As a comic book fan, it has been a thrill seeing the recent string of successful films coming from Marvel Studios over the past decade, beginning in 2000 with X-Men and continuing with its sequel and the first two in the Spider-Man series. With only a small number of misfires (I’m looking at you, makers of the bloody awful Fantastic Four movies), Marvel’s latest offerings have brought a touch of class to the superhero genre. Now with both Iron Man films and an Incredible Hulk reboot out, the stage has been set for the eagerly awaited Avengers in 2012. Only two more pieces to “assemble” remain: the upcoming Captain America and Thor.
Of all the titles in Marvel’s classic lineup, Thor is probably the one I looked forward to the most. Just mentioning the title brings to mind interdimensional rainbow bridges, fire and ice giants, and majestic cities in the clouds. Based on Norse mythology, Thor’s adventures have always been grandiose, even Shakespearean, in drama and scale.
Who better to tackle this than Kenneth Branagh, one of the finest contemporary director/actors of the Bard’s tales. His take on Thor is a brilliant combination of action, emotional depth, and humor, with dazzling effects that owe much to the era of Walt Simonson (who is given a nod in the credits).
Over a thousand years ago, the Scandinavians revered a race of powerful beings from the extradimensional realm of Asgard. When the frost giants of Jotenheim stage an uprising to conquer the nine realms, beginning with Earth, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), king of the Asgardians, leads a mighty war against them and steals the source of their power. He relates this story to his young sons, Thor and Loki, one of whom will one day become the heir to the throne.
Fast forward years later. During a ceremony to honor Thor (Chris Hemsworth) as the successor, a small band of frost giants breaks into Asgard. In retaliation, the headstrong Thor leads a group of his warrior friends and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) into Jotenheim, breaking a long-held truce. As punishment, Odin strips Thor of his power and his magic hammer Mjolnir and banishes him to Earth.
Thor is discovered by scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her team in the middle of the New Mexico desert. When Mjolnir is found miles away, S.H.I.E.L.D., that crazy espionage agency that always seems to know what’s going on, gets involved and steals Jane’s research (which we know, by now, will probably play a role in a future film) and bars access to Mjolnir as they study its strange powers. Meanwhile, back on Asgard, Loki has his own ideas as to whom should be king, and Thor’s warrior friends begin to grow suspicious and lead a secret mission to bring back Thor.
Given the lofty production design and dialogue of the scenes set in Asgard, Thor is easily a film that could run the risk of taking itself too seriously. However, many of Thor’s attempts to fit in on Earth strike just the right amount of humor. Much of this credit goes to Hemsworth, who plays bold and heroic just as convincingly as he does charming and gallant. And, let’s face it, he does look every bit the part of a dashing god of thunder.
Other strong performances include Portman, who brings a likeability factor to everything she does, and Hiddleston, whose Loki wears his inner turmoil for all to see. But a particular nod goes to Hopkins, who brings gravitas to Odin as both a benevolent father and a commanding force to be reckoned with. You’ll never be able to send your child to his room and ground him with the same amount of panache as when Odin casts Thor out of Asgard.
Also worth noting is how true the effects team stayed to (or even improved upon) the Asgard of the page. Bifröst, the rainbow bridge that transports people to the different realms, never looked more impressive, and the enchanted suit of armor known as Destroyer has Jack Kirby’s stamp all over it.
Some of the scenes feel a little rushed at times, and the movie probably could have even been a little longer. Given how familiar I am with the material, I’m not sure how confusing it is to those who haven’t read the books—I’ll have to ask Rachael. Also, for those who like their stories neatly contained, it does lack some closure. However, with at least one Avengers movie right around the corner, I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more of Thor, Loki, Jane, and hopefully Odin in the near future.