Sunday, May 8, 2011


Its "hammer-time" folks.....yup Thor officially starts the superhero summer 2011. Marvel’s Thor is the toughest of the lead Avengers to bring to the big screen. He’s a cross between a space alien and a Norse god, he wields a hammer named Mjolnir instead of standard superhero weapons like guns or swords, and he wears a cape. Herein I admit i'm not really that familiar with the Norse myths as of the Greek myths but I sure would like to find out more after watching this movie.

Overall the story is pretty straightforward: Thor is the favored son of Odin over brother Loki, Thor is not shy about his position (poor self-esteem is NOT one of his problems), he disobeys his father, bringing danger to Asgard, is banished, and must somehow become “worthy” in order to regain his place (and power) in the kingdom.

The character could fall so easily into camp territory, but director Kenneth Branagh takes the bold approach of playing the character completely straight but still keeps the movie fun and light.  This balance of broad comedy and bombastic action mixed with straight-faced drama comes from the perfect combination of lead actors Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston.

Decades after the Asgardian king Odin (Anthony Hopkins) makes a truce with the Frost Giants of Jotunheim, Odin’s son Thor (Hemsworth) is set to take the throne.  Thor is cocky, brash, and vainglorious—the polar opposite of his brother Loki (Hiddleston) who is quiet, calm, and calculating.  On the day of Thor’s coronation, a trio of Frost Giants interrupts the party by attempting to steal back a superpowered casket that Odin took as the spoils of war.  The thieves are quickly obliterated by a giant mechanical guard known as “Destroyer”, but Thor is thirsty for vengeance.  Along with Loki, female warrior Sif (Jaimie Alexander), and the Warriors Three (Tadanobu Asano, Josh Dallas, and Ray Stevenson), Thor travels to Jotunheim, battles with the Frost Giants, and almost destroys the fragile truce that’s existed between the two realms.  Odin, disappointed with Thor’s actions, strips the warrior of his powers and banishes him to Earth.  Meanwhile, Loki remains in Asgard and continues to scheme his way to the throne.
Banishment sends Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to Earth – specifically to the outskirts of a very small town in New Mexico and into the company of Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). Jane is an astrophysicist whose research lies outside the mainstream – she’s a bit of a free spirit (for a scientist). Working with her is a veteran scientist played by Stellan Skarsgård and a young, annoyingly goofy assistant played by Kat Dennings. They come upon the relatively de-powered Thor and can’t seem to separate themselves from his company.

Thor’s arrival was followed by that of the mighty Mjolnir, his magic-imbued (or here, in the film, more science than magic) hammer. Mjolnir comes to the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D. and our favorite man in black, Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg). Mjolnir can only be lifted/used by those who are worthy, and due to his being cast out, Thor is not able to retrieve it from the compound surrounding it.

The film has two very distinct personalities: Asgard (and the celestial realm) – and Earth (specifically, small town New Mexico). When the film is in Asgard and points beyond, it is completely engaging and engrossing. Complaints about how silly the costumes/armor looked in early photos will vanish, as they look like they completely belong. While there is a bit of humor, there is no tongue-in-cheek to be found in these off-world locations, and I for one was very thankful for that. 
Now watching the trailers, my biggest concern about Thor was how the film would handle the character’s life on Earth. Everything on Asgard looked grand, but I was worried that sticking the character on our planet without his superpowers would lead to a dull story that would strip away what makes the character unique. But Hemsworth’s performance always lets us know that Thor is there. He may not be summoning down lightning bolts, but Hemsworth conveys the character’s easy charm, rugged nobility, and astounding confidence to the point where we always see the cape and armor even if they’re not physically present. Thor’s attitude and the way he plays off astrophysicists Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) provides the bulk of the film’s humor and keeps the film from falling into tired “fish out of water” jokes.

Where Branagh keeps the movie serious is with Loki’s story. Thor may be the title character and the hero, but Thor is just as much about Loki’s origin. Hiddleston does an outstanding job of defining the character without having Loki fall into a predictable performance. Lesser actors would have turned Loki to either the familiar moustache-twirling schemer or put the character into a constant sate of petulant jealousy. But Hiddleston makes the wise decision to bring a great sadness and regret to Loki and that choice pays off in a big way. Hiddleston forces us to empathize with the villain and while the story is broad enough that there can be no debate as to whether or not Loki is the “bad guy”, we can also understand where the character is coming from and that his motives aren’t “Evil” in big flashing letters.

Anthony Hopkins is as regal and powerful as ever – and when early on he puts Thor in his place with a mighty bellow you’ll feel like maybe you should shut the heck up and pay attention as well. Ray Stevenson as “bulky” warrior Volstag is nigh unrecognizable under all that beard and hair but he plays the boisterous soldier well and with a touch of fun. Jaimie Alexander is a believable female warrior and acquits herself well – playing it strong while still seeming a lady.

A contender for “favorite character” in the film will be Idris Elba as Heimdall, the sentry and gatekeeper of Asgard. He is not on screen very long, but he’s a commanding presence every time he appears. He has a regal, noble, powerful sense about him that commands and holds your attention, and you’ll be wishing he had more screen time in the movie.
To his credit, Chris Hemsworth did a fine job playing the supremely arrogant Thor – arrogant even without his super-powers. He softened by the end of the film (a bit too suddenly, I think) but he was believable on both sides of the personality shift. He was very charming even in his arrogance. Natalie Portman didn’t really have a lot to do here and seemed like she could have been played by most any attractive young thirty-something actress – nothing really of note in her performance. Then again, she really wasn’t given much to do.

The film has some difficulty in squeezing in all of the supporting characters and relationships. The presence of SHIELD and the foundations for The Avengers are integrated far better than they were in Iron Man 2 and the film is even able to introduce a new Avenger without slowing down the plot. However, the relationship between Thor and Jane—the movie’s romance subplot—is kept afloat not because the characters spend so much time together, but because of the strong performances and chemistry between Hemsworth and Portman. The Warriors Three and Sif are also undeveloped and the movie misses a key opportunity to define the Asgardian warriors during the battle on Jotunheim.

There were multiple battles throughout the film to keep action-lovers sated, and although the final battle on Earth seemed a bit disappointing, the early battle with the Frost Giants from Jotunheim and a final face-off in Asgard are pretty damned epic. Especially in the former you definitely get a sense of the incredible power of Thor. If I have any complaints it’s that the fight scenes were shot in that uber-annoying, close-in, super-choppy-editing style.

Thus, while it is not perfect, ‘Thor’ is most definitely a worthy kick-start to the pantheon of superhero movies releasing this summer 2011.


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