Scott’s Movie Review: THOR
Published: May 7, 2011 - 4:01pm
Cruising amid the continuum of Marvel’s tent pole blockbusters, which will culminate in The Avengers in just one year’s time, Thor must swing a mighty hammer to kick off this summer movie season. The film will inevitably draw comparisons to fellow origin story Iron Man. But while filling Tony Stark’s Mark III boots is a lot to ask, Thor -- though faltering from time to time -- succeeds.
After a botched invasion of the realm of Asgard by the Frost Giants of Jotunheim, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) hastily sets out with brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and several warrior friends to hunt them down, thereby obliterating the long-held truce between Asgard and Jotunheim. Thor’s father and King of Asgard, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), is forced to intervene and save the group. Rather than assuming the crown of his father, Thor is relieved of his power and banished to Earth. Thor is discovered in New Mexico by astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), her mentor Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), and plucky friend and colleague Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) while monitoring for wormholes. In a nearby crater rests the source of Thor’s power, the hammer Mjolnir, which is only to be wielded by he who is worthy. We are treated to beer-bellied locals attempting to hoist Mjolnir from it’s cratered resting place, only to be later cordoned off by S.H.I.E.L.D. spooks led by Iron Man’s Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg). Thor must prove he is worthy of admission back to Asgard by wielding Mjolnir again.
Where Thor succeeds is with it’s ensemble of players, first and foremost with burgeoning star Chris Hemsworth in the title role. Whether playing powerful yet insolent in the realm of Asgard, or brash yet noble on Earth, Chris owns this role. He handles not only the action sequences with great alacrity, but also bears decent comic chops on the strange realm of Earth as a fallen Norse god bellowing the King’s English within earshot of New Mexico locals.
The legendary Sir Anthony Hopkins is thunderously authoritative and wise as the all-father Odin, showing both sides of loving father yet no-nonsense king to son Thor. Tom Hiddleston is fantastic as the diabolical Loki, who has worked already with director Kenneth Branagh in his young career. You can sense this collaborative spirit in certain scenes, especially where Loki becomes schemingly unhinged. Sif (Jaimie Alexander) and the Warriors Three consisting of Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Hogun (Tadanobu Asano), and Fandral (Josh Dallas) are all fine, if a bit underutilized. The foursome would have done well to exhibit more of their godlike powers as viable allies to Thor rather than remaining veritable ciphers as Thor’s “high school buddies.” One to watch for is Idris Elba as the monolithic Heimdall. Ever the steadfast sentinel of the rainbow bridge Bifröst, Elba is stainless as the unflappable eyes and ears of Asgard.
Natalie Portman is engaging as Jane Foster in ways I believe most actresses her age are ill-equipped. Portman’s eyelashes are aflutter for the brawny Norse hero much in the way Elisabeth Shue was for Val Kilmer’s Simon Templar in The Saint. The awkwardly flirty scenes between Jane and Thor are carried off well, especially when such scenes in the hands of many other actors could have fallen dismally flat. Kat Dennings is occasionally charming as Darcy Lewis, despite being an all-too-apparent harbinger to the fauxhemian ironic t-shirt crowd. My eyes rolled here and there, but admittedly I also laughed. To whatever degree Dennings is an avatar for your standard neuvo-valley girl “besty,” she still manages to be somewhat adorable. Stellan Skarsgård as Dr. Erik Selvig wears two hats very well, playing both astute mentor and disapproving father figure to the young and brilliant Jane. Clark Gregg returns as Agent Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D., providing the same lighthearted government austerity to the delight of many, including myself. The presence of S.H.I.E.L.D. served as more of the connective tissue for The Avenger properties this time around (with a cameo from Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye), whereas we previously found the organization all up in Iron Man 2’s business.
Every actor excels regardless of the breadth of their role, thanks in part to Kenneth Branagh’s proven aptitude of ensemble direction, but no thanks to the writing team. For example, when the Warriors Three land on Earth to aid Thor, they feel more like rejects from a renaissance fair than formidable allies. Certain elements would bear significant spoilage upon delving into here, but I will reveal that at several points major characters make certain inexplicable choices that siphon the gravitas from their perceived goals. Many of these instances feel rushed to the point one wonders if the runtime of the film came into question. This reason has always evaded me as the most profitable films of all time have been, in a word, lengthy.
For a film that was shot in 2D and given a risky aftermarket 3D conversion, Thor actually triumphs where projects like Clash of the Titans have faltered. Asgard is depicted with an almost surprisingly boundless sense of environmental depth and cosmic metallurgy, which is where the 3D is at its most effective. Earth sequences surrender this, which is to be expected, as the juxtaposition between realms is an artistic imperative. The sound design is superb, along with Patrick Doyle’s original music, especially in scenes with The Destroyer. This juggernaut sent to Earth to dispatch our hero is what you would liken to the epitome of the military industrial complex of Asgard meets Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still. In an IMAX theater, look for the sound here to be potently rattling.
The bottom line is, for whatever is lacking, I liked Thor. At times I even loved it. The production boasts a tremendous job on the part of director Kenneth Branagh who, like Iron Man’s Jon Favreau, was not exactly a proven commodity in the superhero genre. Branagh is the shepherd to some outstanding performances--however neglected in the writing--along with some outstanding visuals and sound. The 3D is relatively sound for an upconvert, provided you see it in IMAX. What you’ll also witness is the genesis of a bona fide star in Chris Hemsworth, and that Thor is in fact mighty enough to hold Mjolnir aloft.