The Marvel movie machine puts another second-string superhero on the A-list.
The realm of Asgard is ruled by Odin (Anthony Hopkins) with a strong hand but a peaceful spirit. His sons, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth), are in line for the throne, but while Loki dreams of power living in his brother’s shadow, Thor has become an arrogant warrior. On the eve of what might have been his coronation, Thor defies his father and destroys a long-kept truce with an enemy realm. For his insolence, Thor is stripped of his powers and cast out, banished to the realm of Earth. There he meets Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), a researcher who not only believes worm holes to other dimensions exist but believes she can predict them. There are some hard lessons for the mythological thunder god to learn before he can reclaim his birthright, but with Thor away, Loki’s plans for Asgard are just beginning to unfold.
There are so many things that could have gone horribly wrong with this film, not the least of which was its future tie-in with the currently filming The Avengers. Director Kenneth Branagh was not only able to modernize the character of Thor but also tell a slim yet epic tale of defiance, redemption, and not-so brotherly love. There are some issues (more on that later), but this telling of Thor’s tale also embraces an unexpected return to superhero innocence and nobility. Not since Christopher Reeves Superman has tale of a superhero felt so pure of heart, intentionally spun to have been a plausible inspiration to Vikings over a thousand years ago. Chris Hemsworth’s Thor may have the looks the ladies are drooling over, but he’s also the kind of guy that guys would hang out with with full confidence everyone will get home okay once the drinking’s done.
One thing at issue is the ending. Everyone knows by now that the film is an introduction to the character of Thor before putting together a super team film (currently under the direction of Joss Whedon). It’s not that it ends badly, just not the best way it could. Thor has to make the transition from a life of privilege and foregone success to one of a king ready to rule with his brain instead of his sword arm (or, in this case, hammer arm). For what should have been Thor’s tale of personal redemption, in the end it doesn’t feel like he’s really suffered all that much to get to where he ends up. Fans of Marvel’s Thor may also notice the myriad changes to the character to make him a little more acceptable to new audiences, including a nod to Donald Blake and an incredible re-imagining of the Rainbow Bridge. In fact, the look of Asgard itself may owe a lot to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but that’s not a bad thing.
In spite of these nitpicks, much positive tale telling was done and executed by an dream cast for any summer film, superhero-based or not. With a cast including Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings, Rene Russo, and Idris Elba, the props must go to Tom Hiddleston’s spot-on portrayal of Loki along with an inexplicable gift of being able to smirk without actually showing it (does anyone else think Hiddleston looks like a young Brent Spiner?) Clark Gregg returns as Iron Man’s Agent Coulson, and while that terrible-looking “Wonder Woman” show thankfully didn’t get picked up, would some please suggest Jaimie Alexander (playing the warrior goddess Sif) as a model for who they should be looking for to play an Amazon warrior? With Captain America: The First Avenger still waiting in the wings for his turn in the spotlight, the stage is set and the pressure is on for Joss Whedon to assemble The Avengers. Of course, be sure to stay until after the credits for a glimpse of what’s in store (if you didn’t know already).
(a three and a half skull recommendation out of Thor)