Originally Reviewed – 5/26/2011
These days, it seems as though the term Marvel has become synonymous with box office gold. With properties like X-Men, Iron Man and Spiderman raking in the dough, it’s hard to think of a summer without a Marvel film featured in it, when in fact, the juggernaut hasn’t been rolling for very long. When Marvel Studios released its first film, Blade, in 1998, DC was the king of the comic film scene, featuring successful adaptations of Superman and Batman. With Blade and 2000’s X-Men making huge box office splashes, Marvel cemented themselves as real players in the comic book movie genre. While some films have been great (Iron Man, Spider Man 2) and some have been miserable (The Punisher, Daredevil, Elektra), Marvel is on a bit of an upswing as of late with its all encompassing Avengers project. The latest film in that pantheon, Thor, tries to keep the streak going and despite some minor issues, does a reasonably good job of maintaining the quality, providing a solid B grade entry into the Stan Lee family of films.
Directed by long time Shakespearian Kenneth Branagh, Thor is a tale of two worlds, one the skyward planet Asgard and the other our very own planet Earth. On Asgard lives our protagonist, Thor, a cocky yet charming heir to the throne, played by first timer Chris Hemsworth. Hemsworth plays the part very well, injecting charm, likability and a sense of immaturity into the character in equal doses. Hemsworth not only looks the part but gives the character some much needed depth, important for the long term development of the character. Thor isn’t the most thoughtful of god people and when he saunters off to the land of the Front Giants to, for lack of a better word, start some shit, his father banishes him to the far off land of Earth, making his brother Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston, the new heir. What follows is a fairly interesting, if not totally predictable battle for power, that’s not unlike the Shakespeare that remains Branagh’s bread and butter. The clash works quite well and although you can see the end result coming a mile away, the strength in the characters more than makes up for it.
In fact, if I have one knock against Thor is that the story is completely and totally predictable. Once Thor lands on Earth, stripped of his godly power, he comes across a team of scientists knocking around the desert looking at storm patterns. This unabashedly contrived meeting sets up the rest of film quite neatly; you have Natalie Portman as the brilliant scientist / love interest, Stellan Skarsgard as a fellow scientist / mentor and Kat Dennings as their assistant / comic relief. As you can see, each character has an archetype to live up to and while this makes for a pretty predictable storyline, each actor does a fine job with the role given. The comedy generally works, the chemistry between Hemsworth and Portman is strong enough and it’s genuinely enjoyable watching Thor stomp around modern day Earth, smashing glasses, being overly polite and adjusting to our primitive society. My only quibble would be Thor’s Asgardian friends, a band of warriors who are so underdeveloped, I couldn’t give you their names if I had gun against my head. The film also does a nice job of jumping between Asgard where Loki is vying for political position and Earth where Thor is just trying to cope with being once again mortal. It’s this nice balance of Shakespearian style familial in fighting and culture clash that moves the film along, although not at the pace most comic fans have come to expect.
On that front, one only has to look toward director Kenneth Branagh for answers. Responsible for some of the best adaptations of Shakespeare ever put to film, including a masterful version of Henry V, Branagh is comfortable letting the actors tell a story, providing a slower, more patient comic book flick than we’ve come to expect from the genre. Summer popcorn fans needn’t fear, though, as the film is nowhere near a Victorian drama. The action is frenetic, there are some top notch special effects in play and the film moves along at a very nice pace; just don’t expect the itchy trigger finger of Iron Man. On the action front, it’s not anything you haven’t seen before, but when I first saw the trailer, I thought, “A hammer? What can one do with a hammer?” Evidently, quite a lot as Thor summons lightning and smashes baddies all about a desolate planet, providing just enough visceral fun to make the film a true summer popcorn flick.
Thor, while falling slightly in the original storytelling department, more than makes up for its faults, providing fun action, an interesting tie to Norse mythology and enough eye candy to keep even the most jaded summer moviegoer entertained. While not quite on the level of the A list Marvel properties, Thor was a nice change of pace for me, providing thrills, pathos and humor in equal measure. Branagh has not been known for big budget action films and while I doubt he’s going to become the next Michael Bay, maybe somewhere along the lines of a Jon Favreau is not completely out of the realm of possibility. A fine opening to the summer popcorn season, Thor is some of the best action you’ll see in theaters this summer. That is, of course, until the next Marvel flick comes rolling into the spotlight.
Score – 80%