grounds the audience first in the reality of this story universe, and then takes them from a place they understand to a fantastic realm they’re ready to accept.

Chris Hemsworth and Sir Anthony Hopkins

Turns out this strapping young man is Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who’s about to ascend to the throne and take his place as the new king, heir to Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and brother to Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who is jealous of the Golden Boy.

When all of a sudden… well, that would be spoiling things. Now, wouldn’t it?

Thor’s arrogance makes him an easy mark for manipulation, and he turns to fight faster than Marty McFly when you call him “chicken”. Which causes all sorts of problems between Asgard and Jotunheim, where the Frost Giants have remained since Odin defeated them and took their power source, the Casket of Ancient Winters.

Thor and Company in Jotunheim

Which takes us to Thor getting kicked out of Asgard and thrown down to Earth as a mortal, and we’re back where we started. Only this time, we see Darcy and her taser.

Dr. Selvig to Darcy: “Before you get ready to taser someone, maker sure he’s already in the truck.”

What follows is fairly predictable for anyone who understands a Hero’s Journey, or has ever watched Shakespeare: love, jealousy, betrayal, disappointment, giant robot blasting buildings and cars to Kingdom Come…

(Come on. Shakespeare would be totally cool with robots, and you know it.)

It’s this Shakespearean tone that makes Thor such a perfect fit for director Kenneth Branagh. He takes all of that angst between the Montagues and Capulets, mixes it with Hamlet’s touch of madness, and throws in a little throw-down every now and again, and adds a giant magic hammer.

But Branagh also shows his understanding that in a picture like this, you have to have characters that the audience can accept as true, even in those fantastical moments not on Earth. Branagh keeps the focus on the personal relationships between everyone. Thor wants everything handed to him, while Odin wants Thor to grow up. Loki is jealous of Thor, while Thor takes Loki for granted. Frigga is the worried mother, Sif the patient best friend who’s like a sister to Thor (in addition to being a formidable fighter in her own right).

At one point, Odin tells Thor and Loki, “A wise king never seeks out war, but he must always be ready for it.” Odin understands, even if Thor and Loki don’t, that plunging head first into battle may not always be the wisest course, but you’d better be ready to win no matter who starts it.

Once on Earth, the characters center around their relationships as well. Thor feels the pain of comeuppance, while Jane has to deal with the interference of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Selvig has to come to terms with the fact that the stories of his childhood have a little more basis than myth.

Chris Hemsworth came onto the scene in Star Trek, in a part that really had no room to breathe. (Literally. He rammed the ship into the bad guys. No breathing after that…) But he really comes into his own with Thor. And although the screen’s been full with Natalie Portman of late, she fits in here with not too much to do. But she’s not the only one who could have played Jane Foster.

Natalie Portman and Chris Hemsworth

Tom Hiddleston is perfectly devious as Loki, with just the right mix of jealous rage and dismay at his lot in life. He plays the victim or circumstance without milking it and making himself out to be worthy of pity. And in the end, you have to respect Loki for embracing his path.

Sir Anthony Hopkins has turned in a commanding performance, although it would have been fun to see him in action against the Frost Giants a bit more than we got. But that’s a minor quibble, along with the fact that Rene Russo is absolutely wasted as Frigga. Let’s hope she has more to do in the sequels, or else she’d better be reviewing her contract.

Clark Gregg gets to play with range a bit with Agent Coulson this time. He wasn’t quite as stiff. Granted, he has much more to do this time out, but I kind of miss the cold fish Coulson.

Patrick Doyle’s music is pitch-perfect: grand and sweeping and bold when we’re in Asgard. Horns for when Thor’s full of himself, and violins for when he’s not. And when it comes time to put the hammer down, Doyle has a well-crafted mix of instruments that reinforce the action and mood, giving every scene a little more emotional depth.

The 3-D is wasted on Thor. The depth of the sweeping vistas of Asgard are suitably impressive, but all of that is lost in the action sequences, which become a muddy mess in 3-D. Even though the technology has improved, there’s still not enough in this particular film to justify the 3-D.

(Note to Hollywood in general: not every film has to be made in 3-D. Some of us don’t like it.)

Overall, it’s a good movie. It’s a great popcorn flick, although it may leave some of you wanting. Thor’s arc felt a little short-changed. A few in the audience even said they’d be willing to sit through another twenty minutes for Thor to get from point A to point B a little more appropriately.

And it definitely sets the expectations high for Captain America and The Avengers. Will Marvel deliver?

Jason P. Hunt

Jason P. Hunt (founder/EIC) is the author of the sci-fi novella "The Hero At the End Of His Rope". His short film "Species Felis Dominarus" was a finalist in the Sci Fi Channel's 2007 Exposure competition.

One thought on “THOR is Worthy of Praise

  • May 4, 2011 at 6:34 am
    Permalink

    LOL at your Star Trek comment… I like Thor a lot… Definitely getting me excited for Cap and Avengers! 🙂

    Reply

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