REVIEW - Thor
I think it’s safe to say we’ve officially entered the summer movie season. Why? It’s the first week of May and there’s an unashamedly loud and colourful comic book movie in theatres. Thor is one of several films based on Marvel superheroes that's meant to introduce us to the Avengers universe before the long-awaited team-up movie The Avengers lands next year.
Will all other superhero films bow before the mighty Thor, or does the Norse-mythology-infused flick fall flat? Read on to find out – and don’t worry: this review is as spoiler-free as I can make it.
Thor follows the story of its titular hero, a powerful being from the celestial “realm” of Asgard. Thor is Asgard’s best warrior, and is first in line to the throne of his father, Odin. He is secretly opposed by his ambitious brother Loki, who seeks to rule Asgard and subjugate Thor. Before Thor can be named the new king of Asgard, he must learn some humility by serving out a period of exile on Earth. While stranded, Thor befriends a starry-eyed astrophysicist, and must find a way to earn back his powers and return to Asgard to stop his brother from usurping the throne.
If that summary sounds a bit breathless, it should. This film is defined by its genre, that of larger-than-life characters, dramatic one-liners and global consequences. The whole time I was watching Thor, I felt like I was viewing a moving comic from the Marvel series – which isn't necessarily a bad thing. I’m a pretty big fan of comics (Batman and Hellboy especially), so this movie was right up my alley.
The best way to describe the story is to call it a page-turner. It hops back and forth between Asgard, Earth and Jotunheim (Realm of the Frost Giants), but it falls prey to a now-common side effect of new superhero movies. It loses the main thread of the story by trying to explain all the backstory of the world. A lot of time is spent at the start laying out the history of Asgard and it takes a while for the main plot to take off. When it does kick in, you’re still engaged, but the characters’ objectives are a bit murky. We’re not exactly sure what they’re trying to do, or what is being fought over.
One thing I noticed was the setting of the earthly action in a small New Mexico town: the connection of that state to the nuclear testing of the 40s and 50s implies (at least to me) that in this film, Thor is being “tested out” both as a potential protector of the planet (or S.H.I.E.L.D. weapon) and as the anchor of a film franchise. Branagh even seems to be encouraging this visual link, with Thor arriving on Earth in a huge fiery cloud.
Hemsworth is believable (and entertaining) as Thor, and he effectively plays off the disbelief of the beautiful astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who is supported in her research by a deadpan Kat Dennings as her cynical grad student and Stellan Skarsgård as her trusted older colleague.
It was a cool idea to cast Skarsgård as the older physicist, because as a Swedish actor, he more convincingly conveys a character who grew up in Scandinavia with the stories that the comics were based on. Portman stays afloat amidst all the action and bombastic dialogue, but the romance between her and Hemsworth seems a little forced. Dennings drops a few wry one-liners but is otherwise ignored; a shame, because she has a lot of talent and her grad student character is not ideally placed to be important to the story.
I hesitate to call Thor purely a summer movie, because its focus is a bit more specific: it’s a comic-book movie, which I think lets Thor get away with even more than your standard blockbuster. But what do you expect? It’s a movie about an alien dressed like a Viking with powers of super-strength, flight and weather control. He has a magic hammer named Mjolnir. I think we can cut Thor a bit of slack.
I wouldn’t say I went in with low expectations or with my brain turned off, but I took what Branagh offered and drunk it all in like a huge Viking tankard of mead. I loved the references to Norse mythology, the fish-out-of-water sequences after Thor wakes up on Earth, and the gleefully ridiculous set pieces. Thor does not try to join the ranks of “gritty” reboots or aspire to the kind of character study seen in 2008’s Iron Man. It simply serves as a good setup for the character before he joins the ensemble of The Avengers in 2012.
A review is meant to assess how well the film accomplishes its goals. This film’s goal is to bring Thor from the comic-book page to the screen. And sure enough, Chris Hemsworth strides onto the screen as the God of Thunder, in all his glory. It’s not his or Branagh’s fault if the character and the scenario are inherently cartoony. Thor gets two and a half stars out of four.
One quick note on the 3D: I went to a 3D screening of Thor, but the added dimension wasn’t all that noticeable, even in the bigger action scenes. The studio used the post-conversion method for the 3D, meaning an extra layer was digitally “painted” onto the film after it was shot. I find this method doesn't result in effective 3D, and only films that are either filmed on stereoscopic cameras or animated with stereoscopic visuals can offer “good” 3D. In other words, save your money and see this in a traditional theatre!