Superhero movies based on comic books have now reached a level where they’re judged not just on how good of a superhero movie they are, but on how good of a movie they are, period. Thanks to “The Dark Knight” and, to a lesser extent, the first “Iron Man” movie, we now have pretty high expectations when sitting down at a local cinema to see what Hollywood has done to one of our favorite characters.
And Hollywood has been known to take liberties with origin stories and fictional histories of these characters in setting up their own film universe from which to spring the saga — often leading to either high praise or the terrible wrath of fandom purists. So with that in mind, “Thor” arrives with high expectations and fair sense of anxiety for the true aficionados.
As far as I am concerned, fans can rest easy. “Thor,” while not reaching the level of greatness of “The Dark Knight,” certainly is a good enough movie to establish the character and set us up for sequels and crossovers. And while there are some pretty obvious deviations from the original Thor storyline, there is enough homage paid to the known storylines to keep most fans happy.
Furthermore, when some deviations occur, the creative team does give us a nod and wink (as in the handling of the Donald Blake alter ego from the original comic book storyline).
Thor is presented as a raucous cavorter and heir to his father Odin’s throne in Asgard. Seemingly devoid of self criticism, fear, doubt or care for his fellow companions, Thor disobeys his father, restarts an eons-old war with the Frost Giants, puts his closest allies at severe risk, and audaciously insults his king and father. For this, he is banished to Earth, devoid of super powers and his Mighty Hammer, Mjolnir.
Loki, master manipulator and jealous half-brother to the former heir-apparent, takes this opportunity to worm his way onto the throne, making some important self discoveries along the way.
Back on Earth, Thor meets up with brilliant, beautiful and bumbling scientist Jane Foster and her team, who are both intrigued and incredulous when they hear his Asgardian back story. In typical fashion for movies of this sort, Jane and Thor quickly fall in love and together try to reunite Thor with Mjolnir. As the plot progresses, the golden-maned God of Thunder does battle with The Destroyer and Loki, while attempting to avert the destruction of both Earth and the Frost Giants’ home world of Jotunheim.
The effects in the movie are dazzling to say the least (author’s note: I purposely watched the second, not third, version of the film). As a comic book fan myself as a child, I was eager to see how the movie would effectively present the massive power of Mjolnir in battle: the results do not disappoint.
In addition, the painstaking detail in the presentation of Asgard and Jotunheim make the Earth-bound scenes pale by comparison. As a matter of fact, the juxtaposition has the unfortunate effect of making those scenes drag a bit.
As with most superhero origin movies, Thor is overlong by at least 20 minutes, an almost unavoidable problem when laying out the foundations necessary to create a tent-pole franchise out of a comic book legend. Aside from these limitations, the script is serviceable enough and does the job required.
The cast is really hit or miss. Chris Hemsworth is perfectly suited for this particular depiction of the Norse God. He excels at both ends of the spectrum, whether as self-involved, overgrown brat warrior or newly introspective, chastened and worthy hero. Natalie Portman as Jane Foster is actually better in most of her scenes without Thor. Believable as a hyper-focused, driven seeker of knowledge, she stumbles when asked to play the warm and fuzzy googly-eyed damsel in distress.
Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings both do well as members of Foster’s team of scientific explorers, as do Ray Stevenson, Joshua Dallas and Tadanobu Asano as Asgard’s Warriors Three. Sir Anthony Hopkins and Renee Russo both squeeze all there is to be had out of Thor’s parents, Odin and Frigga.
Jaimie Alexander as female warrior Sif gives a stand out performance that had this audience member hoping she will be featured more heavily in future sequels. So, too, the performance of Idris Elba as Heimdall: he is instantly believable as someone worthy of being entrusted with the only way in or out of Asgard.
On the flip side, Loki disappoints. Tom Hiddleston’s half-brother to Thor is just not enough of a foil to have us believing Thor would be in any real danger of death or total banishment. If not for the Frost Giants and The Destroyer, Thor would be left with little else than a journey of self-discovery and the occasional prolonged noogey to his obviously deficient half-brother’s head. Unfortunately, if the hidden scene after the credits is any indication, Loki may figure heavily in future movies, including the upcoming “Avengers,” which will mark Thor’s next cinematic appearance.
Director Kenneth Branagh, best known for more high minded fare as both actor and director, does a skillful job of reimagining and presenting the legend of Thor. The stumbles lie primarily with the bounds of the script and formula he is confined to, although the casting of Loki is a bit of a black mark. That being said, here’s hoping this is not a “one and done” foray into the genre for Mr. Branagh.
All in all, “Thor” is an enjoyable night at the movies for fans and non fans alike.
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