Movie Review: Thor
By Shalimar Sahota
May 4, 2011

Thor publicity still or cosplay gone wrong? You be the judge.

My knowledge on Norse mythology is rather hazy, and I’ve never met Thor myself, which might be why I consider this to be Marvel Studios’ biggest gamble. It is the first from their roster to be released this summer. Captain America: The First Avenger and X-Men: First Class are the others, but Thor has never really reached the echelons of popularity as other comic book characters, which makes me wonder if audiences will be drawn to this. It shouldn’t really matter.

Going in with no expectations, the only thing that really lured me was seeing what Kenneth Branagh would do with a blockbuster. In fact, he seemed to be wondering a similar thing himself. On the prospect of working on Thor, he said, “I thought it could be a pretty exhilarating film. I wondered if I would be good at it.” Short answer – yes, he is.

After Asgard is infiltrated by Frost Giants, Thor (Hemsworth) persuades his brother Loki (Hiddleston), as well as The Warrior’s Three (Stevenson, Dallas and Asano) and Sif (Alexander) to join him in travelling to their realm, Jotunheim, to question their king Laufey (Feore). And it’s almost as if Branagh was in a rush to deliver something audiences can be excited about, to show that he can do action, for the trip turns into a fight.

While it looks impressive seeing Thor and his fellow warriors take on numerous Frost Giants, going to someone else’s realm only to bust their place up made it difficult to get behind him and what he's doing (especially since Thor throws the first punch). Though it initially feels unjustified, its purpose only becomes apparent once the battle is over, to show just how impetuous Thor really is, with his brash act resulting in the two realms suddenly on the cusp of war.

As punishment for his behaviour, his father Odin (Hopkins) strips him of his power and banishes him to Earth. So hasty is Odin in the delivery of the punishment that Thor doesn’t even the have the time to pack; such is the pace of the film, but it’s an act that helps develop both character and story. Landing in New Mexico, he finds himself very nearly run over by astrophysicist Jane Foster (Portman), who wears an unusual T-shirt of a smiling sun with legs.

Branagh has admitted to being a fan of Thor, but one can see another reason why he was drawn to this, for amidst the fights and explosions is a story centred on a conflicted family relationship. With a king that banishes his firstborn son, only for the other son to try and take power by overthrowing his father… hell, this is Shakespeare in the guise of a comic book blockbuster. Well it’s Shakespeare-esque anyway. A bit like buying a bottle of cola, only to find that there’s milk in there, but you’ll still drink it, because it tastes great.

“My father was trying to teach me something,” says Thor as he drowns his sorrows in a bar. “I was too stupid to see it.” Hemsworth is charming as the title character, who is largely sans helmet. Initially stupid and arrogant, as Loki describes him, the clever part is in getting us to like him more as the film progresses. The speed at which he gains his humility is dubious (the film does get through a lot at just under two hours), since Thor only spends just over a couple of days on Earth. The fish out of water scenario isn’t overplayed to breaking point, but does lead to some expected comical moments. Thor’s trip to a pet shop is the humorous highpoint of the film.

Portman seems overly talented for the underwhelming role of Jane. I guess it’s an accomplishment that she comes across as very normal. While it’s easy to tell what attracts her (and her assistant Darcy) to Thor, it’s difficult to pin down what he sees in her. There’s no intimate chitchat or passion between the two. The romance is just expected… because she drives him to a crater, and he answers her questions about where he came from, this means that they’ve obviously got to get it on.

As Odin, Hopkins looks like he’s having fun, and gets a few moments to show that he can still be a badass. Idris Elba as Heimdall deserves a mention as a gatekeeper between realms, providing a memorable turn due to the extent of his performance as a character who takes his job far too seriously.

There is some expected crossover within the Marvel films, as Clark Gregg reprises his role from the Iron Man films as Agent Coulson, having far more to do here. Even the sudden appearance of The Destroyer (think Gort Mk 2.0), results in a SHIELD agent asking, “Is that one of Stark’s?” Jeremy Renner also briefly appears in a (somewhat wasteful) cameo as Hawkeye.

There have been so many comic book films during the last decade; it’s as if studios have been desperately trying to snap up the rights to anything that hasn’t been filmed yet. Interestingly, the growth of Marvel Studios has seen them become more protective of their properties and more tactful when it comes to the production of their films. Though it’s uncertain if we’ll see a Thor sequel, we’ll definitely be seeing the character again. “Thor will return in The Avengers,” revealed James Bond style during the end credits, which will likely be an even bigger gamble.

It’ll be interesting to see if Branagh lovingly caresses another blockbuster again. His take on Thor mixes action, family drama, comedy, sci-fi and so-called romance all in the blender. There’s no one single aspect that truly stands out, since it manages to be very well balanced and never feels overburdened by it all. Overall, it’s a lot of fun.

Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Starring Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Natalie Portman (Jane Foster), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Anthony Hopkins (Odin), Stellan Skarsgard (Erik Sevig), Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson), Idris Elba (Heimdall), Colm Feore (King Laufey), Kat Dennings (Darcy), Jaime Alexander (Sif), Ray Stevenson (Volstagg), Joshua Dallas (Fandral), Tadanobu Asano (Hogun)
Written by – Ashley Edward Miller, Don Payne, Zack Stentz, (story by J. Michael Straczynski, Mark Protosevich)
Length – 114 minutes
Cert 12A / PG-13