I should preface this review with one caveat: I’ve never read or watched — or heard of Thor at all, really — before seeing the film. As you can probably guess from the preceding sentence, I don’t even know what format of text or media from which its story originates. Was Thor a comic book? Was it a television show? Cartoon? Movie from the 1980s? Colour me uneducated and largely incurious. Instead of attempting to hide this gaping hole in my nerd credentials, I’m sure that highlighting my lack of Thor knowledge will make for a pretty interesting review.
After watching Shakespearean-stalwart Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptation, I have come to understand that the character of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is a “God of Thunder” who lives in the “Realm Eternal”, otherwise known as Asgard. The people who live there — Asgardians? — are unimportant in the long-run, assuming importance correlates with the amount of screen-time the average Asgardian citizen is provided. There are maybe three or four scenes with larger groups or crowds and almost all of them are scenes of war. I’m sure these scenes were filmed during those short moments when Branagh remembered he wasn’t directing a play and could have more people in a scene than just the essential cast.
Thor, the aforementioned God of Thunder, has a father named Odin (Anthony Hopkins) who appears to be dying, despite the Asgardian’s apparent claim to immortality. Because of this — never quite explained — confusion about supposed immortality, Thor’s father decides to abdicate the throne of Asgard, naturally choosing to give his crown to his smug first-born, Thor. Thor’s younger brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), is rebuffed by this decision but appears to accept being overlooked by his father well enough. However, Thor has blonde hair and wears red; Loki has dark hair and wears green. Any costume designer (or reader of any fantasy novel series) could tell you that, yeah, Loki is probably the villain of this piece.
Rounding off the Asgardians that you actually get to see in the movie are the all-seeing, all-hearing sentry Heimdall, Thor’s mother and his gang of ruffian warriors. These warriors include “the female one”, “the Asian one”, “the one who looks like Thor but isn’t Thor — wait, no, he’s just blonde” and “the fat one” (Ray Stevenson, in a role that made me weep for this wasted Rome talent). They fight and are loyal to their friend Thor. That’s basically it.
Because Thor isn’t content with the universal admiration of his people, his chiseled abs, (questionable) immortality, upcoming coronation and overall blondness, he decides to confront Asgard’s greatest enemies, the Frost Giants, defying both his father and logic in the process. Unsurprisingly, these Frost Giants are very large people who wield ice powers. They are a very literal people, apparently, and they live their lives on a planet of ice, spending most of their time being blue — both in colour and temperament — while hating on Asgard and its king.
The aftermath of Thor’s decision doesn’t go so well and, after some hammer-throwing and war-provoking, Thor’s father banishes him from Asgard. Thor is then teleported from their planet — and ends up on ours. Branagh, much to the audience’s probable content, decided to spend as little screen-time as possible on Earth. The film’s greatest moments — from its fantastical origins to its inevitable fight to the death — are set on Asgard. While on Earth, the banished Thor meets astrophysicist Jane (Natalie Portman) and the members of her research team, played by the horrifically underused Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings. With the exception of some “stanger in a strange land” physical humour, most of the Earth scenes are largely forgettable. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy some of the Earth scenes, but after a battle with insanely-blue, gigantic aliens, immortal gods and rainbow bridges, it’s more than a little funny to see see Thor incapacitated by an undergraduate with a taser. There is also a very memorable barbecue featuring a cameo appearance from the father of Marvel comics, Stan Lee.
Halfway through the film, Thor’s brother Loki discovers something about himself that reshapes his worldview, adding numerous layers to a character already overshadowing everyone else in regard to development and personality. This new development should have been the lynchpin of the entire narrative arc of the film, but the screenwriters pass on this opportunity. Instead, they revert the character of Loki into a caricature of the jealous usurper, depriving the audience of more screen-time with the stellar Tom Hiddleston in order to add more Natalie Portman. Sad to say it, but Hemsworth and Portman have absolutely no chemistry and share only a handful of scenes together. Thus, it appears that Thor and Jane fell in love after a trip to the hospital, a cup of coffee and a rooftop conversation about constellations. If you’re sensitive to this underdeveloped relationship, you’ll be questioning Thor’s behaviour at the end of the film much like I did.
Overall, I felt that Thor was an enjoyable and much better film than expected. It benefited from an ambitious depiction of Asgard, both in terms of scope and visuals. Unfortunately, Natalie Portman’s character and the use of 3D are largely superfluous. The film also suffers from a bland, unforgettable protagonist, Thor; as well as a deformed development of its antagonist, Loki.
For those unfamiliar with the Thor universe — like me — there will be a few moments which will pull you out of the film, as the script does a poor job establishing the rules of the universe. Examples of this include:
- How can you be immortal and potentially die?
- How can Loki duplicate himself?
- How can Loki teleport to Earth and appear suddenly invisible?
- Wait, Thor can fly?
Despite these flaws and questions, Thor is an admirable installment in the Marvel universe of films, and I would be ecstatic to see Tom Hiddleston return as Loki. Also, the bonus scene at the end of Thor with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is worth the excruciating wait through the very, very poor end-credit song choice.