USA 2011. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins. Runtime: 114 minutes
A thousand years ago, there was a great war: the Frost Giants attacked the Earth. But the humans did not stand alone: to their rescue came the Asgardians, led by Odin (Anthony Hopkins). The Asgardians defeated the Frost Giants and sent them home. There was peace since then, but it was a fragile peace.
Now, Odin is about to retire from the throne, and intends to proclaim his son Thor (Chris Hemsworth) king of Asgard. Unluckily, the ceremony is interrupted by a trio of Frost Giants who have breached Asgard’s defenses to steal the Cask of Ancient Winters. Odin’s superweapon The Destroyer makes short work of them, though. Still, it is not enough for Thor, who considers this an act of war and wants to retaliate. Against his father’s wishes, Thor, his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and their closest friends take the battle to Jotunheim, the realm of the Frost Giants. And much ass is kicked. But in the end, our heroes are outnumbered, and look to go down fighting, until Odin comes to their rescue.
I suppose you can imagine how unhappy Odin is with his favorite son. He’s unhappy enough that he banishes him to Earth. But with an escape hatch: a quickly whispered enchantment and a hammer throw provide Thor with the means to eventually return to Asgard: “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.”
Both Thor and hammer end up in New Mexico, where Thor meets Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her friends. Jane is an astrophysicist who has been busy exploring peculiar electromagnetic occurrences. Thor, of course, happens to be in the middle of one of them: Jane was tracking Bifrost, the bridge between Asgard and the other realms. Once Thor finds out that his hammer Mjolnir is also in New Mexico, he sets off to reclaim it. Bad news: he can’t. He isn’t worthy. Which means he is now stuck on Earth.
Meanwhile, on Asgard, Odin has slipped into the Odinsleep, leaving Loki king of Asgard. Loki, never one to miss an opportunity, sets out to cement his rule and make sure that Thor never returns. Leaving Thor stranded on Earth sounds like a plan, if only it weren’t for those pesky Warriors Three Fandral (Joshua Dallas), Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) and their companion Sif (Jaimie Alexander). (For those who wonder why Sif receives extra credit, instead of being part of Warriors Four – the three guys take their collective name from the comics, and in the movie, Sif is badass enough to merit an extra mention.) These four set out to bring Thor back, because they don’t like the idea of Loki being king. Which means Loki has to kill Thor. Pity. He hadn’t really wanted that. Destroyer, if you would, please.
When the Destroyer comes to smash New Mexico, Thor shows some new found humility and the willingness to sacrifice his own life for others. That seems to make him worthy, because now Mjolnir takes off to return to its master’s hand. And much ass gets kicked.
The good things first: Thor kicks ass. Or rocks. Whichever you prefer. On a scale of Marvel movies, it’s not quite as good as Iron Man 1, but better than Iron Man 2.
The movie wins because of the cast and the characters. Because of the story and the writing. Thor is a jock, a braggard, he’s big and strong, he has never met anyone he couldn’t take, and he never had to grow up. For Thor, life is an adventure. And it helps if your father is king of the gods. Chris Hemsworth sells this, he owns the part. He walks with a swagger, and he is so utterly charming in his arrogance that it’s impossible not to like him.
Something similar can be said of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. He’s a schemer and a planner. His plan in this movie is far more layered and complex than it seems at first. But even though he is a wily manipulator, his actions don’t grow out of evil. They grow out of being the second son, the less-loved son, who stands in the shadow of his larger-than-life brother. As Hemsworth and Thor, Hiddleston makes Loki believable. Likable, even. Sure, he wants to have his brother out of the way, but at first he doesn’t even want to kill him. He just wants to humiliate him, then get him out of the way. As the situation escalates, so do Loki’s plans, as he grows increasingly annoyed and lashes out with the same petulance that Thor exhibits at the film’s beginning. In that, Loki’s increasing childishness while Thor grows up, Hiddleston and Branagh present Loki as the mirror image of Thor.
Those are just the two principal players. All in all, the entire movie is perfectly cast, up to and including the two actors where I had certain problems. Before the movie, I was opposed to the idea of African-American actor Idris Elba playing a Norse god, as much as I was opposed to the idea of slim actor Ray Stevenson playing a character known as Volstagg the Voluminous. Both won me over, because they nailed their characters. There is not a single bad performance in this movie.
The story is not too complex, and yet Thor manages to be a rather smart action movie. There are several laugh out loud moments, sometimes in the dialog, sometimes in the way the actors present their lines, sometimes as physical comedy. But they are never out of place. The humor comes from the characters, their interactions with each other and the world(s) around them.
The bad: you will want to see this movie in 2D, because the 3D is Last Airbender-level bad. The 3D makes the movie darker, it becomes blurry, and it doesn’t add anything positive to the experience. The best scenes are those where the 3D doesn’t punch you in the “lookee, 3D” face. Scenes that are really just 2D. Well, it’s not as if this problem is anything new with post conversion, right?
The other bad is that Thor shows that Kenneth Branagh, who is a solid character (and story) director, is not an action director. The four major action pieces — the Frost Giant attack on the Vikings, the battle in Jotunheim, the fight of Thor vs. Destroyer and the showdown with Loki — are visual messes. I’ll have to see the movie again in 2D to know just how much the bad 3D helped jumble the scenes (the opening action piece was definitely ruined only by the 3D), but the Thor vs. Destroyer fight was almost as bad as the showdown in Ang Lee’s Hulk — it was very difficult to tell what was going on.
Finally, Thor tries to stuff too many characters into this movie. Every single one of them gets a moment to shine, and every single one contributes something essential to the story, but it does make for a bit of a clutter.
All in all, however, those two are the movie’s only flaws. All in all, Thor presents a coherent and clever story, likable and nuanced characters and solid acting by every single member of the cast.
The after-credits scene, by the way, connects Thor to both Captain America and Avengers. I’m not going to spoiler it any more than that.
Verdict: very recommended