a critiQal film review Thor (2011)

Plot: Thor (Hemsworth), a powerful but arrogant warrior, is sent down to Earth as punishment for reigniting a reckless war. But after a dangerous villain from his world sends the darkest forces of Asgard to invade Earth, the hammer-wielding Thor will learn what it takes to be a true hero in order to save mankind.

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  • ...an unknown actor trying to play a God, an enormous scope and a bit of Shakespearean tragedy in comic book form - who knew it would actually turn out to be this good?

While many viewers felt the summer started with the runaway hit sequel, Fast Five (2011), we decided to forgo that particular series and hold out to kick-off summer with Marvel’s latest, Thor. With Fast Five (2011) earning surprisingly decent reviews, would Thor turn out to be the wrong choice to start off our summer?

Chris Hemsworth, a relative unknown (aside from his nearly unrecognizable appearance in Star Trek (2009) as George Kirk), takes the reigns in Thor as the titular God of thunder. While this seems to be a risky move for Marvel, it turns out to be a smart choice. He combines looks, a smart sense of comic timing and some strong action hero chops to deliver an impressive performance. Surprising, especially from such an unknown actor. The same goes for Tom Hiddleston, who pulls himself out of obscurity with his performance as Loki, Thor’s conniving brother.

With these newcomers doing so well, viewers will expect the recognizable names to step up as well, and Anthony Hopkins, for one, does. He brings his king to life while keeping a hint of a tragic Shakespearean quality, which serves him well as his character quickly becomes enveloped in just such a tragedy.

Unfortunately, the other well-known names get a bit more short shrift in Thor. This is especially true for Rene Russo. Her return to the screen is far too brief and hsd character is largely inconsequential in the scheme of the film. Natalie Portman, fresh off her best actress win for Black Swan, seems to be slightly miscast as well. She appears more as a daughter to Skarsgard rather than as a respected scientific colleague, even to the point where Skarsgard continues to give her advice on her love life. Kat Dennings is another surprise, her humor winning over the viewers despite the film’s efforts to turn her into Portman’s kid sister. Idris Elba is also endearingly gruff as Heimdall.

With a daunting task of both explaining Thor’s back story and bringing the character literally, more down to Earth, it seemed a sure thing that the film would spend much of it’s time spewing out history. Thankfully, Branagh knows how to keep the pace moving steadily. He glazes over a lot of the unnecessary history, bringing viewers just the highlights – most of them as they happen.

Unfortunately, the telling of that story isn’t without it’s faults. The romance blossoming between Thor and Portman’s Jane Foster isn’t giving a whole lot of time to blossom. Also, the film doesn’t turn out quite as expected – or as most viewers will have wanted. A bit shorter repetition of the opening sequence after the back story would have left the film a bit more time to flesh out the Thor/Foster relationship. And that certainly couldn’t have hurt.

Previous Marvel films have pushed the envelope of special effects – whether it’s giving a man swinging on a web some sort of gravity, or making a man encased in a suit of iron look perfectly comfortable wafting through the clouds, or making a man who expands to weigh two tons when he gets ticked off look likely. Thor, however, is the first to bring an entire new world to life on the big screen. Asgard, home to Thor, Odin, Loki and their pals, is spectacularly realized, glittering and gleaming like a star in the night. While the focus remains on just a few buildings within this realm, the viewer always has the sense that the rest of the realm – glimpsed while the gang is moving from one place to another – is just as fully realized.

And the scenery, while spectacularly impressive all on it’s own, is merely the backdrop for some epic action sequences in Thor. As expected, the God of Thunder blows away his lesser human counterparts from previous films. These action sequences firmly cement Thor as a powerhouse. He wields his hammer Mjolnir in a wildly fantastic variety of ways to take out his foes, whether they be masses of Frost Giants or a behemoth like The Destroyer.

With such an epic feel to Thor – from the amazingly impressive action sequences to the vast expanse of Asgard – it would have been easy for the human element to become lost (ala Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)). Branagh, despite relishing in the big-budget expanse he has to play with, manages to keep the film from spiraling out of control. He keeps the film firmly centered around the very human element at it’s center. While Thor may be a God, the film is surprising humanizing to this larger-than-life character. It’s also straight-out fun from the get-go, despite an occasional weak moment.

And yes, the film does tie in to the previous superhero films as much as it does to the upcoming ensemble film The Avengers (2012). This is thanks to quite a bit of involvement by Agent Coulson (Gregg) and a brief after-the-credits appearance by Samuel L. Jackson in his Nick Fury persona.

With Thor another impressive addition to Marvel’s film roster, and previews for Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) making that one look like another hit-in-the-making, Marvel has us geared up for Joss Whedon’s The Avengers (2012) next year more so than ever before. In the meantime, don’t miss Branagh’s vivid Thor.

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