Directed By: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings, Clark Gregg, Idris Elba, Colm Feore, Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Josh Dallas, Jaimie Alexander, Rene Russo, Anthony Hopkins
As someone who isn’t up-to-date on her comic book reading, these films tend to be a bit of a blur. However, lately, that sensation fades after the films’ releases. Thanks to Marvel, over the years, I’ve gotten to know tons of endlessly fascinating characters like Iron Man, Spider-Man and more. Of course there were less memorable ones like Daredevil and the Punisher, but rest assured, Thor certainly earns his place in the latter group.
Meet Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the son of Odin (Anthony Hopkins), the king of Asgard. As the aging Odin approaches the end of his reign, he must select one of his two sons, the all-powerful Thor or the magical Loki (Tom Hiddleston), to assume the throne. While Thor’s seemingly the favorite, his decision to travel to the world of the Frost Giants to violently put an end to their long-term feud with the Asgardians, leaves his father no choice but to banish him for the threat his reckless behavior poses to their people.
Thor arrives on Earth via a charged tornado, the force setting off the radars of a local cosmologist, Jane (Natalie Portman). Jane rushes out to the scene of the action with Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and their college intern, Darcy (Kat Dennings). That’s when she literally drives her truck straight into Thor. While Thor tries to figure out the oddities of this foreign realm, Jane and her team take him to be a guy who’s just out of his mind. However, as she starts to piece together the facts of his arrival and simply get to know Thor as a man, she’s compelled to believe.
Thor opens up with a taste of today, Jane ramming into Thor with her truck. Then we jump back to ancient times for some history on the everlasting feud between Asgard and the Frost Giants. Not to diminish the rest of the piece, but these early battles between the Asgardians and the Frost Giants are some of the most stimulating images of the film. The designs of both the Asgardians’ armor and the Frost Giants, well, bodies are simply incredible. When you pit two massive armies of these races up against one another, it’s mesmerizing.
Don’t worry; things don’t slow down in the least once we reach the more immediate focus of the film. In fact, at no point does Thor lose its traction in the least. From beginning to end director Kenneth Branagh keeps a perfect pace, fast enough so nothing dulls, but with just enough breathing room to allow the audience, even Thor newcomers, to digest enough information to experience the film to the fullest.
Thor is basically broken up into two parts, the portion that plays out in Asgard and the one that happens on Earth. Both are wildly enjoyable, yet have slightly different tones, enough to keep things new and exciting, but not too diverse to make them seem as though they’re from separate films. The portions in Asgard and the world of the Frost Giants benefit significantly from the visuals. Both worlds are incredibly designed with an endless amount of intricacies, never coming up short when you pine for more.
Another major benefit of the Asgard segment is Idris Elba as the guardian of Asgard, Heimdall. He gets only the slightest bit of screen time as compared to our main players and the subsequent tier of cast members, but manages to make an astonishingly noteworthy impact. Between his unforgettable costume and electrifying orange eyes, Elba needs no dialogue to make a statement. Then again, while he does speak a bit, his words are terse and that’s what makes them all the more powerful. While Elba might have been particularly memorable, most of the Asgardian characters manage to make a lasting impact. The Warriors Three and Sif (Jaimie Alexander) engage in some stellar action sequences, but only Alexander and Ray Stevenson as Volstagg have the power to rise above the group and make an impression all on their own.
Back on Earth we’ve got Jane, Darcy, Selvig and the majority of the film’s comedy. While some of the jokes fall flat, most of the humor is quite successful. Forget the whole battle for the thorne; I could have watched Thor blindly feel out life on Earth for two hours. Without spoiling any of the good gags, just picture a Viking decked out in the traditional garb moseying on down the road. As for the more serious material on Earth, that’s where some of the script’s weakness taints the adventure a slight bit. Jane’s whole research scheme just isn’t believable. While the passion behind Portman’s eyes is evident when engaging with Hemsworth, when it comes to relaying passion about her work and the devastation of having it all taken away, it doesn’t register. Both Dennings and Skarsgard manage to do a lot with just a little, both establishing colorful yet simple relationships with the hero and never overdoing the comedic elements of their roles.
Now onto the main players, Thor and Loki. Hemsworth was built for this role. Visually we knew he’d knock it out of the park, but the odds of him nailing the performance were a bit up in the air. Yes, he made a good George Kirk in Star Trek, but come on; he was only in the film for about 15 minutes. Here, Hemsworth not only proves he can carry a film, but hit it big in every way possible. His fight scenes are incredible, he’s got fantastic comedic timing and, on top of that, has no problem switching gears and giving a tough tug on your heartstrings. He’s the complete package as is Hiddleston on the villainous side. Again, looks wise, Hiddleston is ideal for Loki. He’s eerily slender, has no problem putting a terrifyingly snide look in his eye and dons a killer costume to boot. Even more impressive is Hiddleston’s ability to almost make you like Loki at the start, which ultimately makes the character’s turnaround hurt the audience just as much as it does Thor.
Just when you think you’ve had enough of these comic book-to-film adaptations, a movie like Thor comes along to prove there’s nothing wrong with sticking with something that works. In fact, not only does it offer a great deal of immediate entertainment, but it also reinvigorates hope and excitement for all of those future Marvel movies. While at times it may feel as though we’re getting one too many superhero movies, the thought of just as much time and care that apparently went into making Thor going into the subsequent productions makes the fact that there are so many more to come all the more exciting.