Saturday, May 7, 2011


The truth is, Thor is kind of a silly premise for a movie, and it's a bit difficult to reconcile it with the rest of the Avengers project. Marvel characters in general, at least the most famous ones, all have fantastical origins, but at least they're based in some sort of scientific premise. Spider-Man, the Hulk, and the Fantastic Four were all hit by some sort of radiation. The X-Men mutated. Iron Man uses amazingly advanced technology. But Thor is literally a god or god-like being from another dimension. He's part of the grander, weirder, more out-there side of the Marvel tapestry, a side that has gone mostly ignored in major films to this point. I liked the few Thor comics I've read and have high hopes for The Avengers next year, so I was hoping Kenneth Branagh and his cast could pull off some pretty difficult material reasonably well, and I was satisfied by the results. Thor isn't exactly great, but it's a lot of fun, and considering the degree of difficulty one of the most successful comic book super hero adaptations to date.

The key to Thor's success is that it's funny. With the figures of an ancient mythology transformed into extradimensional aliens who wear science fiction plate armor and ride rainbow bridge lightning bolts to other worlds, the whole thing could have failed just by being too silly. But there's a lot of humor intentionally injected into the story, which allows a lot of the goofier moments to slide on by and just be part of the fun. If the movie took itself too seriously, it could have been a disaster, but the tone is just right to get away with it. Most of the significant characters get a chance to tell a joke or two, and while a few moments still come off as funny without trying, they don't do much to harm the story.

The film jumps back and forth between two locations: Asgard, where Thor's allies try to unravel Loki's plot to overthrow him, and a small town in New Mexico where Thor meets a trio of scientists and tries to recover his lost powers. I enjoyed the New Mexico side of the movie more, because that's where most of the fun was, including a lot of solid fish-out-of-water humor and an exciting confrontation with the intimidating and well-executed Destroyer. Chris Hemsworth is surprisingly outstanding as Thor, pulling off his entitled arrogance without making himself unlikable, and gradually realizing what it takes to truly be noble. It's obvious he wasn't cast only because of his looks. The scientists are played by Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgård, and Kat Dennings, and the group dynamic between all four is pretty fun. The romance angle seems a bit forced because of the short time scale the story is operating on, but it works out okay because Portman and Hemsworth make a good team. Thor struggling to understand human society is probably the best part of the movie, and I could have sat through a lot more of that.

On Asgard, the movie is more like a slightly stranger version of The Lord of the Rings. There's a power struggle between Thor and Tom Hiddleston's Loki, as they both wish to prove to Odin, played with enthusiasm by Anthony Hopkins, that they are fit for rule once he steps down. Thor fights a bunch of frost giants with Sif and the Warriors Three, Idris Elba's Heimdall is a complete bad-ass, and the movie's version of Loki's plotting and realization of his past is fairly interesting. The two sides of the movie come together near the end as the action climaxes and Thor ends up back where he was, but of course with a tease that he'll return next year. There's a decent amount of legwork done to continue the set up for The Avengers, both as part of the central plot as SHIELD sets up camp around Thor's immovable hammer and in the requisite tease after the credits. Nick Fury and Hawkeye make cameos, and we learn what classic doohicky will prove important down the road. I thought the movie integrated the overarching stuff with its own plot better than say, Iron Man 2 did, and while the visual effects and action weren't amazing, they were adequate enough. The real strength here is the cast, and the film worked best when the focus was on the actors instead of the more fantastical stuff, which was okay but got in the way just a bit. And now we're only a couple months away from the next step in this crazy journey.

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