Movie Review: Thor
By Edwin Davies
April 26, 2011
Ever since Marvel started putting together the pieces of their multi-film Avengers project, Thor has always stuck out as one of the trickiest propositions. Whilst the character has about the same level of name recognition as Iron Man - or at least of Iron Man before his inaugural film came out - the idea of a huge action spectacular built around a Norse god seems pretty far removed from The Hulk and Iron Man, both of which are obviously ridiculous but are based in a world which is only somewhat heightened. For fear of getting death threats from nerds everywhere, it's the fine line that separates science fiction and fantasy, and it's tough to reconcile the two.
Even with the explanation given in the film, that Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is not a god but an interdimensional being whose powers, along with those of fellow Asgardians like his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) made them appear god-like to early humans, there was always the possibility that the film could wind up being too ridiculous to be taken seriously. The decision to hire Kenneth Branagh to direct, then to stack the film's cast with serious actors, also suggested that Marvel was planning to take a very silly idea and treat it incredibly seriously, which is a recipe for the sort of unintentional hilarity that could kill a franchise stone dead.
It's to the credit of Branagh and the writers of Thor that they clearly understand how ridiculous the character and setting could be, and in doing they seek to undercut it as often as possible whilst also treating it with a degree of seriousness that keeps them from abandoning it to pure camp.
The majority of the events in Thor take place in two locations; Asgard, the home of Thor and his fellow celestial beings and a place where they have invented instantaneous intergalactic travel yet everyone travels around on horses, and New Mexico, where he finds himself banished after he defies his father's wishes and initiates a war with the natural enemies of Asgard, the Frost Giants. This divides the film neatly into two distinct halves. The Asgard half of the film is, despite the blindingly bright location and the high-end Halloween costumes that everyone struts around in, fairly somber, and deals with the dysfunction and internal politics of Thor's family. Specifically, it deals with the paternal disappointment that leads to his banishment, and the Machiavellian schemings of Loki who, it becomes increasingly obvious, plans to benefit from Thor's absence by taking over. This is where the majority of the eye-candy is contained, as Branagh displays the same skill for using CGI that he did in Hamlet, and takes us through the gleaming halls of Asgard, which have a real sense of weight and history behind them.
As if to counter the expected snarky comments of audience members who find the Asgard stuff patently silly, everything that takes place in New Mexico deflates the errant pomposity of Thor, in doing so making the film one of the more purely entertaining films released this year. Having been left without his powers or his mystical hammer, Mjolnir, Thor is promptly run over by the scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) who, along with her colleagues (Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) takes him in, hoping that he will be able to offer insights on the strange phenomena that brought him to Earth.