Movie Review: Thor
By Matthew Huntley
May 17, 2011
Although Thor is a very good movie in its own right - an exciting, somewhat old-fashioned adventure story with strong performances, zippy humor and high-spirited action - it becomes even more impressive when you consider how much worse it could have been. Any movie has the potential to be bad, but a movie like Thor, which tells such an outrageous story, is perhaps more vulnerable because it’s based in fantasy, and because the nature of fantasy is to be unbelievable, it’s inherently prone to skepticism and low expectations, which are often met. But just where Thor could have been dumb and insulting, it turns out to be fun and surprisingly dramatic.
Unlike most modern-day superheroes from Stan Lee’s Marvel Universe, especially ones adapted for Hollywood blockbusters, Thor is not a mild-mannered human being who suddenly gains extraordinary powers. As the God of Thunder, he was born with them and he’s not shy about making that known. At the beginning of the movie, he’s loud, pompous and arrogant, and it’s apposite, I suppose, that he wields an oversized steel hammer to fend off his enemies, who are comprised of a cold, blue race of monster-looking individuals called the Frost Giants, who freeze anything they touch.
Before I go any further, based on what I’ve just told you, you can understand my praise for director Kenneth Branagh, the movie’s three screenwriters and the cast for taking what could have been a potential Razzie winner and crafting it into a coherent, energetic popcorn movie. M. Night Shyamalan should watch Thor and take notes. His The Last Airbender could have benefited from this movie’s ability to take something that probably seems ridiculous on paper and make it work on film.
In the movie, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) are the sons of Odin (Anthony Hopkins), king of Asgard, a far-off kingdom in another realm of the universe. The Asgardians are presently at peace until the Frost Giants make a surprise attack, conveniently on the same day Thor is being sworn in as king. Just before Odin can complete the ceremony, the Frost Giants attempt to retrieve the Casket of Ancient Winters, which is their source of energy. Naturally, Thor wants to retaliate, but Odin believes a true king should never seek out war; he must only be ready for it. When Thor and his band of warriors go against Odin’s wishes and attack the Frost Giants on their own turf - Asgardians can be transported to different lands via a rainbow bridge called the Bifrost, controlled by the loyal gatekeeper, Heimdall (Idris Elba) - Odin casts him out.
He descends to earth and lands in a remote desert of New Mexico, where he’s discovered by Jane (Natalie Portman), a master physicist, her science partner, Erik (Stellan Skarsgard), and a cautious intern, Darcy (Kat Dennings), who’s wise to bring along a Taser wherever she goes (because you never know when you’ll find an angry, banished God roaming around the desert). They bring Thor to the hospital and Jane believes there’s something special about this guy, that perhaps he could tell her about the other universes she believes exist and can be accessed through wormholes. Plus, she kinda sorta likes him, which, given Hemsworth and Portman’s good looks, is a development that probably goes without saying. But their romance is interrupted by Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), the omnipresent S.H.I.E.L.D. agent whose job is to report strange, otherworldly phenomenon to Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who’s busy assembling The Avengers. But that’s another story.
Back on Asgard, Loki discovers he’s not who he seems and is sworn in as king when Odin falls into a deep sleep. To prove himself worthy, he plans to destroy the Frost Giants on his own, a decision that, for Loki anyway, comes with its own conflict of interest.
Loki’s story is actually the most intriguing part of the movie. It’s rich and complex and Tom Hiddleston is quite convincing and passionate in the role. Dare I say Loki’s conflict approaches the level of Shakespeare, from which it is probably derived? Okay, that may be going too far, but for a movie like Thor to even suggest such a connection means it’s aiming higher than most superhero movies. And although it’s loaded with action and special effects, which are good but not spectacular, the characters remain at the center of it all. Along with Hiddleston, Hemsworth, Hopkins, Portman and Skarsgard are all given room to act and they take their characters seriously, giving them weight and dimension. Because we were only expecting fluff, this comes as a pleasant surprise.
Like many, I had my doubts about Thor going in, but in hindsight that’s probably because the superhero genre has become so indoctrinated with stories that favor realism over fantasy that a movie about a flying Nordic God with a cape, a beard and a giant hammer seems preposterous and unbelievable by comparison. And yes, Thor is preposterous and unbelievable, but it’s also the most fun and enjoyable superhero movie to come out since “Hellboy II,” and it has its fair share of drama and poignancy that we actually respond to. I admit much of this praise stems from my low expectations, but regardless, Thor rocks and it gives us hope for the plethora of the other outrageous superhero movies yet to come (and you know they’re coming).