Is the Marvel God of Thunder's Big Screen Debut Electrifying?
IGN.com, 17 April 2011
Marvel's 'Thor' (ably played by Aussie actor Chris Hemsworth) is the arrogant heir to the monarch-god Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and the proverbial big man on campus, which in this case is the floating celestial realm of Asgard. We meet Thor as he's poised to assume the throne from Odin. His brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) must remain waiting in the wings, and considering these are immortals that's a long time to play second banana.
When an incident occurs that threatens the long-standing peace between the Asgardians and their ancient foes, the Frost Giants of Jotunheim, Thor takes it upon himself -- bringing Loki and pals Sif (Jaimie Alexander), Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (Joshua Dallas) and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) along with him -- to mete out some hammer-throwing justice on his icy enemies.
Enraged at this violation of the peace and by Thor's defiance, Odin strips his son of his power, his mighty hammer Mjolnir, and casts him out of Asgard and down to Midgard (aka Earth) to learn humility, which leaves Loki standing to gain the throne ... once Odin's out of the picture. Landing in the middle of the New Mexico desert, Thor is found by astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), her colleague Professor Andrews (Stellan Skarsgård) and her assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings).
While earthbound, Thor attempts to retrieve Mjolnir from the crater it made when it landed. The area is now under the control of S.H.I.E.L.D. and its agent on the scene, Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg from the Iron Man films). Alas, Thor is not yet worthy to hold the hammer again. He must change if he's ever going to return to Asgard and stop Loki.
Thor may be the proverbial fish out of water here, but we're thankfully spared many of the goofy things that come with that oft-tread movie territory. Thor understands Earth and humans; he's just a little out of step with our customs and tech. Judging from the taser and hospital clips that have been released, you might think the film is chock full of physical comedy, but happily they are just a few moments in an otherwise straightforward Thor tale.
Outside of these occasional moments of comic relief, director Kenneth Branagh keeps the focus squarely on Thor's dramatic arc. The movie's strongest moments aren't necessarily the comic booky ones (although they are pretty cool), but rather the familial ones in Asgard. Thor's scenes with Loki and Odin crackle with an intensity and emotion sometimes lacking in the earthly scenes. These moments feel like the ones that Branagh and his leads were the most emotionally invested in, and that sincerity helps you buy into this otherwise fantastical world, one which we see far more of than the marketing has heretofore revealed.
The visual effects are largely good, especially the Asgard and Jotunheim sequences. The Destroyer was a bit underwhelming, coming across as a lesser version of Gort from 'The Day the Earth Stood Still'. Perhaps the Destroyer sequence wouldn't have felt so anticlimactic if he were letting loose on a place that didn't seem like a fake western town set. (The sight of super-powered badasses busting up a small town -- coupled with the story of an alien hero stripped of his powers, who is in love with an Earth woman and who cries out to his heavenly father -- was more than a little reminiscent of 'Superman II'.)
The biggest problem with the earthly storyline isn't its tone or setting, but rather the brevity of Thor's stay there. He's basically in town for the weekend and in that time he learns the error of his ways? (Oh, don't act like that's a spoiler!) Exile ain't what it used to be. That short time- frame asks a lot of the audience to buy that Thor would actually fall in love with Jane and not just be smitten with her. I can see why she'd be overwhelmed by him -- it's not every day that a girl meets the god of thunder -- but what does Thor see in her exactly? Kindness and beauty, yes, but Sif also possesses that. Maybe if Thor had been consigned to Earth for longer then his romantic longing and change of heart would have been more believable. But I suppose more time spent on Earth isn't exactly what Thor fans want, is it?
For any fanboys out there worried that the 'Thor' film will be one in name only, rest easy. This movie is ultimately about what's at stake in Asgard. My only real misgiving with that is that we never get a real sense of Asgard as a community (we do with the small town stuff). Seriously, what do they do up there all day? They're all dressed up with nowhere to go and nothing to do except attend the occasional banquet or throne room event. The busiest people in Asgard appear to be the Bifrost guardian Heimdall (an intense Idris Elba, who has more screen time than you might expect) and the unseen cleaning staff who keep the gilded floors ultra-shiny. Must be the same company the Empire uses.
Although it would've been nice if Asgard felt a bit more "lived in," Branagh and Co. deserve credit for making these "gods" feel like real people. The rest is just very sweet eye candy, but the good stuff is the family drama and they nailed that. Thor also serves as a star-making vehicle for Hemsworth and Hiddleston, both of whom own the screen whenever they're on it. The cast's bigger names -- Hopkins, Portman, Skarsgård -- are all fine, but it's the fresher faces, including Dennings and Alexander, who fare best.
'Thor' may not be a game-changer for comic book movies, but it's a solidly entertaining one most noteworthy for taking what could have been utterly campy material and making it dramatic and relatable. There's action and otherworldly elements to appease the core fans and possibly even win over some skeptics, and enough humor and humanity to engage general audiences.