Release Date: May 6, 2011
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writers:Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne (screenplay); J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Protosevich (story); Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby (comic book)
Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman
MPAA Rating: PG-13
As a Norse god living in our modern society, Thor is a character caught between two worlds. In attempting to bring those two distinct worlds to life, director Kenneth Branagh ends up giving viewers two distinctly different movies piled on top of each other – one of which works much better than the other.
The less successful of the two is the one that takes place at Asgard, the magical realm Thor (Chris Hemsworth) comes from. The citizens of Asgard have been living in relative peace thanks to an uneasy truce with the frost giants. However, on the day Odin (Anthony Hopkins), Thor’s father, is set to hand over the throne to his son, a group of frost giants sneak into Asgard and attempt to steal back their power source, which Odin seized from them during their time of war.
The costumes and sets in Asgard are lavish and impressive. It’s clear that Branagh really went all out for these scenes. But the longer the Asgard story goes on, the more difficult it becomes to follow. Particularly problematic is Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor’s “trickster” brother who is always scheming and switching alliances to such an extreme that it becomes unclear what his motivations and plans actually are. (Stopping to try to break down the logic behind any of Loki’s plans is an exercise in futility.)
The storyline that works much better is when Thor is exiled to New Mexico and must live among the humans. Thor is banished by Odin for retaliating against the frost giants. Odin sends him to earth and strips him of all of his powers, but being a benevolent king, Odin sends Thor’s hammer Mjolnir to earth too and enchants it with all of Thor’s powers. The catch is that the hammer can only be wielded by someone who is worthy, something Thor is too immature and reckless at the beginning of the film to be.
Thor in exile is a much more compelling and entertaining plot than the Asgard one. When you walk around the streets of a small town claiming to be the god of thunder, people are going to assume you are crazy. Watching Thor smash his cup of coffee on the ground when he’s ready for another round or seeing him severely underestimate the power of a taser because of its tiny size is endlessly amusing. Hemsworth plays these culture shock scenes really well and they get the film’s biggest laughs.
There is also the requisite love story between Thor and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), a researcher who is out studying the stars when Thor literally drops out of the sky. The two have good chemistry and their scenes together are all enjoyable. (Their plotline also goes to show that if you look like Chris Hemsworth, it doesn’t matter how crazy you sound, women will still flock to you.) Kat Dennings, who plays Jane’s research assistant Darcy Lewis, steals every scene she is in, but sadly she is underutilized in the film.
Since we are ultimately building to The Avengers movie, this film also gets a heavy dose of S.H.I.E.L.D., the covert government agency attempting to recruit superheroes. Anyone who stuck around after the credits ended in Iron Man 2 saw that Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his team located Thor’s hammer out in the desert and attempted to quarantine it. Thor takes that scene and runs with it. The film does a really great job incorporating the S.H.I.E.L.D. plotline in a way that feels very organic and entertaining. There is also a cameo by an as-yet-unseen member of The Avengers, which should be really exciting for fanboys.
The film succeeds as long as it stays in New Mexico, but when Thor returns to Asgard for the final climatic battle, things really start to unravel. The movie just runs out of steam and offers up an ending that feels overly long and poorly conceived. Also, because they spend so much time developing the (less-compelling) Asgard storyline, it feels like the New Mexico storyline got shortchanged a bit and wasn’t given as much time to develop as it should have.
Overall, it’s still an entertaining film that has more good than bad. It looks rather beautiful, Hemsworth, Portman and Dennings all give really enjoyable performances and it just feels like a big summer blockbuster. Plus, The Destroyer, the imposing metal monster that guards Asgard, is a really fantastic looking creature on the big screen.
For those of you thinking of spending the extra cash, let me warn you that the 3D element is rather lackluster. It’s clear the use of 3D was an afterthought and as a result there isn’t a single scene in the film that really benefits from the technology. Making matters worse, the 3D conversion makes some of the scenes really dark and hard to follow, particularly the battle sequences with the frost giants.
But if you are just looking for an early summer blockbuster to whet your appetite for next year’s Avengers movie, Thor will keep you entertained. And make sure you stick around until after the credits to see another great teaser clip.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his reviews, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org.